Joining the Splat-Madness


Normally, I avoid buying brand-new, non-portable console games. The cost is prohibitive most of the time, and there’s usually more important things to worry about.

But there was something different about Splatoon. A comedic shooter with a different premise outside of “Kill everything you see,” interesting artwork, a (sort of) backstory for why things work the way they do, and a city similar to Akiharaba and Harajuku? That and my friend’s ravings about it were enough to get me to cash in my store credit, a coupon, and my own cash to pick up a copy of Splatoon.

The conglomeration of towns mixed together!
The conglomeration of towns mixed together!

I spent the majority of the 4th of July weekend playing and taking part in the Splatfest (due to illness and poor weather keeping me indoors), and I’ve played it sporadically due to my schedule since then. Yes, I know I’m a month late, but for a game like this, it’s not a bad idea to wait and see what happens and if the hype dies down.

==The Pitch==

You play as a kid (who’s a squid!) that takes part in the most popular past time: Turf Wars. You are to take your squid, run around a map, and put as much of your color down as possible. Time is very limited (5 minutes, I think), so you need to make your artwork count!

There’s a one-player story in which you repel an alien invasion, but outside of unlocking some lore and alternative weapons, there isn’t much there.

==What You Get==

Playing this, you’re getting a glorified version of paintball. It’s like a love child of Call of Duty, Team Fortress 2, and paintball, only without all of the toxic profanity and attitudes from the other players.

The single-player mode is short and teaches you the basics with some advanced gameplay techniques, as well as gives you a number of weapons to unlock and play with. I’m about three or four hours into it, and I’m nearly done with it, so don’t expect much.

You also get a rather popular multiplayer game that allows you to just let loose with all of the ink you can! There are multiple weapons among the main weapon types (I’m not sure if I unlocked them yet), a level-up system, and Amiibo support.

==The Good==

First, it’s Nintendo. Doing a shooter. You know full well that this is going to be goofy, off the wall, and possibly casual. It meets the majority of these.

Second, there are always reasons to play and something to do. Every so often, Nintendo announces a “Splatfest,” a timed event that allows you to pick a side, get a special limited time item, and try to win as many times as possible for your side. There’s a special currency you gain by doing so, which allows you to level-up your items. Totally worth it.

July 18th's Splatfest: Roller Coasters of Water Slides!
July 18th’s Splatfest: Roller Coasters of Water Slides!

To make it even better, there’s ALWAYS someone online. You need eight people for a game to even start, and when my connection is stable, I have about sixty seconds to wait. Seriously. I’ve had some matches that ended, and during the break I’d run to grab a glass of water in the next room. By the time I returned, I’d already be behind as the game already started. Most impressive!

Hell, even the loading screen when waiting for a group has a mini-game you can play to pass the time during long loading/searching times. Talk about service!

If you want something a little more aggressive, you’ll want the ranked play option. Like standard play, the maps change every two hours, but your objective is essentially King of the Hill. I’ve done a few rounds here and kept losing, so I don’t do it very much (read on to see why!).

Third, there’s a lot of customization to be had. As you gain levels, you unlock new clothes (shirts, headgear, and shoes) and new weapons. Each article of clothing gives you a set power and, after some time (and many matches), you can level up the clothing to unlock a new ability. You can take low-level items and give them more ability slots with the currency from the Splatfest, or you can use the same currency to re-roll the additional stats. Additionally, as you take breaks between matches, you’ll meet players that are also playing (some of them people you just finished a turf war with!) and, thanks to an active black market, have the chance to order items at a high cost.

Want someone else's gear? Take a look and order your own!
Want someone else’s gear? Take a look and order your own!

Oh, and added bonus for customization: you aren’t locked into the gender of your character. You can choose the (very popular) squid girl at first and have her decked out as a punky girl, but then change to a boy and redesign the entire look. Since items can’t be sold and remain in your inventory, it never hurts!

Fourth, the game has an interesting approach for a shooter. Yes, I’ve been praising this, but hear me out. The whole object of a turf war is to cover as much of the ground (and walls, but they aren’t worth as much) as possible. While causing a “splat” (kill) gives a small bonus (the victim explodes in your color ink), it isn’t the object of the game, which is rather refreshing. You can go through the entire game without killing anyone and still walk out with the highest score depending on how you play.

On the same token, we get a number of interesting mechanics. If you walk on your opponents ink, you take damage and slow down. You “reload” by taking time to not shoot (a slow process) or by “swimming” through your own colored ink (a faster process). While “swimming,” you move quickly, are harder to see (and invisible when you are still), and can get through to places you couldn’t otherwise, such as up walls or through grates. This new collection of techniques adds another element to how this shooter plays out, as it changes the game of camping and even how fast you can travel.

Fifth, the levels don’t mean as much. I’ve seen games in which a group of level 20s were trounced by a group of teen-level players, and some of the highest point earners were on the lower end of the spectrum. Yes, you can unlock new weapons and possibly new gear, but all the levels really showis how much time you’ve sunk into the game. That’s it.

Sixth, the game is tutorial-friendly. Unlock a new weapon due to a level-up and want to know if it’s worth spending the afternoon’s earnings on? Give it a try! Never played on a map before? Go scout it out in the lobby!

Finally, there’s limited communication in the game. Some say this makes it difficult to figure out what’s going on, but with the map on the gamepad screen showing you who is where (and even allows a quick travel!), it balances out. You don’t get the toxic collection of swearing or pre-teens claiming they’ve had relations with your mother. It’s a bit of a forced politeness, but I’ll take it!

What you're gamepad screen looks like.
What you’re gamepad screen looks like.

==The Bad==

Grab a seat, you might be here for a bit. As much as I want to love this game, I really can’t.

First, the maps. . .or rather, the lack thereof. Every two hours, the maps rotate, and there are only ever two maps at a time. To make matters worse, there are only nine maps as of this writing (for the previous Splatfest, there were only eight), and the map you get is “randomized.” One of my sessions of sitting and playing the game lead to an hour and a half running the exact same map because the game “randomly” put me there. There’s a map on the list I’ve played twice since I’ve started, and another I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve explored it. 

Due to the randomization of the maps, you can be stuck in a map on repeat for an hour, and when the new “rotation” begins, that map is still there. UGH!

It gets really repetitive, and I am hoping that changes in the future as new maps are added.

Second, the weapon sets are locked in. You see, each weapon has its set stats, a sub weapon (grenade) and a special. The specials can range from a bubble, a nuke, or even turning you into an invincible kraken for about ten seconds (among others). The sub weapons include standard grenades, suction bombs, “seekers,” sprinklers, and a “waypoint” to allow your allies to travel to the destination as long as it stays standing.

A personal favorite main weapon design, but I really hate everything else about it.
A personal favorite main weapon design (it’s a zapper!), but I really hate everything else about it.

Now, while I understand this was all for balance, it is very frustrating having a roller that doesn’t have an explosive weapon, or a machine gun that give echolocation to find enemies instead of a way to cover more ground in ink. Yes, there are techniques for these, but I stopped using some weapons because I can never fully implement the special long enough (like echolocation, which is useful, but only shines on the bigger maps), and some secondary weapons I never use (like the relay; it’s too fragile and there are few good camping spots for effective use). In fact, one of the abilities, “Bomb Rush,” is a bit underpowered, especially since it is linked to iffy bombs. While I can see the balance issues, some mix and match would be nice.

Third, there’s very little difference between the weapons of each type. For example, the only differences between Machine Gun A and Machine Gun B are color, a slight raise in one stat with a slight decrease in another, and the sub/special weapons. That’s it. Sometimes, there isn’t even a difference in one of the latter two, which means you’re using a rehashed weapon. While I haven’t unlocked everything yet, I’m not horribly impressed by the set up, and there are some weapons that are massively popular because of the abilities they grant (like the roller that turns you into a Kraken). Granted, I do see some odd weapons pop up in play, but I don’t see enough variety to really say that they are all loved or balanced.

Fourth, Ranked Play is a mixed bag. Yeah, I get it’s supposed to be a challenge, but there’s really no point in playing it until you hit Level 20. See, in normal matches, every point you rack up gives you one coin and one XP. If you win the match, you gain an additional 300 points, and there’s always the chance of losing with a number of special abilities that kick in within the last 30 seconds (reduced ink cost and increased speed in the last 30 seconds with a roller in hand? Sign me up!), which makes this challenging and interesting, but still rewarding.

If you play in a Ranked match, you’re going all or nothing. If your team loses, even by ten points, you gain nothing from it. I’m in the early teens in levels (and you must be Level 10 to start a ranked match), and I have yet to win one of these matches. Not fun for leveling, but it does add a new version of gameplay. So…not as much of a bad thing?

Finally, I’m not sure how I feel about the Amiibo support for the game. I haven’t bothered shelling out the cash for it, but from what I’ve seen, you get special stages that will allow you to unlock special, impossible to get otherwise gear. The gear actually looks awesome (Samurai and Powered Armor, as well as a school uniform), but I don’t know if an hour of gameplay and visually appealing gear is worth the cost of an Amiibo.

==The Verdict==

Calculating. . .
Calculating. . .

Personally, I feel as though Nintendo released an incomplete game; an online shooter with five maps is NOT a complete shooter. We’ve seen four more maps added since release (with a fifth in the works) as well as two new weapons. It’s nice Nintendo is giving away some freebies, but with this game, I feel as though they owe it to the fans if they want people to pay full price.

I still have a ways to go to finish the game, but I’m enjoying it for the most part. It’s not an engrossing game, and it’s not something I will play constantly, but it’s a nice “I’m in the mood for a twitch game” title to help whittle away the summer.

Would I buy it again? Maybe. I surely would not pay the full $60 price tag for the item, and if I were considering buying it again, I would probably wait until the price dropped to $40 due to the incomplete nature of the game.


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