Watching Nintendo’s E3 digital presentation, it was clear to see that we are in for a real treat over the next year or so. Some great games are heading our way; Super Smash Bros. is looking to hit Wii U and 3DS just in time for Christmas, Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 are also fast approaching, plus we have the delights of Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Yoshi’s Woolly World to look forward to. All of them look fantastic, but there’s one title (currently pencilled in for release early next year) that you really should be paying attention to ... Splatoon! Nintendo kindly invited me up to London last week to have a go and let me tell you that it’s probably the best fun I’ve had in ages.
Splatoon takes the form of a multiplayer death match but in a way that is uniquely and undeniably Nintendo. Rather than going down the route of pretty much every shooter ever made with gruff military types everywhere you look and over-the-top explosions, Splatoon instead offers up a paintball variant with swathes of bright colour and a distinctly child-friendly vibe, but don’t let that put you off; it’s completely charming and looks gorgeous. It stands in stark contrast to pretty much every other shooter you’ve played where the trend has been for environments to be full of greys and browns, and Splatoon comes as a welcome breath of fresh air. The graphical design, coupled with the paint gun mechanic, immediately made me think of Super Mario Sunshine, running around tropical locales spraying everything with Mario’s FLUDD device. Splatoon has a much faster pace though, and after a brief tutorial that runs through the basics of movement and controlling your view, it’s straight into it.
Player movement is done with the analogue stick, but you use the Gamepad’s gyroscopic sensor to control your viewpoint. I’ll be honest, when this was first explained to me I had some deep reservations as gyroscopic controls do not get on very well with me, but after about a minute or so of play it was all second nature and I realised I had worried needlessly. You should banish similar concerns as everything is very intuitive and I’m really pleased that it works so well as it is a great advert for what the Game Pad can do. It’s clear that a lot of time has been spent getting the gyroscopic controls just right and it feels great to let loose and spray ink everywhere.
The game takes place in a large industrial arena, full of ramps, container boxes and metal grates and plays host to two teams of four, starting at opposite ends of the map. Players on each team are armed with paint guns that squirt out ink. The aim of the game is to cover everything you see with ink and at the end of the round the team who have covered the arena with the most ink wins the round. You can spray members of the opposing team for extra points but the onus here is very much on controlling territory, rather than hunting down other players. You can spray paint anywhere, although there are some surfaces that the ink won’t stick to (for example, it’ll drip through metal grates on the floor) but only ink on the ground will count to your ‘total area covered’ score.
The way that Splatoon urges you to go nuts with your ink gun and spray paint everywhere, rather than trying to zero in on your opponents makes for some great matches with lots of ebb and flow and it encourages lots of different styles of play. Do you hang back at your base to defend? Do you loiter in the map’s mid-zone to ensure the opposing team do not make too much headway into your territory, or do you go on daring runs, avoiding the other team altogether and cover up all their paint with your own, thereby taking back control of the area? We’ve seen this sort of thing before in many different forms of ‘Capture The Flag’ or ‘King Of The Hill’ over the years, but in Splatoon it all feels so fresh to have to kill everything that moves taken out of the equation. Over the course of the many games I played, the result was always very close. Such is the nature of trying to control your space, each team will make gains and losses frequently throughout each round. Of course, if you’d rather play it in a more traditional manner and only go after your opponents you can do that as well, but that will only contribute to your individual ranking at the end of the match. You may well be in first position when the time runs out but your team might have lost the round because of your lone wolf actions.
So far, you’ll be thinking “is this it?” but that’s where Splatoon pulls out its trump card. Each player is a human / squid hybrid and you can change between the two at will. Changing into a squid and diving into your own ink lets you travel around much faster and in secret; enemies cannot see you while you are in the ink save for the tell-tale ripple on the surface as you move around. As a squid you can even ride up walls if ink has been sprayed there, allowing you to do surprise drops on the other team or to access other parts of the map you couldn’t reach by foot. Diving into the ink also recharges your paint gun.
As you move around the map, stepping into a puddle of the enemy’s ink will slow you right down. You either have to jump out of it onto safe ground, or you have to spray the ground beneath you to change the ink colour. This positive / negative nature of standing in the differing colours of ink makes for some really fraught moments as you struggle through the gloopy enemy ink back to the safety of your own. More than a few times I got caught standing in enemy ink and in my panic to get out I sprayed my ink everywhere but where I needed it to be underneath me. Left with an empty ink tank, I was a sitting duck scrabbling to get out before a member of the other team saw me and took me out. It can get incredibly tense at times!
During matches the Gamepad will display a map of an area with all of your team mate locations. At any point you can tap on one of your team mates and you’ll go flying through the air to their location. It’s an amazing idea, beautifully animated and it really adds to your tactics. It also helps to avoid the lonely trudge back into the action if you find yourself getting sprayed by ink. If you get taken out by the rival team you’ll be whisked back to your base, so to be able to be sent whizzing back into the action straight away. On one occasion I had gone running off deep into enemy territory to cover their paint. My team mates had all hung back at base to cover the ground there. The rival team had swarmed on our base pretty much straight away, so with my team mates screaming for help I tapped the Gamepad to go flying back to where they were getting splattered with ink to join in the defence to help recover our base with our paint. Splatoon is full of great stories like this. There’s always at least one stand-out moment from each round and what dawned on me as I played was that normally the conversations in shooters soon dissolve into name-calling and threats but there was none of that during my time with the game. All the various calls and shouts from each team were always friendly and full of laughter which was great to hear.
Splatoon also offers you some extra weapons; one is the paint grenade that you have access to at any time, as long as you have enough ink available. Lob one of those into the distance and a big blob of paint will explode covering everything in the surrounding area. The second weapon, a bazooka, becomes available for a limited time as the amount of territory you’ve covered reaches a certain level. When you have access to it, you click down the right analogue stick to fire the bazooka at will for about ten seconds. The bazooka does not affect your ink reserves so you can wheel off as many shots as possible in the small time you have, sending great whirlwinds of paint spiralling off to the edges of the map. It looks incredible and can really help to turn the tide of the round. This brings me to the paint itself. It is beautifully realised and looks incredible. They’ve absolutely nailed the fluid properties of the paint and if you take a moment to pause and actually look at the intricacies of your artwork you’ll see dribs, drabs and dollops of paint everywhere. It’s incredibly life-like, as is the way your character slowly gets covered in paint as the round progresses.
I came away from playing Splatoon having had a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to spend a good hour or so playing it and would have happily carried on playing all afternoon if I was able, but the event was drawing to an end. At the moment the game is an online only affair, although there are plans for local multiplayer but details about this have yet to be announced. As things stand Splatoon should jump right to the top of your wish list. Everyone bemoans the lack of new ideas from Nintendo; “It’s always Mario!” they cry! Well, here’s a brand new franchise that is excellent fun, presents a fresh new spin on the online shooter, and most importantly gives younger players the chance to experience a genre that has long been unavailable (well, for those whose parents actually take notice of the ratings system anyway) to them due to the subject matter. It deserves all the praise and support possible to make sure it sells well for Nintendo. I for one love it and have already pre-ordered it, and I would urge you all to do the same.
With thanks to Nintendo UK for inviting me to the event.
Categories: Previews, Wii U