‘Splatoon’ a charming game with great style

Nora Clifton, Staff Writer

“Splatoon” is a third-person shooter released for the WiiU by Nintendo. You play as a squid/kid creature called an “inkling.” They live in a futuristic Japanese-esque civilization populated by cartoon versions of ocean life, and their main activities are dressing up and competing in games. If all that sounds like a game for kids, well, it is. But don’t confuse that with low quality.

The graphics are simple and brightly colored. This gives it a cheerful unifying aesthetic, but the lack of photo-realism is also important for the gameplay. The mechanics revolve around the ink your weapons splatter on the surrounding environment. The game’s calculation of ink blobs and splatter adds up to a lot of data, and the focus of “Splatoon” is its online PvP mode. Added HD environments and lighting would make the load too much for most people’s wifi to bear. The game’s unique style is the result of gamemakers working around the constraints of technology so cleverly that you don’t even realize they did it.

The weapon types are shooter standbys. Your main weapon is either a gun or a melee weapon, and your sub-weapon is usually a type of bomb. But since “Splatoon” is all about ink, you’re wielding cutely oversized airbrush guns and paint rollers. It’s a relief for parents uncomfortable with the violent realism of most shooters, and a change of pace for everyone else.
While the weapons do damage to enemies, the real twist is in the ink they splatter on your surroundings. Your inkling character is normally in “kid” form, but you can hold down a button to pop into squid mode. As a squid you can’t attack, but you can speed through your ink and use it to hide from enemies. Running in kid mode feels slow, because the point is to modify the terrain to your advantage, creating pathways of ink to exploit. It adds a unique edge to the gameplay, turning solid but simple platforming into a tactical puzzle.

In the online mode, you battle players from around the world in teams of four vs. four. The main mode of online play is called “Turf War.” The phrase is extremely literal, as the two teams compete to cover the arena in their side’s ink color. While you can kill enemies—”splat” in the game’s lingo—and camp by respawn points all you like, kills don’t count one bit to which side wins. All that matters is what you’ve inked. This makes online play less monotonously violent, allowing players to charge forward into battle or stay back and carefully cover every last patch with ink, depending on their mood and playstyle.

The game also has a solid story mode. At only 32 levels, it’s short compared to other platformers. But since the game’s core is its online play, they feel like well-designed bonus content rather than a lack. The gameplay is fun and engaging, and the environments are beautiful. The story is straightforward but charming, and the snippets of backstory you discover about the world through finding scrolls hidden in levels add interesting dimension to the setting. I’d have liked more levels, or a hard mode that adds challenge and replayability.

The only real weak point is the local play. It’s a balloon-popping game in which you can only play with two people. It’s not bad as local play goes, but next to the fantastic online mode it feels disappointing. Plus the WiiU has been pushed as the “social” console, and many of Nintendo’s other titles prioritize good local play, so the deficit is extra noticeable.

“Splatoon” is a charming game with clever mechanics and a great sense of style. What it lacks in local play, it has in a strong story mode, and its online PvP is being hailed by many as one of the best in the genre. Fans of platformers and shooters will love it, and those unfamiliar with both will find it a fun and friendly introduction.