Monday, July 6, 2015

[REVIEW] Splatoon

Played on: Wii U
Genre: Third-person shooter, 3D platformer
Developer / Publisher: Nintendo

I have something to confess: I'm not big on online multiplayer. The lack of face-to-face interaction generally means I simply don't have as much fun as when I gather friends on my living room to play, for example, extended sessions of Super Smash Bros. What I am big on, however, is great gameplay, and in that regard Splatoon made me a believer. Thirty-five hours in, I'm utterly enthralled by its endless stream of addictive three-minute ink-shooting matches, and I'm convinced this new franchise is going to be a massive player in the Nintendo IP roster going forward.

As you're probably aware, Splatoon is a third person shooter with a focus on online multiplayer matches. When it comes to shooters, however, I don't think there's ever been anything that plays quite like it. You play as inklings, squid-human hybrids that shoot ink instead of bullets, and while you can (and certainly should) shoot opposing players, the focus is on covering the battlefield with ink. It's a genius approach for a couple of reasons: first, because it positions the shooter genre into Nintendo's family-friendly approach in a convincing and utterly addictive way. Secondly, the "shoot the environment" mechanic is a great way to make novice players feel useful even in a highly competitive environment, as it's more about clever strategy than it is about precise aiming.

Why not indeed.
Splatoon launched with only one online multiplayer mode (called "Turf Wars"), but has since gotten several free updates. As I write this, there are two other online modes available, with a few more planned for the next months. At this point, we have already experienced a "Splatfest": an online event that makes players pick sides and battle it out for their team on a big day-long stravaganza. All of this makes the game feel like a living, breathing thing, rewarding early adopters and keeping the hype ball rolling well beyond release. It's a smart strategy that has been compelling me to keep playing.

Of course, the game also has an offline side: it consists of around thirty levels of inkling war against their hated octoling enemies. The level design is simply astonishing, throwing loads of clever twists on the ink-shooting formula as stages go on. There's an overworld to explore and find new stages, but most of those stages are very linear; some, however, are more open affairs, in which your character has to fight octolings in larger environments much like the online multiplayer modes. It's a mixture that certainly works, even if I'd have preferred more of the latter than the former.

You bet I am.
The single-player mode has another crowning jewel, though: the boss fights. They are five overall, and they're all so entertaining that I got genuinely surprised. When it came to the final boss battle, my expectations were through the roof... yet the game somehow managed to surpass them entirely. I won't spoil anything here, but suffice it to say that it's a lenghty, challenging, and massively fun war against what's probably my favorite character in the entire game. It's probably a bit early to say, but I'm guessing I'll forever look back to it as one of my favorite boss fights of all time.

There has been criticism thrown at some of the game's quirks, such as the lack of online voice chat (which would be useful to some, even if it's not really my thing) or the poor local multiplayer options (and I fully believe a Goldeneye 007-like four-player split-screen mode could be absolutely fantastic). Taken for what it is, however, Splatoon is nothing short of a rousing success for Nintendo. It's innovative, it's addictive, it's got great graphics and music, and this is why it's probably one of the games people will always bring up in the future whenever talking about the Wii U. If you're on the fence, absolutely give it a shot.

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