Since its unveiling at E3 2014, Wii U’s Splatoon has held the hopes of Nintendo fans for a refreshing new IP in its sticky tentacles. Gamers were simultaneously intrigued and excited to see the folks at Ninty striding boldly into a genre rarely explored by the Japanese gaming giant. Yet despite such a keen interest from fans, Nintendo, as ever, have played their cards close to their chest with hands-on experiences of Splatoon limited to a select few gaming conventions. Now though, the veil has been lifted on this intriguing upcoming title, with the Splatoon Global Testfire event taking place on May 9th, available to all Wii U users with a hankering for some competitive paint-peppering, squid-sliding shooter goodness.
Simplistic at its core, Splatoon opens up with some strategic options as soon as you spawn into the paint-flecked battle arena. Players gain a movement boost by transforming into a squid which glides effortlessly through your team’s inky territory, yet this restrict ones ability to apply paint or use any special abilities. Couple this with the fact that squid mode allows the player to squirm under certain obstacles ad glide up vertical surfaces (provided your team’s paint has been applied beforehand), movement in Splatoon quickly becomes a gleeful chain of shooting, splashing and swimming your way up and around each map, providing a playfully upended shooter experience. Praise should be lauded on the map design of the two map available in the test event, especially the open arena verticality of Saltspray Rig, and cautious optimism should be held that Nintendo have applied the same well structured design to the rest that will be available at launch.
The sole game mode made available for testing is Turf War, which plays like a veritable paint-by-numbers domination. Simply put, each team must paint as much of the map as possible. The team with the most amount of tagged territory at the end is the victor (declared in the post match score screen by a dancing, flag-waving cat, no less). As simple as this sounds, the team at Nintendo have insured no mundanity is able to set in by injecting some intriguing features to compliment your splat-arsenal. Players can only carry as certain amount of reserve paint, yet adopting squid form in your team’s paint territory will replenish your tanks. Grenades can be lobbed into enemy territory to spatter a wide area with your teams bright colours and cause huge damage to any enemies caught within the bast, however each grenade tossed will consume a whopping half of your reserve paint, so sparse yet precise application will ensure their most effective employment. Each player will also have an ace up their sleeve in the form of a supremely powerful “Special Ability”. Charged up slowly during match via painting territory and taking out enemies, these abilities include unleashing devastating showers of paint, imbue the user with temporary invulnerability, and can immediately change the dynamic of a match.
Not without its faults, Splatoon does contain some design aspects which can frustrate, with the weapon system being perhaps the most egregious offender. The Global Testfire event saw four weapons available for selection, including two types of rapid fire paint guns, a slow to charge paint cannon, and a paint roller. Unfortunately, it becomes obvious very quickly that the paint roller is the outright most effective choice, with the two paint guns not being able to compete with the sheer volume of area the roller can cover, and the slow firing, cumbersome paint cannon being absolutely inferior to all other three choices. Indeed, I often found myself the sole proponent of the paint guns, with the rest of my four man team each electing to roll out the, uh.. rollers. Whilst Nintendo have revealed that a greater variety weapons will ship on May 29th, the dominance of the Splat Roller raises some interesting questions as to how effectively this development team be able to re balance the game as the meta progresses. For a game focused entirely on competitive multiplayer, the weapon system is in dire need of some re-balancing before the May 29th release.
Unorganised chaos never looked so… colourful.
A final note of negativity should be reserved for Spaltoon’s camera and aiming system. Instead of using the right stick to dictate weapon aim, Splatoon instead asks the player to aim their weapon by tilting the gamepad. Whilst this method is optional, reverting to the standard method of control for a third person shooter can feel overly sensitive and leaves the camera control feeling somewhat muddled and sluggish. All I’ll say is that other third person titles such as Gears of War have perfected this control system and it surely wouldn’t be hard to implement a similar scheme before launch?
My time with Splatoon was joyous; the game feels fresh and totally unlike any shooter available on the home consoles systems today. Add to this the outstanding visuals, a funky J-Pop sound track and the usual charming Nintendo quirks (à la the fat, dancing score cat I’ve previously mentioned), and you a have a recipe for a well defined, unique shooter that only Nintendo would attempt, and only Nintendo could pull off. The problems I’ve highlighted in this preview are ones that could easily be tweaked prior to release in three weeks time, and I’ve played plenty of beta tests for games near release that have been in far worse conditions than what I’ve seen from Spaltoon. Nintendo elected to only showcase one game mode and refrain from including any of the gear customisation in the Global Testfire event. These will undoubtedly be the features that could imbue Splatoon with the longevity that would complete its paint-soaked package, so whether or not this game can become a true classic (as well as Nintendo’s first meaningful foray into a competitive online shooter experience) remains to be seen. For now though I’ve left Splatoon with my face splattered with a gleeful grin, and a yearning for May 29th.