If you read my last piece you’ll already know that Splatoon – God love it – managed to drag me out of a rather acute, and worrying Gaming funk. When every other title I tried was pretty much meh, and just as I was thinking I’d accidentally cured myself of my chronic Gaming addiction – and might have to, like, integrate into the real world and shit – Nintendo’s neon ink-shooting, squid-ey jumping, platforming answer to a shoot ’em up went ahead and cured me (or, perhaps more accurately, uncured me), and before I’d been exposed to much sunlight or fresh air too. As such, and in the interests of full disclosure, it’s possible I might be a little biased in what follows, but hey, rescuing somebody from the (massively overrated) real world’s as good a reason for that as any, right!?
Splatoon is, without putting too fine a point on it, a whole murrrrfuckin’ shitload of fun. Like, if somebody took fun, wrapped it in more fun, sprinkled extra fun on it, before finally triple frying it in a fun-fat-fryer inside a funhouse kind of fun. That’s to say; a lot of fun. Great fun. I mean, people say it’s really the best fun. Except the fake news. But everybody else says it’s the most fun. You can ask them. Fun. Fun, fun, fun.
Anyhoo, I digress. But, in case you missed it, Splatoon could honestly be considered quite good fun and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. You play as a squid-ey thing (because, Nintendo), and you have to spray things with ink because, in the campaign at least, some Octopii have done some stuff. Bad stuff, obviously, and the spraying the ink is to, like, undo the bad stuff!? To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what my “motivation” was, but I also didn’t really mind that much because I was pretty much ok with all the spraying the ink stuff. Wanna guess why? Yes, actually: BECAUSE IT WAS FUN! I mean, I can remember something about a bad Octopus DJ (see again: Nintendo), and a stolen whale, but I’d be lying if I said the story grabbed hold of me.
Here’s the thing though, it didn’t need to precisely because the Gameplay did. And when I say “grabbed me”, I mean it in a Lennie from Of Mice and Men-ey kinda way, and I was firmly, helplessly held in its vice-like grip for the duration. For the four days I was playing the Campaign, Splatoon’s world was my world, and then, after I’d finished that, the Multiplayer – which I really only intended to “try” for the purposes of this review – went and grabbed me again. And when I say “grabbed me”…..well, you get the picture! After a week with Splatoon, I’d enjoyed myself immensely, and I’d been fully committed to all its ink-spraying mayhem.
As you’d possibly expect from a Nintendo Game, the “Campaign” element of Splatoon is actually a selection of bite-sized levels, collected into several “stages”, and each with an end of stage baddie standing between you and your progressing onto the next area – i.e. if it ain’t broke…., etc, etc. This being a Nintendo Game, each of these little levels is also a tight, condensed package of platforming smack, and on my first outing I managed to lose a full four hours to it without even realising. Once again, I’d landed squarely in that “just one more level…..” zone that Nintendo have been bottling since forever, and the only thing that stopped me in the end was my Gamepad running out of battery.
See, whilst each level is ostensibly about splatting an assortment of (weird looking) enemies with ink in order to kill them, there’s often much, much more to them than that because Nintendo have taken the whole ink-spraying idea, and then mixed into it their usual genius for platforming shiznizz. With numerous obstacles, moving parts, and sections that’ll punish all but the quickest reactions, Splatoon is the perfect combination of Shooter-eyness and old-school jumpey-jumpey shenanigans. Throw in its cartoon-ey, uber-colourful neon template, and it’s the kind of game that’ll have you grinning like a big old eejit as you spray, bounce and swim your way through its various challenges in pursuit of…. well something. Possibly that stolen whale thing I mentioned before.
Nothing’s ever super difficult (with one exception, which we’ll cover in a bit), but there are still plenty of sections that’ll require you to have a wee think, and it’ll probably take a few attempts to get timing, routes etc figured out. This, of course, only adds to the addictiveness of Splatoon, and on the rare occasions that I was perhaps veering towards losing interest, I’d come across one such element, and within seconds I’d be re-hooked on working it all out. Likewise, just as I was thinking that I’d maybe cracked everything Splatoon could throw at me, that the rest would just be a cakewalk, it’d throw a new bad guy at me, and I’d have to be on my toes again immediately. In essence, Splatoon is a thoroughly Nintendo IP, and all the expertise that have seen them nail platforming for three decades is also woven expertly into Splatoon too. The game features the kind of cumulative learning – i.e. mastering x, using it, then having to master y, using it, etc, etc – that keeps things on the right side of the fun/Challenging equation, and that will keep you engaged throughout.
This all culminates in a genuinely epic final boss battle that – I’m not ashamed to admit – took me a wee while to finally beat. I spent a chunk of that time thinking “what the hell am I supposed to do here?”, and there’s some good old-fashioned trial and error figuring it all out. In practice, that means you’ll die – a lot – but each time you do figure a particular bit out, there’s that mahoosively rewarding “ahhhhhhh, so that’s what I need to do”, and bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, you’ll (slowly in my case) make progress through the stages. You’ll still likely die the next time you come to a new bit – and after losing your third life, get kicked out to start the whole battle all over again – but, whereas normally that’d have me rage-quitting and lobbing controllers around – it properly hooked me here. I actually liked that feeling of gradually getting further into the fight, and even when I was getting disheartened having to start again, I took solace in the fact that there were other bits that I’d once thought impossible, but that I’d figured out and was now passing every time.
Obviously, that all means that when you do finally beat DJ Octopus dude, there’s a genuine sense of accomplishment and elation, and one that I thought was the funnest icing on the fun-fat-fried fun cake of fun that was my Splatoon experience. See also; fun!
Just when I thought I’d fun-nelled (eh, eh!?…..wow, tough crowd!) all the fun out of Splatoon I could, I found an extra, and rather unexpected layer of fun in the Multiplayer. As I already said, I tried it mainly so’s I could cover it here, but I was also fairly intrigued as to how Nintendo would cover PvP shooting given their more “family friendly” approach to Gaming. I mean, it was never going to be a Battlefield or Doom in terms of realism or blood fuelled adrenaline, and I firmly expected that once you’d taken that element out of it, it’d possibly all be a bit anodyne and flat. Turns out I was very wrong in that because, whilst Splatoon certainly isn’t a Battlefield, it’s actually pretty cool that it isn’t. See, Nintendo have been quite clever in how they’ve approached the Multiplayer, because they’ve taken the limitations of its PEGI 7 rating, and used it as a springboard to innovate and provide a “shooter” experience that’s also gloriously Nintendo-y in its execution. In essence, they’ve taken the neon-ink elements of Splatoon, taken the “holding territory” bit of many online Shooters, and come up with an ingenious twist.
See, the winner in Turf War is whichever team holds the most territory at the end of a round, and you mark territory by…. you guessed it… spraying the arena with ink. From this simple premise, Splatoon’s multiplayer is able to find its niche whilst also incorporating the same kind of elements that keep other online Shooters so compelling. You can enter into any bout with the goal of splatting as many other players as possible, obviously, but you can also choose to focus on covering (or recovering) the ground with your ink instead. Given you can swim through your own ink, but enemy ink acts as glue which slowly eats at your health, there’s a natural incentive to get yo’ spray on.
In a similar vein, Splatoon’s approach to weapons/loadouts/classes etc is at once recognisable to regular players of Shooters while still having a unique, Splatoon-ey twist. There’s plenty of room to find a niche; a Loadout that plays to your strengths, or offers tactical options, and, rather cleverly, Nintendo have managed to get the usual variety of weapons to work in its own ink-sloshing world. As a result, you can focus on holding off members of the other team with a decent offensive weapon, decide to cover as much ground in ink as possible – choosing, say, a big-ass paintroller to do just that – or you can find a balance between the two. In practice, that also means that a well-balanced team will have exactly the same kind of advantages it would in any other Shooter, and it’s to Splatoon’s credit that it works as a quick, fun bout of mayhem, but also as a more tactical, balanced shooter.
My one complaint, related to that, is that the tactical element is somewhat limited by the fact that rounds last a grand total of 3 minutes, at least in Turf War mode. I’d genuinely like to see longer rounds because, even though I appreciate why they’re so short, I think having at least the option would take Splatoon to another, more involved level. Ordinarily I’d be more than happy with a game pandering to my hilariously limited attention span, but even I think 3 minutes is way too little time to really get yo’ tactics on.
Finally for the Multiplayer, there’s a “ranked battle” mode which is open to you once you’ve reached level 10. This is a Splatoon-ey version of capture the flag, and given the “fast movement in your own ink vs getting stuck/losing health in your enemy’s” stuff, it again offers a Splatoon-ey twist on a Shooter mainstay. It’s also a lot more difficult, and rounds last a bit longer so, as a result, this is where you’ll find Splatoon’s more hardcore players.
In general, I was pleasantly surprised by the online architecture. I found it all pleasingly robust, and I very rarely had to wait long for a bout. The cost of that, though, is that there’s usually only a couple of different playable arenas on any given day, which could lead to a feeling of repetition during longer sessions. All-in-all though, I genuinely had a lot of fun with Splatoon’s multiplayer shenanigans, and it was well worth my time.
General WUFT-ey Observations
This is the bit specific to the Wii U Farewell Tour, where I look at a particular game in terms of how it utilises the Wii U’s USP – namely the second screen stuff – and how much, or little, it contributed to the console’s perceived successes or failures. In this respect, I think Splatoon’s something of a mixed bag but, on balance, there were some cool little features that certainly made the game slightly more interesting.
Outside of multiplayer, these are more of your run-of-the-mill, easier with a touchscreen type of things – dicking around with your equipment, upgrading, fast-travelling to unlocked levels etc – and that’s useful, for sure, but it’s not the kind of thing that’ll really wow you. There is though, a wee minigame called Squid Jump which I thoroughly enjoyed in a retro feelz kind of way. It’s super basic by today’s standards, but a) that’s what Gaming was like way back when, young whippersnapper, and b) it’s still quite addictive.
Which, incidentally, is quite cool, because whilst you’re waiting for players in the Multiplayer lobby, you can just go ahead and play on it. Honestly, that’s genuinely quite clever, because not only did I not mind waiting as much, but sometimes I’d even be hoping that it’d take a bit longer because I was rather enjoying jumping my retro squid about. Obviously, that’s something that’s unique to the second screen thing, and it did make me aware of how much better my Xbox/PlayStation experience would be if they had the same feature.
Elsewhere in Multiplayer, the second screen’s utility was made apparent too, thanks to two simple, yet hugely useful elements. The first was that you could see on the Gamepad the current state of the arena; where other players were, and more importantly, where all the ink was. In the context of the Turf War, that was genuinely useful, because it meant you could head to where your team’s ink was most needed, and see how the round was going in general. Secondly, you also had the option to “super-jump” to a teammate just by pressing on them, and that was incredibly useful too, and for similar reasons. Whilst none of it’s console-shifting, I think Nintendo still deserves some credit for making an effort to incorporate the Wii U’s main feature into the Splatoon experience.
And that experience was, as I may’ve already mentioned, rather a lot of fun. From start to finish, I loved the Single Player element of Splatoon, and I expect I’ll continue to enjoy the Multiplayer stuff for quite a while yet. If I’m being honest, I suspect I love Splatoon, at least in part, because its essential Nintendo-yness had the ability to transport me back to my childhood, when my biggest problem was maths homework (and/or worrying about cooties), and when Gaming had just entered my life and, as it turns out, irrevocably changed it forever. Back then, because Games were simple (and because memory cards didn’t exist), all that mattered was getting your little animated character from one side of the screen to the other. In the absence of bells and whistles, and even narrative for the most part, mechanics, timing and addictive Gameplay were all that a Game really had, but when they were done well, they were still enough.
Nintendo in general, and Splatoon in particular, continue to build on that legacy, and whilst Splatoon’s not simple, or retro, it’s a game built around these fundamentals, and it’s spectacularly well done. If you’re a fan of deep, intriguing narrative this prob’ly won’t do much for you, for sure, but if you’re looking for an energetic and (last one, I promise) fun example of Nintendo nailing their shit, you could do a lot, lot worse than Splatoon.