One of Nintendo’s biggest and best surprises of the last year was the unveiling of Splatoon, a third-person shooter featuring ink, rather than bullets. The game was colorful, unique, and looked like a whole lot of fun. We got to play a few rounds of multiplayer at PAX East 2015 and can easily say that the looks didn’t lie.
Splatoon features two teams of four players vying for control of the map. They do this by shooting ink around the floor, rather than simply killing one another. You can, of course, shoot each other, but the main goal is to take control of the map rather than dominate the enemy players. Having your team’s ink covering the map gives another bonus though, increased movement speed.
The character you control isn’t entirely human, instead you play as an Inkling, a boy or girl who can turn into a squid. Once in this state you can move quickly around the level, up walls, or through obstacles, just as long as you are swimming through your own color ink.
This mechanic feels incredibly fun and natural in the actual game. There’s just something entertaining about a shooter where you are always firing, and always feel like you’re giving your team a boost. Whether you’re up at the front, battling it out with enemy Inklings, or back at base, covering areas that were missed, or spots that were hit by enemy ink, you’re always doing something, and it’s usually something helpful.
This comes at a cost though as you will find yourself running out of ink often if you are not careful. You reload by turning into a squid and swimming through the ink, but if you’re busy firing then you might not notice that you’ve completely run out right when an enemy appears from the sludge. This is especially true if you utilize the grenade, which explodes ink across a wide area, but uses up almost your entire ink reserve.
Speaking of enemies appearing out of nowhere, Splatoon actually features some cool stealth mechanics as well. By turning into a squid you can hide among your team’s ink. This can help you get away from a dangerous situation, but it can also let you gain the drop on an enemy soldier. One time I saw some enemy ink shots coming around a corner, so I turned into a squid and waited. Once they came around and turned their back on me I popped out and blasted them both, sending them back to their team’s spawn point.
Another great moment was in our second round where our team seemed to be pulling a major coup. We had taken the middle area and pushed further into enemy territory, covering it with our ink all along the way. Any time someone died, they immediately tapped the furthest teammate and warped to their location, continuing the push. However, after a couple of minutes of this we realized that the enemies had actually gained the upper hand. They had also pushed into our territory, essentially swapping bases, but they had done a far better job of it.
This shows two of Splatoon’s major strengths, the variety of strategy on offer, such as pushing forward, defending the base, or splitting up the team, and it shows that you never truly know who is winning the match. There’s no scoreboard plastered across the screen saying objectively who has taken over the most territory. All you get is an overhead look at the map, which you’ll have to judge for yourself. Once the game ends, even if it seems obvious who has won, there is still a second of tension as the percentages are totaled up.
So the overall game mechanics are solid, but how about the smaller stuff? First up, the game looks great. Splatoon runs at a solid 1080p and 60 fps, offering a smooth and responsive experience throughout. This is only enhanced by the splashes of color that dominate the visual palette. Seeing the mixture of ink streaming across the floor, watching as enemies cover your color with their own. The visuals in Splatoon are great and definitely push the Wii U to its limits.
One aspect that will certainly take some getting used to though are the controls. A mixture of traditional twin stick shooter controls and gyroscopic movement, they are precise, but require some adjustment by the player. You move with the left stick as usual, and the right stick will rotate your character, but it will not move your aim up and down. To do this, and to make minor adjustments left and right, you tilt the Gamepad in the desired direction. I found myself, early in the session, trying to rely too much on the right stick for aiming. Once I was accustomed to using the gyro controls it worked well, but shooter fans should be prepared for some growing pains if Nintendo doesn’t allow more control options.
Splatoon can be summed up and understood in just the few seconds of a match. All four team members are huddled together on the spawn point, watching as the seconds tick away. As soon as the announcer says “go” all four begin frantically running around, firing their weapon. Some will rush ahead, hitting random spots along their way to the contentious middle ground. Others will stick at the base, firing their ink everywhere they see the floor. It is a fast, fun, and frantic game and those seeking something different on their Wii U should definitely keep their eye on it.