Splatoon – Review
OverviewPlatform: Wii U
Splatoon is a team-based game that seems to discourage meaningful team-based play whenever it can.
Splatoon is an odd game. Not because you play as a bunch of squid people battling to paint the world with ink, nor because it’s one of Nintendo’s few attempts at an online-focused title. No, the reason I find it strange is because it seems to be designed counter to the experience that it’s trying to provide.
If you’ve not been following the pre-release hype for the game, Splatoon is a third-person shooter that downplays the act of players shooting each other and instead focuses on painting environments with your team’s particular shade of ink. At the end of each three minute match, the team which has covered the most ground with their colour wins.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. While there are additional mechanics beyond your primary ink-launching weapons – such as sub-weapons, an agile squid form, wearable gear and basic levelling systems – that two-sentence description explains every single match that you’ll play online. And I mean that, since there is literally no other ways to play besides this Turf War mode. With only five maps (only two of which are available during any given hour, for some strange reason) it could be less than an hour before you start to get bored with the online experience.
The initial interest and the lasting appeal of multiplayer games can often come down to experiencing them with friends. Unfortunately, Nintendo has chosen to make it very difficult to play Splatoon with your buddies. Critically, there is no traditional party system that enables you and a handful of friends to move between online matches together. You can join friends already in a match, but there is no way to guarantee you’ll end up on the same side. There isn’t even a way to create private rooms just for friends, nor a way to play against computer-controlled bots. In short, you’re probably never going to experience Splatoon with friends in the way you want.
Furthermore, there is absolutely no voice chat or text messaging available in Splatoon, meaning all of your friends will need a separate device running Skype or some other voice chat software next to their Wii U to even communicate with each other. Other recent Nintendo titles such as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. have had voice chat (however limited) built-in so this appears to make little sense.
Apologists might argue that Nintendo has intentionally made such moves to keep the playing field level across all participants or that the game is so simple that it doesn’t need any sort of communication between team mates. Both arguments are ridiculous. Given how the game has weapons and abilities that unlock as you level up it is never going to be 100% fair and balanced across all players. Arguing for the omission of a feature that is not only essential for team play but has also been standard in online gaming for over a decade is even more absurd. Only the most blind of hardcore fans could see this lack of an option as a good thing.
Another subtle but crucial issue is that you can’t change weapons and equipment without dropping out to the offline hub of the game. This means that not only can you end up on a wildly unbalanced teams with everyone potentially wielding the same weapon, but this also further reduces the potential for any sort of deeper strategic play.
Beyond the sole multiplayer mode, there are some offline ones to be had, even if there are hit-and-miss. Probably the weakest is the local multiplayer which is restricted to two players and forces you into an odd balloon-popping mode that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game. This meagre offering is a big disappointment from a company which is usually well-regarded for its local multiplayer offerings. Even a two-on-two version of Turf War with both players against a pair of computer-controlled bots would have been better than what we ended up with.
The single player campaign is probably the best part of the whole package, which is ironic given that it hardly resembles the significant four-versus-four Turf War game play at all. Broken up into a series of challenge stages, it comes off more like a puzzle platformer, requiring the player to stretch Splatoon’s mechanics to its limits. It reminds me a little of the excellent Portal 2, but that might be partly due to the similarity of that game’s colourful physics-altering gels. The campaign can be cleared in under four hours which means it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but its not the kind of experience I can see returning to in the future, even for the lore-filled collectable scrolls.
There are also extra weapons and single player challenges to unlocked if you scan in Splatoon Amiibo. While I can’t say too much about this functionality as Nintendo’s figurines are harder to get than an Apple Watch, my research suggests that the additional levels appear to be remixed versions of existing campaign stages. So, it sounds like you’re no missing much if you didn’t get hold of the three Splatoon figures and that it’s another poor use of the Amiibo range besides being nice decoration for your shelves.
Somewhat ironically, Splatoon is ultimately a mess. While the basic gameplay and the presentation is fun and unique, almost every other part of the package is a disappointment. Whether it was the result of trying to appeal to a broad audience or simply to meet a specific deadline, Nintendo has critically hamstrung the final product and reduced what could’ve been an addictive and off-the-wall riot to something that’s fun for a few minutes here and there.
It’s worth noting that the game is retailing for around £30 here in the UK compared to the usual £40 and above for Wii U games, likely because Nintendo has realised that there wasn’t enough content here to warrant the usual price tag. I have taken this into account with my review, though given what we have been provided, a £20 price point feels more reasonable. I should also mention that Nintendo has promised to release updates to the game going forward but with the design flaws being as big as they are I can’t see them being fixed with simple patches and content additions.