Preview: Splatoon

Splatoon is an upcoming third person shooter game published and developed by Nintendo for the Wii U. It features up to eight online players competing in frantic 4vs4 battles. In typical Nintendo fashion however, there’s a twist: player will control Inklings, or humans who have the ability to transform into squid like creatures.

It’s an interesting concept for two main reasons. For starters, it gives the game a very different look from most other shooters. Inklings, with their child like appearance, are well animated and full of the type of charm only Nintendo can manage. Their primary weapon – picture a handheld version of Mario’s water pump from Sunshine and you’ve mostly got it – is similarly well imagined as it not only serves to keep the game child friendly but also visually unique as well. The game is bright, colourful, and as an added bonus, runs at a very stable 60fps.

Secondly, having a weapon that shoots coloured ink instead of bullets changes the way you play a shooter. In the mode I played both teams were tasked with painting as much of the map environment with their respective colours as possible given a three minute time limit. This gives matches a sort of frantic energy as both sides rush to meet each other whilst painting everything they can along the way. The Inkling’s ability to transform into a squid also changes things up a bit; paint a surface your colour and you can glide through it when in that form. Gliding through ink not only reloads your weapon but it also makes it easier for you to get around an environment as movement speed is increased – you can even glide up walls to get a vertical advantage on your enemies – and no damage can be taken whilst submerged.

Unfortunately, everything doesn’t come together as well as it probably should. It appears that the default method of aiming is set to use the gamepad’s gyro controls. The execution in and of itself sound clunky but really isn’t, as the controls work out alright. The problem with assigning gyro controls as the default method of aiming has to do with another of the gamepad’s features, a map on the touch screen. This map outlines the various boundaries of the environment, highlights player positions, and also shows how much of the map is currently painted by either team, but because I’m tilting the pad to position my crosshair I rarely ever looked down at the screen itself for fear of throwing my aim off. It also seems incredibly redundant as there is enough visual information in the form of ink for a player to know if enemies are around, as you can only safely move through your own ink without being slowed down considerably. Friends and enemies alike will telegraph their movements by laying down a coat of their own ink before advancing forward, making such a map unnecessary. I suppose it is helpful for quickly reinforcing your friends in the middle of combat, as tapping their icon upon death will quickly spawn you in on their position.

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It also didn’t help that the map I played on was essentially just a long corridor with both teams spawning at the ends. Combat was quickly forced into a single choke point which neither team could break and most matches I saw ended either in a tie game or with one team barely taking home a victory due to some negligible difference in the percentage of map painted. Hopefully the full game ships with more maps and modes that help alleviate or outright do away with these problems. It also remains to be seen how Nintendo will organise the online infrastructure of the game – Nintendo are notoriously behind the times with regards to online gaming despite making advances in games like Mario Kart 8 and the upcoming Super Smash Bros. I’d be willing to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt here if only this weren’t their first shooter game – Mario Kart’s online functionality built off what they had done with both the Wii and 3DS instalments in the franchise and Super Smash Bros. will presumably work off the template put forth by Brawl.

I know I’m sounding pretty down on the game by this point so allow me to extend an olive branch to the Nintendo faithful: Nintendo games are great. They’re expected to be nothing less than great because Nintendo have earned such expectations. They are meticulous and thoughtful and I have no doubt they will polish Splatoon into the gem we all want it to be. I await the finished title with as much enthusiasm as anyone and very much look forward to seeing more of the game in action. Splatoon is schedule for release sometime in 2015.