Review: Splatoon (Wii U)

Wii U

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Developer: Nintendo EAD Group No. 2
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Third-Person Shooter/Platformer
Rating: E for Everyone 10+
Price: $59.99
Highly anticipated and critically acclaimed, Nintendo has finally released Splatoon, the company’s first new intellectual property in over a decade. A third-person shooter that directly defies cultural perceptions of the genre, Splatoon has splashed its way onto Wii U consoles across the globe and enraptured the hearts of a rapidly growing fan-base. Some may sing its praises and others might find it lacking, but nobody can say Splatoon hasn’t achieved what it set out for: establish a completely new standard for video game shooters.

Story

The Great Zapfish has disappeared without a trace! Everybody is in dire straits over the future of Inkopolis and their wonderful city’s power supply, but things take a turn for the worse when the player is recruited by a seemingly delusional war veteran. He claims that an old enemy is responsible for the Zapfish’s untimely vanishing: the Octarian military of Turf Wars long ago. Dubbed “Agent 3,” the player is charged with revealing the Octarian’s scheme and retrieving every last Zapfish, including the Great Zapfish, before Inkopolis runs out of the energy needed to continue being hip and fresh.
I have not yet uncovered the entire history of the Turf Wars which preceded the events of Splatoon’s campaign, but I’ve learned enough to know that Nintendo was aiming for something fun, not deep. Splatoon isn’t Legend of Zelda. It’s not valiant or grandiose. Splatoon isn’t Metroid. There’s no haunting lair beneath the crust of the world. Splatoon isn’t Star Fox. Slippy isn’t around to ruin everything. Splatoon is its own element, something with personality in its aesthetic, yet with no obvious philosophical agenda backing the actions of your characters. You are simply squid people, and you’ve always been at war with the octopus people. No more, no less.

Content Warning

Before diving into each specific content category, there’s a disclaimer I must make for any aspiring Splatoon player. Splatoon, while consisting of a campaign mode, is more prominently driven by its online gameplay and communal functions. Because of this, the maturity level of Splatoon is subject to modify with every individuals’ experience. Nintendo is more proficient in regulating inappropriate or crass material than its contemporaries, but stuff always slips through the cracks. I’ve already encountered one player online whose tag included the word “rape,” and the Inkopolis commons area is strewn with Miiverse messages, most of which are clean and quirky, but not all. It helps that the community seems to enjoy the natural innocence of the game and tries to keep anything crude to a minimum, but absolute negation of vulgar material is impossible. Please keep that in mind as we proceed.WiiU_Splatoon_charset_01
Family-friendly from out the door, Splatoon has squeaky clean language for all ages. One instance of the word “heck” is dropped in the main story and aside from that, not a single profanity is traced throughout the game. Certainly doesn’t hurt that all of the dialogue is text-based, with the spoken audio being a nonsense language fabricated specifically for the Inkling race. It’s basically Simlish, but with less “Bada-Boop Leesh-Ka” and more “Glagla Shelerrrr.”
There are no references to drugs, alcohol, or any related paraphernalia in all of Splatoon.
On the matter of violence, Splatoon maintains a unique slant. As stated, this is a shooting game. There are guns, grenades, landmines and…ink rollers, which may be used to dismantle enemy forces. No blood, nay, not even red ink, may be found in any mode of gameplay. When a character is hit with enough ink, they will explode into more ink, only to rematerialize back at home base. The concept of “dying” in Splatoon seems inconsequential and arbitrary at best. You don’t die any more in Splatoon than you do in a standard game of actual paintball.
Sexual content is tricky to broach with Splatoon. Most audiences would say there isn’t any to speak of, but for a parent who might be wondering if Splatoon is appropriate for their son or daughter, the spectrum must be widened a little bit to include things that might be risky for children. Nintendo has clearly taken strides to eliminate most possibilities of having any sexual content in this game. All of the characters are children, with the exception of a couple modestly-dressed newscasters named Callie and Marie, and the Inkopolis shopkeepers, all of whom appear to be relatively adult-like in appearance and responsibility. Among all of the ink colors available for play, white is excluded, for obvious reasons I’ll let you discover for yourself, and any sideways comments or jokes are absent from the narrative and dialogue. That being said, the standard character models have each Inkling in skin-tight suits, usually cut off somewhere above the knee, and when left idle, females will often stand with one hand on slowly gyrating hips.
Oh, somebody also posted a drawing to Miiverse of Squidward mooning. This was then taken and applied to a large billboard on one of the stages, for all to see. That was…something.
If there are any spiritual matters in Splatoon, they are cleverly disguised. The only thing I can think to talk about is the relatively insignificant theme of aliens and UFOs which poke up through the scenery and story mode. Not necessarily spiritual, but the debate of extraterrestrial life has always been tied to concerns in many religions, so I thought it worth noting.
In terms of positive appeal, Splatoon brings a few different things to the table. The story-mode empowers the player through constant encouragement and affirmation of their skill and the narrative has the player shifting from stage to stage, hunting down baby zapfish who have been kidnapped. Online, teamwork is fostered through friendly combat and constant reorganization of teammates in the game lobby. Sharing fun or amusing posts is made simple through the Miiverse postcards available in the city square, which broadcasts anything you want to say or draw using the Wii U gamepad. These posts are often utilized to give character to the community. People will share jokes, accomplishments, funny pictures, and other friendly material.

Gameplay

The campaign is incredibly easy throughout, with a considerable spike in difficulty against the final boss.  Your weapon cannot be changed throughout the campaign, though upgrades are available. Through the use of Amiibos, missions are unlocked which may be completed with different weapons and gear. Completing missions with an Amiibo also serves to provide the player with new multiplayer armor and clothing. Hidden scrolls grant an additional challenge for the more aspiring Splatoon gamer. One scroll may be located in each of the campaign’s stages, and each gives a piece of Splatoon‘s narrative history.  Defeating the bosses throughout the storyline also gives the player blueprints, which may then be taken to the weapon shop to create custom loadouts. I use the word “custom” loosely, as you do not actually have any control over what items go into the set.
Before breaching the actual combat of multiplayer, let’s discuss Splatoon‘s concept of looking “fresh.” As the player battles in online arenas, they will accumulate experience and grow levels, as per the fashion of a traditional role-playing game. Twenty is presently the highest level, but starting at level four, the player has proven themselves “fresh” enough to be worthy of purchasing things from the in-game shops. In total, we have a weapon outlet, a shoe store, a headgear retailer, and an upper-body vendor. Excluding the weapon shop, the inventory of each is shuffled at midnight, so if you don’t like what’s currently in stock, try back the next day to see if something new suits your interests. Weapons unlock as the player grows in levels, adding one weapon per level. If the player sees another character wandering around the Inkopolis lobby a sort of hub where other gamers’ Inklings will be wandering around between online sessions—they have the option of looking at that character’s gear. Should a certain pair of shoes strike their fancy, they may go to Spyke, a sort of underground peddler who can get the player a copy of that article, though the cost will be high and the power-ups will be different.
splatoon2Let’s talk about power-ups, eh? Higher level clothing comes with more open slots for upgrades. Every article comes with a default augmentation, but a three-star product—the highest level of gear possible which will have room for three additional upgrades—unlock at random as the clothing is tempered through experience points in the online arenas. These upgrades can range pretty widely, from simple strength, defense, and speed upgrades, all the way to making you invisible when swimming through ink, increasing ink-regeneration rate, and sabotaging your assailant in event of being defeated so all of your teammates know exactly where to find him for the next few seconds.
As of the current writing of this article, there are six online battlefields available and two game modes. However, only two stages may be played at any given time, in either mode, with stages shuffling in four-hour intervals. These stage switches are broadcasted to the player through newscasters Callie and Marie. Nintendo does have plans to expand both the number of arenas and game modes with time. One of the most difficult parts of writing this review is that there have already been several new features released in the meantime, all of which have prolonged this article’s completion.
Turf Wars is the standard and most popularized form of play. In it, teams of four are assigned a color and must do their best to cover as much of the map with their team’s color of ink as possible. This simple, but engaging game mode is what drove Splatoon‘s commercial expansion and set it apart from other shooters. Even after Ranked Battle was opened to the general public, Turf Wars still remained by-and-large the most favorited way to enjoy Splatoon. However, Ranked Battle is still quite enjoyable. As of now, the only form of Ranked Battle is King of the Hill, which functions just as you’d expect. Each team must claim one section of the map with their ink and remain in dominance until the countdown hits zero, winning the game. In each of these two game modes, experience is gained, increasing your level and, in the case of Ranked Battle, your rank. With the increase in levels and ranking, the player is placed into parties with other higher-level players.
For further details, we are going to return to Turf Wars, as they are the primary subject of gameplay. Skill comes in the form of utilizing different loadouts and figuring out the optimal gear for one’s own playstyle. Score increases as the player either covers more of the map in their ink or kills an opposing Inkling. Most weapons are better catered to one of those actions or the other, with the goal being that the player figures out creative ways to do both with the items they have at-hand. For example, the Splat Roller is fundamentally more useful for covering large spans of territory than it is for defeating an opponent, while the Charger functions as a sniper rifle and proves better at cutting down enemy numbers. As the player covers land in ink, a “special” bar will fill in the upper-right corner, supplying them with an ultimate weapon, such as an Ink Strike (basically a giant, swirling vortex of doom), the Inkzooka, rapid-fire grenades, and invincibility, among others.
Walls may be covered with ink as well, but they do not account for the team’s overall score in that match. Only covered ground contributes points towards victory. However, there is strategic benefit in covering walls, as it allows for additional mobility once the player enters their squid form. Squid form is the most central mobility in the game, as the player is able to morph into an ink-swimming squid, traversing through any area covered in their team’s color, including walls. This allows for higher locations to be reached, sneak attacks to be performed, and frontal assaults to be quick and deadly. Just use caution when avoiding the enemy’s ink when in either form, as you will be hindered in both movement and screen visibility, all the while slowly dying.
If the player sees one of their teammates struggling, they may tap on the gamepad to launch across the stage and provide immediate reinforcements. Likewise, others may come to the aid of the player if a valiant struggle is taking place in the midst of enemy territory and all backup is required for a final push to claim that territory. The gamepad may also be referenced as a layout of the map, informing the player of where their teammates are located and which color is dominating particular areas, so if the player believes it might be useful to take the back alleys in the mall, they can take the liberty to shoot over to that area and lay claim as seen fit. In doing so, they have now provided a strategic advantage to their team and created a hotspot for, say, long-distance specialists to pick off opponents. This and a thousand more reasons are why Splatoon is an surprisingly detailed game. The depth of strategies reach far beyond this, and I’m certain only more is to come, considering the game has not yet been released for even two weeks.
In terms of online gameplay, you needn’t travel far through online forums before echoes of disappointment reach your ears about the supposedly crippling lack of voice chat. This has never been a problem for me, and while I understand the desire for some form of vocal communication with your teammates, this does not damage the overall quality of the game. Certainly Nintendo could have made it so you could at least converse with immediate friends, right? That way strangers didn’t have an opportunity to corrupt younger players? Perhaps we will see that in a future patch, but for now, you’ll have to find solace in the fact that even without voice chat, Splatoon is a superb online experience, if not a little short on party options. Lag and connection failures are shudderingly minimal, proving Nintendo made good use of the Global Testfires from last month to beef up their servers.
One glaring note which must be made is the default function of motion control as established by the gamepad. While some might prefer the ability to control their accuracy this way, it seems the uniform consensus of most players is to disable the motion function, as it feels completely counter-intuitive for those familiar with using the game sticks in other shooters.

Presentation

WiiU_Splatoon_illu01_E3frequently use the word ‘colorful’ in the presentation sections of my reviews, but I’ve clearly been too loose with the term, because if ‘colorful’ could be applied to any one game over another, Splatoon would own that word in spades. Splatoon carries itself with the confidence and friendly ambition of a Saturday morning cartoon. On the surface, it’s both a silly and intriguing premise, but once the player steps into Inkopolis for the first time, they realize something bigger is at their fingertips.
The campaign levels, which fill in backgrounds with some of the most haphazard assortments of stuff: rollercoasters, U.F.O.’s, blimps, neon lights, spark plugs, kettles, and a hundred other artistic axioms, are only the beginning. As you embrace the online world, several new, symmetrical arenas are available for your competitive spirit, such as an oil rig, a skatepark, a warehouse, a mall, and a sea port, with more to come. Each of these locations is bright and utilize the gameplay of Splatoon to its fullest.  What’s more, an element of “freshness” is employed which doubles as a gameplay mechanic. A large part of Splatoon is making sure your character “looks fresh” by buying cool clothing and doing well in the online arenas.  This theme reflects popular culture and the general perception of teenage priorities.
A musical scheme is imperative for a memorable experience, and so Splatoon has a composition of music which helps it deviate from its contemporaries. The popular theme is a wonky blend of rough, garage band guitar riffs, some theremin action, and a hyper-distorted voice which sounds like an alien trying to sing underwater. Every other song makes use of some combination of these same principle styles and effects, making for some exciting and quirky music for jamming along. Or, in terms the game prefers, those beats are hot and fresh, man.

Conclusion

Splatoon will have a sequel, someday. Considering how overwhelmingly impressive the game was to fans, critics, and naysayers alike, there’s no doubt in my mind of the possibility. But until then, I plan on enjoying this game to its fullest. Between the polished multiplayer and crazy atmosphere, Splatoon has already captured my heart as well as leagues of others. I expect myself to revisit Splatoon long after it has ‘grown old’, out of a need to scratch an itch I haven’t even gotten, yet. But I know it’ll be there, because Splatoon is just one of those games. It sinks into you and keeps calling you back for more. Very well. See you on the splattlefields.
God bless, #InklingsForSmash, and never forget to smile.

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The Bottom Line

 

It's never been so fun being a squid! Grant that squid some ink-flinging artillery with a serving of friendly competition, and you'll find something rarely discovered on the video game scene: a paradigm-altering shooter where your main goal is not to kill, but to conquer. Splatoon is standing proof Nintendo still holds a deck of aces.

 

8.5

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Cooper D Barham

Aspiring author, marriage and family therapist, and active behavioral health technician, Cooper fills his world with God, music, videogames, anime/manga, drawing, reading, writing, and some physical stuff in between. If you ever want to talk about the big or little things of life, fire him a message. Helping others through tough times is both his passion and way of living. 'Got it memorized?'

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