I am currently in the middle of an internal struggle over Nintendo’s thought process. I can’t decide if Splatoon is the most original idea that the Japanese platform holder has had in about a decade, or if Nintendo has officially joined the long line of companies trying to steal Activison’s Call of Duty money. At the moment I am leaning heavily towards the former, especially since Nintendo completely refused to acknowledge the concepts of death or killing when I saw Splatoon in action. For the uninitiated, Splatoon is a 3rd person shooter that Nintendo announced at E3 2014.
When playing, each player is grouped up in a team of four, and that team faces off against another team of four in a small battle arena. Once in the game, each player is given a super soaker full of squid ink, and you can use these super soakers to “kill” the members of the opposing team; however, it’s a Nintendo game so no one cares about your kill/death ratio.
Instead, the object of the game is covering the floor of the “arena” with your team’s ink. Each side of this ink-warfare is given a unique colour at the beginning of the round, and the team with the most ink on the ground will be declared the winner. The ink has other benefits as well, but there are two things you need to know before I can explain them. The first thing to note is that everyone on your team will be sharing the same colour ink, and the other is that you’re some sort of human-squid hybrid when playing Splatoon. Instead of some horrible looking Squid child mutant, the human form looks like a human and the squid form is a squid. Basically you’re the worst transformer in the universe, but in the universe of Splatoon both forms have something to offer you. The human form has all of your combat capabilities; the squid has ink based capabilities.
The most useful of these ink based capabilities is the ability to grab more ammo (aka – ink) for your human form. Your super soaker isn’t able to carry infinites amounts of ink, so there are two ways to get more. You either “die” and respawn with a whole new tank, or you change into a squid and somehow collect some from the ink that your team already sprayed on the ground. I’ll admit at this point that I was a little sad to see that the ink you picked up from the ground did not take away from the quantity of ink that you already put down. I thought it would add an element of strategy to take a percentage of ink off the floor each time you pick up more ink ammo, but in the game’s current form, a single drop of ink on the ground will allow you to resupply the entire team forever.
The only way to get rid of the ink on the ground is to have the other team spray their ink over it. You’ll wish to avoid this for many reasons, the most obvious being the fact that you will lose; however, your squid form can also use your team’s ink to fast travel. If you need to, you can run around the map until you’re blue in the face, but changing into a squid will allow you to swim through the ink at twice the speed. You can even hide in the ink if you’re sneaky enough, but make sure you avoid the ink of the other team. The second you hit it, you’ll be forced into your human form again. You’ll also walk slower when on the enemy’s ink.
In terms of quality judgments, I felt that the game-play was solid and the controls were remarkably tight for a shooter made by Nintendo. I am not too worried about that because when was the last time a first party Nintendo product launched without high quality levels? But, I am not without concerns. For example, each of the eight players in the rounds we played was on their own Wii-U console and tablet controller.
Nintendo has always handled the online elements of their products with the finesse of a bull in a fine china shop and, historically speaking, if there is any place that this product might fall apart it will be the online area. Splatoon gives the impression that Nintendo is open to new ideas, but will one of those ideas be a contemporary match-making system that is common to shooters of all shapes and sizes? We will only truly know that when we get our hands on the final product.