Twillÿ here! It has been over one month since Splatoon was released worldwide. I contemplated for a while on how long I would wait to review the game and I can say with full confidence that now is the time. Put your goggles on, it's about to get inky.
Splatoon! Let me get the hype out of the way now and just tell you all how stoked I was for this game! Since the first reveal at E3 last year, I have been patiently and anxiously waiting for this oddball title to show up. Splatoon spoke to me on an almost spiritual level from the beginning and I knew that this game was going to be the one I've been waiting for. When you know, you just know.. right? To further my point, after the initial announcement (one year before launch) I went out to my local game store and bought a Wii U in good faith. I was not disappointed. Having the game in my tentacles for a month now has given me a broader, more polished perspective on the game as a whole and I'd like to share my thoughts with you.
For those who may not know, Splatoon is Nintendo's new, third-person shooter IP. Nintendo with a first party shooter? I know. I was just as surprised as everyone else. The company who normally recycles and relies on older, more famous franchises to get by (Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, Metroid, etc) took a huge shot into the dark waters here and it really payed off. The premise of the game is to control your squid kid, or "inkling", and shoot as much colorful ink around as you can, in a sort of reverse Super Mario Sushine way. The goal here is to make the biggest mess possible, rather than clean one up.
Making messes is wonderful! Splatoon has such a vivid color palette and quirky, neo-Tokyo vibe (very reminiscent the Jet Set Radio series). The characters within the game are super adorable, especially the inklings and the jellyfish NPC's! The music in the game is also truly amazing! It is so bright, upbeat and well.. squiddy! I can't think of a single track in the game that doesn't pump me up and make me feel like I'm truly a squid now. Except that match loss music. Oh man. That right there is the true sound of failure (insert sad face here). From the moment you start playing, you can tell Nintendo put a lot of care and detail into how this game would present itself. I find it an almost perfect blend of cute and awesome. I think that is one of the defining reasons the game appeals to such a broad range of demographics. A little cartoony with a whole bunch of pizazz!
The game's main focus is the multiplayer. At launch there was only one mode, named "Turf War". Here, the idea is exactly as I previously mentioned; to make a mess. Your goal in this mode is to ink more turf than the opposing team within the time limit. Rounds are 3 minutes long and go by really fast. So fast in fact, that I feel like every round never has a chance to get stale. I'm constantly finding myself with only 30 seconds left, screaming at my teammates (who can't hear me, because of Nintendo's lack of mic/team chat support in the game) to hurry up and ink harder, faster, stronger! Each player is rewarded points respective to how much turf they covered in the match, where the winning team also gets an additional 300 points for being more awesome. Points are spent on gear (shirts, hats, shoes and weapons) in the hub town, Inkopolis.
Inkopolis is as fresh of a city as they come. Reminiscent of real-life Tokyo, the hub area bustles full of non-real time players you have recently played with (and then some) and also some essential NPC's. Judd the Cat gives you helpful tips and sometimes one-time rewards per map rotation depending on your current win/loss ratio at the time. Spyke the shady sea urchin resides in an ally nearby. He re-rolls sub-abilities on your gear and sells one piece of gear per day, for a price. The gear he sells comes from the players in your lobby. You can inspect any of their gear and order a piece through Spyke, though you may or may not get all of the stats they have on that gear. I learned this the hard way. Inkopolis also boasts four gear shops to spend your hard-earned coin, a sewage drain that leads to the single-player campaign, a 1-on-1 Battle Dojo for you to "couch battle" with a friend locally, a TV station set with Callie and Marie (Splatoon's hosts) and an amiibo box where you can do extra single player challenges -- if you were able to nab those elusive collectibles. Luckily, I did.
The amiibo box offers different single-player challenges, with varying difficulty and requirements, such as: going through a whole level under a certain time constraint, only using a charger or roller weapon, and finishing the level with a limited amount of ink. These challenges unlock and become available to you as you progress through the single-player campaign. There isn't as much of a story to Splatoon as I'd hoped, but honestly, the campaign still delivers. Basically you learn the ropes as you play through this mode (I highly recommend playing a few campaign levels before heading online). It serves as a way to both hone your skills and teaches you to approach and tackle obstacles from many different angles.
The campaign has it's own hub world under Inkopolis where the Octarians dwell. These are your octopus counterparts; the anti-squids. Each area has invisible drains (levels) that you must find and ink before you can enter them. The hub world is free-floating and separated into five areas, each unlocking upon finishing all the stages in your current zone and beating a boss. The bosses in Splatoon, while fairly simple, offer some challenge and feel pretty fresh as far as bosses go. Once you get to the last boss, however, I feel the difficulty spikes tenfold and seemingly out of nowhere. This was one of the most fun and intense boss fights I have played in a long time.. and quite possibly, of all-time. I won't spoil too many details, but all I have to say is bring your A-game! This fight will test just how well you've picked up on the game's mechanics, as well as your reflexes and resolve. Also, the music in the final stage is badass! All-in-all, the story-mode isn't very long (maybe a few hours at most to complete), but I definitely felt like a more skilled player upon completion.
Last but not least, I'd like to point out the gamepad integration. I feel not many Wii U games fully utilize this awesome device and its often overlooked. Aside from the gyro controls (which I did not like and can luckily be changed to thumbstick controls in the options) I find what they did with Splatoon and the gamepad to be the perfect example of how to make use of it properly. In multiplayer matches: you can see the entire map, what's being inked and by who, and where your teammates are (who you can 'jump' to by tapping on their name). In Inkopolis: you can use the gamepad to instantly visit any location (shops, single-player, Battle Dojo, etc), change your gear and view your player stats. Quite possibly the coolest thing you can do with your gamepad, though, is play 8-bit mini games while you wait for matches in the multiplayer lobby. You get one game automatically and unlock the others via amiibo challenges. Definitely nice to have a distraction to get me through the match wait times! There is also an arcade cabinet in Inkopolis if you want to play these without queuing up.
So what is my verdict for Splatoon? It is fun. Really fun. I went into it expecting the game to be exactly what is was and I was not let down. In fairness, the game definitely isn't without it's faults and suffers from some occasional lag and disconnects, but that's to be expected in most online games nowadays. There is a slight lack of content at present, but Nintendo has already given and promised more free (and possibly paid) DLC in the future, so we will have to wait and see how they plan to keep the game going. I have yet to try the ranked battle modes (I am avoiding them until Nintendo allows us to party with friends, so I don't have to get stuck with randoms), but I do hope they add the game types that are specific to ranked, to casual somewhere down the line. I will play these modes eventually and I'll amend my thoughts on here (in the update section below) accordingly, but until then, Splatoon gets my inktastic, tentacular approval rating of: RELEASE THE KRAKEN! (4.5/5 stars)
Now what are you waiting for? Get inking! And remember.. Staaaay fresh!
Update: Splatoon's first Splatfest event just happened (for the U.S.) yesterday and I want to share my opinions on that event here in the update section!
Splatfest was an all-day event that sent the entire game into a neon wonderland. Inkopolis and the multiplayer stages were cast into nighttime and illuminated with colorful lights, fireworks, upbeat music and slightly luminescent ink! The event pits players of two teams (U.S. - Cats/Dogs, Japan - Rice/Bread and EU - Pop/Rock) against each other in a turf war only competition. I chose Team Dogs, naturally.
This event started everyone off in ranks. 'Fan boy/girl' rank was the starting point and players could level themselves up to 'King/Queen' ranks, respectively. Points were awarded to the winners of each match (3pts) and to the players who inked at least 400p worth of turf (2pts, regardless of match outcome). There were different rewards based on what rank you achieved by the end of Splatfest and how well the team you chose performed overall. The rewards were Super Sea Snails, the currency Spyke the Urchin uses to find gear for you or re-roll your gear's sub-abilities. Considering these cost 30,000 coins a pop normally, participating in Splatfest, regardless of your outcome, was well worth everybody's time! I ended up gaining 24 snails for Team Dog winning overall and for myself reaching 'Dog Queen' rank (yes, I play as the girl inkling, she is so cute)! To be fair, Cat Team won more matches (51%/49%), but Nintendo also used team popularity as a factor, in which Team Dog dominated with 62%! Overall, this was a fun little competition and I do hope we see more of these types of events in the future!