Splatoon

Release Date: May 28, 2015
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Director: Yusuke Amano / Tsubasa Sakaguchi

Rating: 5/5

Paintball mode has come a long way!

In Super Mario Sunshine it was possible to create a huge goop trail by sliding around in goop. If you really stuck with it you could cover a significant portion of the island. This game Nintendo flipped the switch on Sunshine’s “clean is better than dirty” tagline and let gamers go to town with goop. With this new feature, Splatoon vastly separates itself from other shooters as your projectiles aren’t bullets. They’re ink. Your gunfire is now a colorful spectacle, which allows you to enjoy watching your shots at work. Careful not to step in enemy ink, or you’ll get stuck trudging around in it. Let’s talk about stepping in your own ink.

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The core game mechanic is the ability to go from kid to squid like that of Samus’ transformation into a ball but with higher morphing speed. When you’re a kid you can shoot ink and throw ink grenades. When you’re a squid you can glide around submerged in the ink you’ve laid down (this is much faster than your running speed) while also refilling your ink tank. There is this smooth friction of sliding around that reminds me of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. Just like how you could simply stay within a half-pipe to keep trying to gain enough air height in THPS to do a 1080, Splatoon has this satisfying feel that makes moving on any surface immensely satisfying whether it’s swashing back-and-forth on small half pipes, strafing, anything really. And unlike THPS, you can make your way up steep walls and columns provided that they are splashed with ink.

Quirky adventure fun. The campaign’s focus is on traversal with combat given second place. Watching a friend play reminded me how well the campaign is setup to guide players into outmaneuvering enemies instead of rewarding brute forcing your way through them, a strategy that more often than not ends with shunting of progress or getting knocked back to a checkpoint. Because the game offers a new way to move around than other third person shooters, it requires a longer learning time on how to move around and interact with the level to fully enjoy the game. Because the game offers a new way to aim via gyro controls, it adds on to the learning curve with that aspect as well. The campaign is a success in adapting players to this new Nintendo world by giving them breathing room to perform.

Inking the stage produces a great visual effect on the environment. Even more than that is the way this game has perfected combustible action with big burstin’ crates. Fun moments abound, such as jumping on top of a towering stack as enemies whittle down your vertical structure box by box.

So you go from soaring from launchpad to launchpad in a level sections of a sky world accompanied by a very Nintendo take on upbeat music genres from ska to metal. A burst of creativity in videogame music. The single player rewards player’s curiosity in finding their way around the level by hiding Sunken Scrolls with game lore cleverly-hid locations. The enemy attacks critically damage the player; you can be one-shotted by enemies starting from level 2, although dying is super unlikely due to armor that is plentifully provided in levels. Substantial, but temporary loss – health system is regenerative health ala Halo with a faster recovery rate. Dying barely harms stage progress with the 3 tries life system and multiple checkpoint in place. Enemies later on function in a survival horror manner where they become invulnerable to attacks and are required to be evaded while the player solves simple puzzles.

The story mode was not as action-packed as I wanted it to be. It was more about amusement than action. The music later on got annoying at times when it introduced wonky tracks. The enemies were pushovers (they didn’t make any aesthetic mayhem — why couldn’t they swarm me in hordes?) and it boiled down to getting from point A to point B in that amusing way only Splatoon can provide. The hub had this same feel; something more could have been done with it than traversal but then I suppose you’d never want to leave. Going through the hub is immensely satisfying and reminds me of the first time I played Super Mario 64 and bounded through the courtyard.

The bosses are giants dwarfing our hero and have a great cinematic presentation to them most likely inspired by Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat’s bosses. Beating them requires moving about on a large platform mat to find a way to shoot their weak spot 3 times. The final boss reaches awesome tier by encroaching on the player’s stage space with large attacks; by incorporating a journey aspect moving the player from stage piece to stage piece; by giving the player a back-and-forth volleying of attacks; and by and topping it off with a game winning bazooka (Inkzooka) finishing shot. Nintendo really knows how to do final boss battles in their games.

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MULTIPLAYER

This is where the serious action is at. Splatoon’s multiplayer can be described as “D-Day in colors”. Lots of colors. In a word: hectic. Battles have your team as one randomly assigned color and the bad guys a contrasting color. The stage is battered with color from gunshots and grenade explosions. The ground is constantly morphing all around you as the two teams go back-and-forth on laying down their color battling for victory. Vanquishing an opponent sends out a rewarding explosion of ink in your color. It’s a good-natured goopfest.

You choose a main weapon aligned with a sub weapon and special weapon and must stick with that choice for the duration of combat. No ammo packs are gone as you have an infinite ammo reserve. No armor or anything else to pick up. Large weapons like Gatling guns that other shooter games have the player lug around can be transported swiftly through squid movement or Super Jumps (tap on a teammate on the Wii U GamePad to jump over to them).

There’s a lot of effort on placement in this game, of which I’d like to further go on and talk one particular sub weapon: the Sprinkler. This is so clever. You throw an ink-spewing sprinkler that fastens onto wherever it lands. And it can adjoin onto platforms and stage elements in quite a variety of ways from hanging upside down, on the corner of a wall, directly on the ground, etc. Obviously I enjoy throwing these everywhere, especially on the aforementioned biggest stages. Its many uses: inking assistance, distraction, a weak shield, area control, increasing special gauge, and damage purposes.

As far as traditional sub weapons go, the whole grenade toss into a room before entering tactic in Halo: Combat Evolved gets amplified here because the Splatbombs are infinitely replenishable. Splatbombs have an extremely satisfying mechanism where the explosion time is shortened when rolled.

There’s quite a bit of ninja style play of creating the impression of being in two places at one time, or everywhere, or nowhere; of anime style teleport-like movement that is possible by submerging in-and-out quickly from inked ground while advancing. The ability to move upwards and along wall surfaces makes close quarter combat even more tense.

Furthermore, friendly fire is off. That means players can coat their team members with the right ink if they step in enemy ink. That also means they can absorb teammates shots from hitting enemies though this is almost never encountered. What is cool to do is to walk into your own explosions, which would damage or destroy you in other games. Stepping into small amounts of enemy ink causes great movement debilitation and increases damage taken from attacks. To reduce this effect you’d have to equip gear with Ink Resistance. Let’s talk about gear.

Gear, Leveling Up, and Unlocking System – A stream of gear, stages, and weapon variants as well as brand new weapon types were added regularly. This was a neat way to create game events instead of just throwing everything at the player at once. Gear is tied to a main ability with 3 slots for mini abilities that are chosen by the randomness of a rolling slot reel when you gain enough exp points from battle. This design unfortunately meant pure luck in getting mini abilities you wanted or hours spent rerolling for them; I couldn’t be bothered with either decision.

InkopolisPlazaGear

Abilities – As pictured above.

Special Weapons – Bubbler, Inkstrike, Inkzooka, Kraken, Bomb Rush, Killer Wail, Echolocator

Finally, a truly awesome use of the Wii U Game Pad. Tapping the map on the controller screen to launch an Inkstrike is an intuitive and irreplaceable experience exclusive to the console. Inkstrikes have enormous screen presence creating a gigantic whirling column of color on detonation. There’s a humorous aspect to it too in that your own Inkling busts out a Wii U looking device and looks down at it just as you are doing. Even more amusing is the fact that you can launch this strike on your own location. The other specials have a ton of character as well.

Bubbler, a gleaming translucent spherical bobble shield, protects you from the other team’s ink attacks and lets you make an additional bubble upon contact with your teammate(s) making team proximity awareness important; whereas Killer Wail lets you shoot through the whole level in one direction of your choosing making enemy location awareness important. The invincible Kraken special weapon of transformation can be used for means of climbing up steep walls that would be too time consuming to paint rather than for direct combat purposes. Kraken leaves behind a long trail of ink just like Inkzooka, a special weapon that sends a small wall of ink astoundingly fast in a direction. Bomb Rush creates a sort-of grounded firecracker display of color that works great for clearing out area.

What is nice about the two available invincibility specials is that they provide the player a breather to take amidst the chaos, and the Inkstrike special weapon too needs a certain amount of relaxing distance to use well that big stages provide. Sprinklers also tremendously benefit from stages with more surface area and hard-to-hit high rise locations. All of this contributes to a certain enjoyable tone that is only in this game.

Modes – Turf War, Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, Battle Dojo

Turf War – Whatever squad inks the most turf in 3 minutes wins. Last 30 seconds is where it counts.

Splat Zones – Whatever squad controls the Splat Zone(s) to induce a knockout or simply hold it longer than the other squad wins.

Tower Control – Whatever squad moves the Tower the farthest or induces a knockout wins.

Rainmaker – Whatever squad moves the Rainmaker the farthest to the bad guys base wins.

Battle Dojo – 1 v 1’s are silly and “don’t prove anything” but this gamey mode with powerUPs makes light of this and is a strange divergent; it’s not a good way to showcase the game to someone for the first time if you give them the gamepad due to its lowered frame rate (also lowers frame rate for the TV player), small screen, and lack of gyro controls (dual stick controls only). Players fight to pop the most balloons and battle for randomized specials.

My favorite mode would be Splat Zones followed by Rainmaker with Tower Control in last. The map greatly impacts how much each mode is enjoyable.

Maps – Without a doubt one of the most important parts of online multiplayer is the map selection. The maps are symmetrical and remove the wackier stage elements (e.g. crates, Inkcannons, Gushers) seen in single player mode. The stages have a lot of verticality and complex workings. Saltspray Rig in my opinion was the best early map, particularly for Splat Zones with the mayhem at the highly contested top of the map. Again, I really like how this map has high-up places of the gigantic pileup of storage crates to climb up along with rotating wrecking ball platform. Flounder Heights is my favorite stage and it is humongous. It’s so fun to get to the top of the level and there is so much surface area to ink.

Also, the game has better dynamic stage elements like in Mahi-Mahi Resort and Museum d’Alfonsino, which also give you vantage points to perch up on. There is a scenic view to be had on-top of rotating columns and rising stage floors. Mahi-Mahi has a white flooring that really standsout like the cobblestone in Bianco Hills in Super Mario Sunshine, although you’ll be admiring this for the short opening minute of battle before its entirely painted over. To look down on and observe the battlefield is pleasant, but it’s also great for getting a good look at the whole picture before calling in an Inkstrike!

Unlike Halo where I felt Damnation and one other map were worth being stuck on forever, every map in Splatoon felt well-designed outside of Port Mackeral and Urchin Underpass. I do feel that the best early map was Saltspray Rig for Splat Zones mayhem at the highly contested top of the map. Again, I really like how this map has high-up places of the gigantic pileup of storage crates to climb up along with rotating wrecking ball platform. Then Blackberry Skatepark followed by Walleye Warehouse. Later added levels ended up outdoing all the older levels except Blackbelly with their dynamic stage elements (Museum D’Alfonsino, Ancho-V Games, Mahi-Mahi Resort — all awesome pit like levels which fill the void of removal of the OG Urchin Underpass). Blackbelly Skatepark has a nice unusual design to it by having a thick circular column smack dab in the center.

Reconstructed Stages – Urchin Underpass and Arowana Mall. Those maps allowed Dynamo Rollers and snipers to camp like crazy above ramps on major stage access points. Both maps were later redesigned with Urchin Underpass receiving a massive makeover, so that took care of those problems.

Balance – “Harness the bullshit”. More than just a weapon set of shotguns, assault rifles, and snipers. Spacing your shots becomes critical when you are outranged, which you can bet on unless you choose a Heavy Splatling or E-liter. If you are out-ranged then expect to have to deal with retreating fire from enemies. You’ll need to take advantage of walls and trench shaped terrain (i.e. bowls and ramps) and find a way to slip into range to hit them. Thankfully, you usually get a subweapon that allows even the shortest of range weapon users to hit further. Choose your weapons (weapon balance) – Blaster, Scope, Splattershot, Inkbrush, etc. all viable. The snipers in this game are slightly more tolerable than other games due to their unremovable laser sight, but you’ll curse your luck if the enemy team has one and you don’t.

As far as the most aggravating abilities go, I would rank them as follows:
1.) Special Charge Up + Bubbler – extremely cheap on Splat Zones on the Port Mackeral stage. All they have to do is push into your territory and there is little you can do to break the formation or fight against 4 bubbled opponents, especially as a brush user. I’m sure teams have thought out ultimate cheapness by combining this ability with another Bubbler and chaining them endlessly together. This ability ensures a QR newb can jump to you for invulnerability without consequence.

2.) Quick Respawn + Stealth Jump – extremely irritating to deal with when stealth jumpers start camping. Just like Special Builder, I don’t think there is much to do when a team can position themselves in advantageous locations with this ability. Moray Towers lets users kamikaze well since the tower is generally suspended over a chasm, but I find Moray Towers is fairly mindless on Tower Control regardless. Doesn’t seem cheap on Turf War. I think QR can be beaten with one particular strategy that requires everyone on the team to be in-the-know. Outside of that I think you have to capitalize on the enemies mistakes of jumping at a bad time.

3.) Ink Resistance – which practically gives the enemy Ninja Swim in your ink. This should be removed from the game because it is extremely irritating to have to “repaint” over your ink for enemies as if they’re on your own team. Fighting enemies that slide around unabetted by your world shaping goop to only pop out for a OHKO on you after camping makes the game look fake or like cheat codes are on. It’s hard enough to examine small patches of ink laid down for enemies.

Carbon Rollers are easy to win with due to short-range OHKO wide splash range and long range Inkzooka projectitle. Tentatek users also have this strength.

The initial modes and weapon selection were limited but it evolved so quickly I never felt limited. Of course in the future I would suggest they not limit modes. Though again maybe for everyone to properly adjust to the game Nintendo should let users get the basics down avoiding an unpleasant first experience of getting repeatedly annihilated by camping carbons with their death splash and Inkzooka shots.

The original Splattershot Jr is very viable with its Bubbler while its variant with Disruptor and Echosense has been deemed the least effective (i.e. worse) gun in the game.

Specials and Team Balance – Always going long-range means you don’t have to worry about getting a team with no zero long-range support, which happens frequently when you choose short-ranged weapons in Ranked mode.

Moments – Tons of cool moments in multiplayer.

Moment 1: Sandwiched between 2 screen-filling Killer Wail blasts

Moment 2: Reversal of enemy spawncamping my Inkbrush inkling by spawn camping them with an Inkbrush in a bank-like spawning area in another stage

Moment 3: Running underneath a OHKO jump attack roller-weapon flick

Moment 4: Winning at the last second in rainmaker or tense overtime comebacks in Splat Zones

Moment 5: Waiting, lurking, unleashing the Kraken!

Moment 6: Teleport-styled samurai kills with Inkbrush by swiping -> submerging temporarily + moving forward -> swiping and following again but this time opting to run with the brush to then final swipe them

Moment 7: Two Inkbrush users running in unison attacking the other team like raptors from Jurassic Park.

Moment 8: Close ranged enemy bubbling up to my teammate coming up the rare and bubbling me up. Carrying the Rainmaker across the up high suspended bridge in Hammerhead Bridge .

Super Special Moment 1: Jumping repeatedly soaring into the air with multiple teammates while in a huddle hangout casual match.

Super Special Moment 2: Super Metroid-type moment in multi-player where I got the other inkling player to alternate with me subbing in-and-out of squid form (visual communication).

For every good moment there are a few controller shattering (kidding – the Wii U Gamepad is indestructible) moments.

Bad Moment 1: Getting annihilated by Super Jumping into a special attack.

Bad Moment 2: Getting brutalized by 4 Bubblers who have figured out perfect spots to camp out in Splat Zones.

Online Connection and Communication – The netcode is reliable for the most part though on rare occasions my Inkling would explode after “safely” darting behind cover.

PreyingShark wrote:
When you hit someone with a fully charged sniper shot, you get a ping sound that means you killed ’em. I would often get that, and the enemy would explode in a timely matter, but I wasn’t rewarded the kill.

This is because a teammate actually killed them in-between ticks. Because the tickrate is just so low that that can happen a lot. It could happen in 1 but not nearly as often, and that game didn’t have ping-based matchmaking like 2 does.

Communication – there is no voice chat and it does not matter that much because everyone has no voice chat. (Of course now people are “cheating” by using third party software to voice chat each other.) The action is too fast and the stages too small for commands outside the default “Come On!” and “Booyah!”.

Lacking voice chat helps maintain the charm of unique sound effects of the Inklings vocalizations. It also eradicates expressing negativity or frustrations into the game. Good fun [play] > Mean winning [humiliate] — this means to me that the multi-player differentiates itself by getting rid of teabagging (unique to the game is squidbagging which is a flopping motion) and talking smack.

Reward System – Ranking up. At a certain point though an afternoon goes by without advancing rank in S rank. Frustration. Got to S+, the highest rank there is. Satisfaction.

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