We had little doubt Splatoon would deliver a great first impression. Chaotic, original and colourful, Nintendo's take on the shooter genre is fresh and innovative, and in spite of those who thought that Mario's company wasn't able to compete with other genre giants.
Splatoon replaces the violence of guns and hand grenades that dog the genre with coloured globs of paint. But just because it's paintball rather than bullets doesn't mean we're deprived of the adrenaline-fuelled challenge typical in this game genre. Thanks to the need of precision tactics, oddball strategy and absolutely crazy weaponry, Nintendo's offering an innovative formula that's thinking outside the genre box while offering that traditional Nintendo magic to proceedings.
Before we dig into the game modes, let's talk game world. Coloropolis is a hub similar to Destiny's Tower. It's here that we can meet other players, and the city's divided into different districts. District Octopus (single-player), Lobby (online multiplayer), Gym (multiplayer competitive, two-player local). Then there's Calamarama, the shopping centre where we can find four different stores in which to buy weapons, gear and accessories. Beside these locations, exploring the city will reveal other areas, including the Amiibo's section, but at the time of this review we couldn't access this.
Once upon a time an Inkling ...
Let's start with District Octopus, or simply the Campaign Mode. Although Splatoon is a game with a declared vocation to multiplayer, Nintendo has offered a single player mode that can be used as training to learn the game's mechanics, weapons and equipment. It also clues us in to the game's story, as we play an Inkling - a humanoid mutant that can transform into a squid, and are enlisted by Captain Sepia to protect Coloropolis from a massive Octorians' invasion. With the support of Captain Sepia, we travel through different levels trying to destroy the Octorian threat and save the city.
With an excellently pitched difficulty curve, District Octopus proves an engaging mode. Although you need a couple of games before being able to get a feeling for Splatoon's controls, as at default, you use the Wii U GamePad to aim (though there's option to switch to the right analog stick).
Don't be fooled by the soft and colourful atmosphere that characterises the game world: Splatoon gradually becomes more and more intense and frantic, even in this story mode, and especially come the various mini-bosses you can find at the end of every world.
Besides being a great training tool, District Octopus also offers lots of side pursuits, like picking up collectibles that expand the story as well as secrets and objects (which offer weapon upgrades), and more. Splatoon has plenty to offer solo players.
Alongside the single-player mode, there is also a fun local multiplayer mode for two players called Gym, a neutral ground where we can train with a friend ahead of entering online matches. All you have to do is hit as many balloons as possible, but at the same time you have to stop your opponent doing the same, hitting them with paint.
In this mode, one player can use GamePad while the second can use the Pro-controller or the classic Wii-remote, though over our time with the game so far we're favouring the Pro controller, as it's simply easier to manage compared to Nintendo's tablet.
What a colourful world...
But real longevity in Splatoon is, of course, the online multiplayer mode.
Inside the Lobby area, we have three different sub-modes: Pro Challenges (which you can access come level 10), Friendly Matches (for everyone) and Friendly Matches with friends (for private sessions, in a way not so dissimilar to what we've seen in Mario Kart 8).
Due to these modes being unavailable prior to launch, our multiplayer sessions over the past few weeks have centered around the Mollusk Challenges mode, and the four maps available at the moment. The purpose of this mode is very simple: our 4-player team has to cover the whole area of the map with their own paint, while a rival gang tried doing the same.
Unlike the shooter games we are usually accustomed to, in Splatoon (at least in this mode we've tested) it is not important how many kills your team achieves, although they do contribute to the match score and consequently, allow us to level up. But the game's focus is on who's covered the most area with their paint.
It's not a simple paint job. Acquiring excellent tactical skills, learning how to cover larger areas and using primary and secondary weapons wisely are of primary importance, something perfectly suited to the charismatic fast-paced shooter that Splatoon is.
As you'd expect in every other shooter these days, you gain XP points, and when you reach level 4 you can start buying new gear, weapons and accessories. We have an interesting arsenal to choose from and the same also applies for clothing that you can use to customise your Inkling. Clothing is not limited to a mere aesthetics, but allows you to improve your skills. But as we said earlier, the most potent weapon in Splatoon lies in your tactical abilities: learn how to best use them and you can be lethal even if you're carrying less powerful weapons.
Online has some issues, but we'll be reserving our judgement until the game's been field-tested during the weeks after launch. Prolonged waits for matchmaking may simply be due to servers being underpopulated. However, the lack of voice chat could be a long-term problem. Given the tactical team-based nature of the game, lack of communication with team members could be an issue. Additionally, there's the limited number of maps, and although Nintendo has repeatedly stated that Splatoon will be fleshed out with new content post-launch, the current stuff on offer isn't satisfying enough. We'll have to see what appears in the coming weeks.
Fresh, cool (the character design is absolutely irresistible) and colourful, the game's sold itself easily to us, and we're eager to play the game properly now it's available publicly. We enjoyed what we played so far, but now we have to see if the game has legs to carry it past launch. Content drops, community development and some serious time in those other modes will all decide whether this is another winner for Nintendo or just an interesting - if colourful - experiment.
After two weeks since Splatoon's official launch, Nintendo has started to add the first new content, keeping its early promise: the game will be constantly updated with new maps, gear, modes and weapons to add more richness and freshness to the game. As we said in our early impressions review, we would have preferred to wait a few weeks before declaring our final verdict on Splatoon with the recent addition of the highly anticipated Ranked Mode. We also wanted to know whether the game would have been similarly fluid as in the early access version, or if it would have succumbed under the weight of too many connections.
After a busy week of testing, we can confirm the stability in terms of connection to the servers that turned out to be much more stable than at the beginning of our experience - although the game isn't entirely free from lag. It's nothing particularly disturbing or exhausting, because the servers for the most part resisted and still resist perfectly to the large number of players that alternates between different online modes, starting from the new Ranked Mode. As we already said in our very first impressions review, Pro mode (also known as Splat Zones) is a ranking mode you can only access if you have reached level 10 in the non-ranked mode, and it's structured as a classic "King of the Hill" mode.
Despite the friendly matches (the so-called Turf War) are better structured, in Ranked Mode the two teams have the one and only purpose of capturing one or more areas flagged on the map, and they have to own the domain for a several seconds. The players who conquer the area make a 100 seconds countdown to start. If the timer of one of the two teams reaches 0, the game is over; if the game lasts for too long, the victory will be assigned to the team who kept the areas for more time. Depending on the way you win, the score of the two teams changes: if a team wins by making the timer reach 0, a technical knockout is declared and the losing team won't get any point. Otherwise, all of the two teams will get some points.
Unlike Turf War, which undoubtedly represent the truly creative and innovative feature compared to the contemporary shooter online games, Splat Zone haven't thrilled us as we would have liked: although this ranking mode keeps the tactical element of the friendly matches, the mode itself is not so innovative and original as Turf War.
In addition, the small presence of new maps available at the moment doesn't play in its favor: even if a new map, Port Mackerel, was added last week, the cycle of the maps is very redundant, creating a sort of repetitive experience. Another aspect that still doesn't convince us - even more with the addition of the Ranked Mode - is the lack of a voice chat: it seems to be even more necessary in a game that requires a good team coordination. We really hope that Nintendo will change its mind from this point of view and that they will allow the teams to interact with each other.
In our opinion, Turf War will continue to be the most interesting mode and we believe that we will spend more time there than in Pro mode. It should however be said that Nintendo will continue to update the game in the near future with additional modes, so hopefully our choices may prove larger than at present.
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