Splatoon is some of the most fun I've had with a game in years. Pure, joyous, unbridled fun. The vibrant colors, the in-your-face 90's charisma, the inventive take on the online console shooter; Splatoon is a fantastic addition to Nintendo's IP line up, and a killer game in the Wii U's library. The game is held back by lacking several features at launch, and the gameplay might become slightly repetitive if updates do not add more maps and challenges soon, but the unique fun you can only find on a Nintendo console kept me coming back hour after hour, day after day.
Splatoon is a third person shooter with a focus on covering the map in vibrant ink. During the game you'll be shooting, spraying, rolling, blasting, sniping , exploding, and reapplying colorful ink in a fast paced scrap against the other team. Matches stay at a quick three minutes, keeping things fresh (the game has a small obsession with that word).
I won't lie though, Nintendo has made some bafflingly awful decisions with this game, which impacted my experience with Splatoon in a noticeably negative way. At the time of release Splatoon has 5 available maps. That alone could become a bit stale, but throw in that at any moment, only two maps are ever available and you'll be playing the same two maps for a solid hour. It wasn't uncommon in my time with Splatoon to play the same map four or five times in a row. Nine additional maps are planed for the future, but if Nintendo wants to sell the game for $60 now, they'll be graded as a $60 game now. And as it stands now, charging $60 for 5 maps is simply unacceptable and makes for a repetitive experience even without being restricted to 2 maps every hour.
The saving grace of this formulaic set up is swapping out the various weapons (if they can even be called that). It may be unfair to compare Splatoon to your standard sci-fi/military online shooter, but for what it's worth the changes in weapons here really matter. Every time I swapped weapons I felt like I had a new job to do, rather than the same job of killing the other team with a different weapon. An unfortunate side effect of the common online shooter is that you'll often be put in matches where all your team mates are hell bent on shooting the enemy, when "technically" you could actually play though the whole match without anyone needing to kill each other, since the objective is to cover the place in ink.
This will likely be fixed with time as people begin playing the game less like CoD and more like Splatoon. Combine this with the plenty of weapon variations that can be unlocked, along with the various sub-weapons, and you've got quite the loadout to choose from. For whatever reason, you can't switch out weapons between deaths, though that isn't a big deal when the match is three minutes. A bigger deal is being unable to switch out weapons and items between matches, so every time you want to adjust your load out you'll need to disconnect, then find a new game after you adjust.
An addictive option in Splatoon is dressing up your inkling in the game's various mall-punk clothing. Clothing has just enough of an effect that if you choose to really get into choosing the perfect match ups, it could give you an edge. If you don't care about stats though, go ahead and dress your inkling up however you want, without worrying you'll suffer for it.
The whole experience feels wonderfully consistent and vibrant with action and humor. The first time you jump off a ledge, pepper the ground in ink on the way down and splash into the floor as a squid is intensely satisfying. Keeping matches to 3 minutes makes every moment an important decision about how you'll best cover the stage in ink. Some weapons feel better suited for the job, like the super effective roller, while others are more suited for combat, like the sniper. When you can't decide how you want to play, the versatile Splatter makes for a great jack of all trades. The game isn't shy about putting you up against higher level opponents. I still remember in my early hours of the game getting crushed as a level 1 player with no access to gear (the weapon and item shops don't open till level 4) going up against level 10 and 15 players.
It's always easy to tell the enemy apart from teammates because everyone is constantly spraying complementary colored ink. Matches always keep a high energy right up to those final nail biting moments when the adorable referee cat Judd holds the flag up to decide victory for "the good guys" (your team) or "the bad guys" (the opponent team). In between matches you can play a simple mini game with a somewhat pointless high score since the time you can input is limited to your connectivity, though if you really care you can play it in the main hub and try to max your score there.
Speaking of connectivity, the game holds up well considering it just started servicing worldwide. Only once did a match ever drop out, and only once did I ever notice any lag. I never felt like getting inked was the game's fault or that the controls hampered me. The game auto-assigns gyro controls which I actually grew to prefer as they are implemented well. The option to turn gyro off and use a traditional twin stick set up is available if you prefer that.
An option that can't be turned on is voice chat, which has been left out of the game. Nintendo seems to have made this decision to keep the experience family friendly. Personally I never found an instance where I desperately needed voice chat, and in some cases it felt nice to simply go do my own thing. As I said before, this game shouldn't be played like a squad-based military shooter. With a simple objective like spraying ink, and a map as small as the ones in this game, complex voice commands just didn't feel necessary, or that having voice chat would have really contributed in a significant way. If Nintendo might ever decide to add a mode where the objective is to kill the other players rather than cover the field in ink, I could see the lack of voice input being a bigger deal.
Additional content missing makes the game feel more hollow than it should. Before buying the game I was set to add the amiibo as part of my review. However, Nintendo has locked in-game content behind a pay wall. A pay wall you might even be willing to pay but can't because of scarcity. For these reasons I've decided not to factor whatever content the amiibo might bring, positive or negative, into the review.
For offline 1 on 1 matches, the Battle Dojo offers a small but fun distraction. You and your opponent will try to shoot down more balloons than the other. Power ups for each player keep the game interesting, sometimes these will help you, sometimes they'll help the other player. I had fun, but I never felt like I won because of my skill and instead won because of sheer luck. Smash Bros. has proven you can throw random elements into a game and still have a rewarding experience, so maybe with some tweaking and updates this feature can be improved.
The story mode is actually more fleshed out than I would have thought, with various colorful characters appearing to move it along. I'd suggest everyone who hasn't checked it out to give it a go, as it not only provides interesting and engaging boss battles, as well as some entertaining levels to power throughout, but also gives some pretty good tips to get better acclimated with Splatoon's combat system for online matches. I've scored a lot of kills using tips I learned in the story campaign. Often times I'd forget for a moment I wasn't playing Super Mario Sunshine, as the boss designs feels right in line with that game. This is the first time this team has gotten to create new characters in 14 years, and with characters like these it's a real shame. Judd, Cap'n Cuttlefish, Annie & Moe, the squid sisters, and of course the Inklings — all great designs I'd love to see more of.
Splatoon feels like a 5-star meal, but the waiter only brought out the main course, promising the side dishes will be ready soon. The steak is still good, but the veggies and potatoes are noticeably absent and that absence detracts for the overall experience. The game has a spirit and energy that few games these days can compare to, and the fun and novel concept of competing to cover the field in ink is surprisingly addictive. The lack of content, specifically the lack of maps, voice chat, and modes, is an issue for those buying the game at launch, though Nintendo promises to fix most of these problems. The weapons are satisfying and diverse, and inking turf is some of the most fun I've had online in years. The gameplay is easy to get the hang off, and those final moments as the clock ticks to zero and your team desperately fires ink to claim victory is the stuff to come back for over and over again.
This game was purchased by the reviewer.
Pure, joyous, unbridled fun. Nintendo's Splatoon is missing content, but what's here will keep you coming back again and again.
"Just ONE more match!"