Nintendo covers new ground with Splatoon
You know how the familiar adage goes, nothing in life is certain but
death annual online-shooters and taxes. Since the dawn of Call of Duty 4, yearly releases of FPS franchises have been an autumn staple. In its attempt to push beyond its users’ expectations (and into the twenty-teens of the gaming age) Nintendo has released an original, internally-developed console I.P. Perhaps even more surprising, the title is an online shooter. Enter Splatoon. Splatoon is a unique entry for not only the genre, but for Nintendo as whole. At its core, Splatoon is an online arena, team-based, third-person shooter. Players are asked to create their avatar based on a few variables that allow for a surprising array of colour/gender combinations, and are expedited into the lobbying-system which places players together onto two teams. The process is seamless, and has users battling to leave each other in their ink-wake within minutes of firing up their Wii U.
While the mechanics are simplistic-enough – players with even elementary knowledge of modern online shooters will feel right at home with the control scheme – Nintendo is rarely one to turn down the opportunity for a high-concept story-line. Players are treated to a tale that involves the strange city of Inktropolis, a world wear humanoid characters can transform into squids, and where their energy is provided by a creatures known as “zapfish”. None of this is really important. What it does do, however, is set the tone for a surprisingly fun, if not brief, single-player campaign that feels like a wonderful amalgamation of Portal and Mario Sunshine. The majority of my time was spent with a review copy that was provided by Nintendo, playing a mode called “Turf War”. The objective revolves around two teams vying to “capture” as much area as they can within the battle arena with their colour of paint. The team which marks their territory with the most paint on the floor at the end of the three-minute round, wins. This was a very refreshing take on the genre, which requires a surprising amount of player-coordination to achieve. Interestingly (if not surprising) Nintendo opted to not allow for player-to-player voice chat within Splatoon. (Ah, Nintendo, two-steps forward, but always one-step back!) Despite this oversight (or conscious exclusion) Splatoon’s unique use of the Gamepad’s second-screen allows for players to be in constant awareness of their teammates position, and even provides game-play mechanics for players to quickly traverse great distances across the map. (It should also be noted, that I did not miss being inundated with the…ahem…conversations…that plague online voice-chat, so kudos, Nintendo?) In many ways, Splatoon feels like the logical progression of Mario Kart’s famed battle mode rather than another me-too online FPS. (This is a good thing, trust me.)
Splatoon is a unique entry for not only the genre, but for Nintendo as whole.
While Splatoon is dealing with a limited number maps, a fact that is partially kept hidden by the daily rotation of which are made available to play online each day, it’s hook to keep players coming back is certainly its leveling system, which procedurally unlocks various weapons and gear to players as they progress their character through the ranks. Nintendo has pledged to provide content and updates to Splatoon over its lifespan, but it is far too soon to call the extent to which they will support the game, post launch. In addition to the promised DLC, Nintendo will be providing Splatoon with amiibo-functionality, the first of which has been seen alongside the titles’ launch. The three amiibo currently available will provide exclusive gear and weapons, as well as some sort of single player experiences. [Unfortunately as of writing this, I have not had any opportunity to try the amiibo-specific content, but will provide an update in the future.]
As someone who is feeling fatigued by the annual onslaught of Call-of-Battlefields, Splatoon is a refreshing, addictive game-play experience, that features both the familiar level of polish and game design frustrations that post-GameCube Nintendo has become (in)famous for. While Nintendo’s first foray into the world of online shooters is generally a favourable one, some of the omissions can feel limiting. There’s a fine line between encouraging a player’s behaviour and handcuffing them to the gurney, which Nintendo seems to perfectly straddle with this title.