“Splatoon” is a fantastic multiplayer shooter. One of the best in ages. Were it not for a few glaring issues, it would be up there with “Fistful of Frags” and “Titanfall” as one of the most interesting multiplayer games of the last few years. And it’s also family friendly, and parents with gamer kids know too well that there aren’t many good games today that are also designed with Junior in mind.
But those glaring issues are so glaring and so obvious that it almost ruins the potential that “Splatoon” has. And while these issues can be addressed and patched out in the future, Nintendo’s not exactly known for their ability to fix massive online-related issues.
To get back to what “Splatoon” gets right, though, its main mode, Turf War, is massively different from other “deathmatch” modes that you’d typically see in another shooter. Instead of bullets, guns in “Splatoon” shoot paint, which can both cover walls and “splatter” other players – “kill” doesn’t seem like the right word. In Turf War, the main goal is to slather most of the arena in your team’s ink, and whoever covers most of the arena with their ink at the end wins.
To start with, this allows players who aren’t that good at shooters to pitch in and still contribute without having to have twitch aiming skills. Even in a match where you don’t splatter anyone else, you can still make great progress just by painting the map. It’s easy to get into, while still allowing those who are good at shooters to flaunt their skills.
Plus, it features a unique movement system that makes traversing the maps a blast. Players can turn into a squid at the push of a button – it makes just as much sense in context – and rapidly swim or hide in their own team’s ink. All of this makes positioning and movement extremely vital to an average “Splatoon” match, and it’s great fun.
However, Nintendo is Nintendo, and that means that the online experience still feels bungled up. One major issue is the inability to switch weapons without first leaving the online lobby, which takes away a lot of “Splatoon’s” strategic value. Certain weapons are more valuable for certain situations, but since maps are randomly chosen, players can’t plan for that kind of thing.
In addition, Nintendo’s friend system is as finicky as ever. Friends who want to play together have to first organize themselves on Skype (or other communication service) first, and then join a random game, and then other players can join them… if the match isn’t already full. There’s no invite system, no built-in chat, and shockingly, no standalone Gamepad support – as in, you can’t play the game on the Wii U’s screen-based controller like you can with other games, meaning you can’t carry the game over to where your Skype microphone is.
“Splatoon” is a great concept. But at this point, it feels like just that: a concept. This game gives you the sad feeling that Nintendo wants to – and can – do awesome online experiences, but can’t seem to get their heads in the modern world, where everything is convenient and connected. They can’t even borrow features that have become the standard for convenience. It’s a great time when it works, but it’s hard enough to get working that it’ll most likely be too frustrating for those used to more modern online games.