Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Splatoon - Review

Platform: Wii U
Developer: Nintendo 
Publisher: Nintendo

Splatoon is a breath of fresh air. It’s easy to point to Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo and so on and argue that their multiplayer is essentially the same tired, played out experience. At the very least, you can’t say the same about Splatoon. It tries to be something new.

A new, fresh exclusive is also something to be happy about from Nintendo. This is a company that for years now has arguably sat on the same recognisable faces in order to bolster its appeal. 

At its core Splatoon takes the basic gameplay of a multiplayer team deathmatch, lathers it in psychedelic paint, and then attempts to add some new mechanics on top. The primary focus of Splatoon is that it’s not about the killing. Taking out another player will help your team, but it won’t bring in those all-important points that painting the environment will. Splat your paint gun across the level though and watch those points begin to raise. Whichever team covers the most area in their colour by the end of the match wins. 

For such a simple mechanic it becomes surprisingly addictive. There’s something incredibly moreish about slapping paint down everywhere, and it’s helped tremendously by the kooky, slightly manga art style that the game adopts.

What this change in focus does for Splatoon though is allow it to inject more strategy into its overall design. Each player has the ability to transform into a squid, allowing them to speed across the map or up walls. The catch being they can only swim in paint that’s their team’s colour. Therefore, defence becomes just as important as attack. Splatting streams of paint across certain locations can help provide faster support for your team. Gunging up choke points with your colour meanwhile, can deny angles of attack for the opposition.

For something that starts so daft, and is clearly aimed at younger players in particular, there’s a surprising amount of depth to the overall gameplay. Loadout options help improve this too, with a bevy of different guns and side arms being available as you level up. Each comes with different main weapon: ranging from typical paint guns to gigantic rollers, perfect for slapping down swathes of paint.  

There’s also sub-weapons and special weapons on offer, too. Sub-weapons are rather unimaginative. Since I’ve begun playing, I think every one of them has been some version of a grenade. Special weapons are a bit more interesting though, accumulate enough points and you get to use the piece of equipment for a brief amount of time; be it a paint bazooka, portable shield or giant paint…fan. It’s a shame you can’t mix and match different main weapons with various other equipment, but the variety on offer from the various loadouts keeps things fresh enough.

There’s a bit more creativity thrown in with the bevy of clothes on offer. Nintendo have kept this part simple, rather than weigh it down with too much complexity. Each piece of clothing grants a variety of buffs to your character, such as slower ink consumption on your weapons, or fast run speed. They’re just minor enough that most players will probably pick the clothing that looks the best over any improvements that they may offer. But there’s some strategy going on here for the min-maxers.

In fact, I’d go as far to say that’s the line that Nintendo tries to walk throughout the game. This is undoubtedly a game meant to appeal to casual fans, not to mention whole families, but there’s an effort to create enough tactical gameplay here that it doesn’t alienate anyone searching for something deeper.

Ranked play is locked off until you reach a certain level, ensuring players have cut their teeth on the regular game before looking for anything more challenging. It’s here where Splatoon arguably falters somewhat. Levelling up still suffers from the boring repetition that infects most multiplayer games, with players higher up the level ranking being those with more time to grind than necessarily displaying more skill.

It doesn't help that the game suffers from a shockingly low amount of maps to play on. After only a few days of playing I was beginning to see the sane locations over and over. And, in an effort to hide the small amount of playable areas, Splatoon locks games down to two different levels each day. It’s clear that Nintendo wanted to get Splatoon out sooner rather than later, and, provided they keep the additional levels/equipment free (so far that’s what they've done), then this won’t be too much of problem going into the future.

It’d be an offence not to mention the single player either because, for a mode that’s literally hiding in the corner of the game hub, it’s an absolute blast to play. It’s divided up over four different areas, each with a number of levels to complete and a boss to take down, the typical platforming formula. Think budget Super Mario Galaxy and you’ll not be far off.

The weirdness of the visuals, and the genuine attempt to make the most of the game’s mechanics, makes the single player a really fun part of the game, rather than some lazy tacked on afterthought. Early levels have you performing some basic platforming, but later challenges have you painting invisible paths to find your way forward, or painting floating platforms so you can swim up walls. The whole campaign doesn't last long, maybe four or five hours in total, but, at the very least, it makes for a satisfying tutorial when it comes to preparing for the multiplayer.

Splatoon goes to show you don’t need to lather your online shooter in ultra-violence in order to be compelling. It expands the gameplay of typical multiplayer shooter in many ways, and, whilst it lazily falls in line when it comes to the equipment side of things, it’s hard to knock the game too much given it’s so much fun.

However the Wii U ends up going down, we can at least look back at games like Splatoon and argue that it had some real gems within its catalogue. 


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