Friday, June 5, 2015

Video Game Review: Splatoon

[So, I've decided to expand my blog a bit and talk about stuff that isn't just music. Hey, the blog's called Sean's (Mostly) Music Notes, so I figure I should exercise that 'Mostly' a bit. Other than music, one of my biggest passions is video games, so this feels like a good thing to try: video game reviews! I'll separate the review into three areas: Presentation, which covers the aesthetics of the game - its graphics and music; Gameplay, which covers the mechains of the game - how it actually plays; and a section I'll call "More Thoughts On...", where I'll discuss one of the game's concepts in more detail - this will vary depending on the game. So let's get started!]

Splatoon is a third-person shooter from Nintendo, released on May 29, 2015 exclusively on the Wii U. It marks a bit of a departure for Nintendo, as Splatoon is a completely new IP and focuses heavily on an online multiplayer experience, an area that Nintendo does not have a large amount of experience with. The game is setup somewhat similarly to games like Team Fortress 2, but the key difference is that, instead of focusing on getting kills, your objective is to cover as much of the stage with your team's color by shooting ink all over the place. The characters are called "Inklings", half squid/half humans who can swim through ink of their own color in squid form.


Splatoon has a very cartoon-y feel to its presentation, as can be deduced from its title. The graphics are very colorful and bright, giving the game a very nice look. As much of the game is based on covering turf with your color of ink, two very contrasting colors are chosen randomly for each team, and by the end of the match, the entire map is covered with bright colors. Nintendo also attempted to give Splatoon a bit of personality, and for the most part, it works well. The NPCs in Inkopolis (the main hub world) are 'hip' and demonstrate it by talking about 'freshness' and calling the player 'squiddo' and such. It's kind of cheesy, but at the same time, it works. The music is pretty good, but nothing phenomenal. The soundtrack has a rock vibe to it, which I appreciate. Most of the songs are pleasant to listen to but nothing super-memorable. Overall, Splatoon's presentation is pretty well-done and creates a cohesive world. Nintendo always does a fantastic job of giving their games polish, and this game is no exception.
Rating: 4.5/5


Where Splatoon really shines is its gameplay. As mentioned in the intro, Splatoon is mainly a third-person shooter that focuses on covering the arena with your team's color of ink. You can move around the stage in two forms: kid form and squid form. Squid form lets you swim through ink of your team's color very quickly, and it's really fun to 'squid around' the stages. In kid form, you move much slower, but you must be in kid form to shoot ink. You shoot ink using a variety of weapons, ranging from the standard 'Splattershot' to the sniper-like 'Splat Charger' to the 'Splat Roller', which is essentially a paint roller, and it plays just about how you'd expect. You also have 'sub' weapons, which are usually some form of bomb or grenade, and 'special' weapons that can only be used when you fill up your special gauge.

There are two main modes: single player, and multiplayer. The single player campaign is very short, only taking about 5 hours to complete. The stages themselves aren't great, but the campaign does a pretty good job of teaching you the mechanics that you'll need to know to succeed in multiplayer, which kind of leaves the single player feeling a little hollow. However, the bosses were a pleasant surprise, as all of them were really fun and made you use the ink mechanic in unique ways. The final boss was surprisingly difficult as well.

Splatoon's main draw is definitely the multiplayer. The main mode is 'Turf War', which has you covering as much of the stage with your team's color. These are 4-on-4 battles that last 3 minutes, and after 3 minutes is up, the team who has covered the most turf wins. I really like Turf War, as it changes the typical shooter format and takes the focus away from getting kills. Case in point: your score (both team and individual) is entirely based on how much turf you cover, and your number of kills/deaths has absolutely no direct bearing on your final score. Camping and trying to get kills can actually be a detriment, as it means you're not covering turf and therefore not increasing your score.
Rating: 5/5

More Thoughts On... Multiplayer

While the gameplay of Splatoon is incredibly fun, Nintendo made some very questionable design choices when it comes to the multiplayer's execution. When you enter the queue to start a new multiplayer match, you are randomly put into a group of 8, which is randomly split into 2 groups of 4. This works fine most of the time, but the lobby system isn't perfect. There's a counter on the lobby screen that presumably will kick you out or something if it reaches 0, but it never does because it is inexplicably being refreshed to 200 constantly. This isn't usually a problem, but when you get stuck in a lobby that for some reason isn't getting filled, you end up stuck. Because you cannot leave the lobby. Period. Once you join a match, you're committed until the match ends. The only way to get out is to completely turn off your Wii U. I understand why this happens, though, because in the cases where someone gets disconnected before a match starts, the battle is extremely one-sided. A 4-on-3 battle always ends up with the 4 totally blowing out the 3.

Another thing that irks me about the lobby is the team setup. You don't know who is on your team until the match starts. This wouldn't be a problem if the weapons didn't play so drastically different. It would be very useful to see what weapons your team has and switch weapons to make a balanced team, but not only can you not see your teammates' weapons, you can't switch weapons until you leave the lobby after the match. The Wii U gamepad was made for things like this; why can't we change our weapons in the lobby? It's these strange design choices that really make it clear that Nintendo doesn't have any experience in this genre.

Not everything is bad, though. Leaving the lobby, switching weapons, and re-joining a lobby takes about 15 seconds, and the wait between matches is almost never more than 30 seconds. The game runs very quickly. And the multiplayer servers are very good, too; I have barely ever encountered any lag.

There's one last design choice that needs discussing. Upon its release, Splatoon's multiplayer has a grand total of 1 mode and 5 maps. That's it. Since then, they have added 1 new mode and 1 new map, but these modes are separated into 'Ranked Battles' which feature the new Splat Zones mode, and 'Regular Battles' (i.e., unranked) that feature Turf War. Nintendo has said that they're going to continuously add new content to Splatoon, but the fact that the game shipped with such little content really bothers me.


Splatoon is an incredibly fun game, and it's a polished product that we have come to expect from Nintendo. However, their lack of experience in the genre of multiplayer shooters shows in their questionable design choices. I have a lot of fun with Splatoon, and I'm excited to see what gets added in the future, but I can't quite stomach the fact that the game shipped with very little content. Still, Nintendo has seldom disappointed me in the past, so I'm sure they'll continue to make Splatoon better, and I'll continue to have fun with it.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

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