I haven’t been this excited for a new Nintendo IP since... Pikmin? That seems about right. The Big N doesn’t really put out tons and tons of new properties every year, and if they do it’s usually in the form of a clever new 3DS puzzler or eShop gem.
Splatoon is a big deal for many reasons, but I think the main one is that Nintendo is backing it in an uncommonly enthusiastic way. Usually they know when a title is going to be a winner and they put their efforts into getting it noticed by the general public. The thing is, this only seems to happen with core franchises like Mario and Zelda, which is why Splatoon being splattered (pun intended) all over the web and other media is a good sign.
But let’s forget about what Nintendo thinks of it’s own game and talk about that Global Testfire Demo. This was a new kind of demo (at least for Nintendo) which was only playable at three very specific times throughout the last 24 hours. I managed to put in a solid two and a half hours of play, as well as spectate my wife playing for the last half hour. There was quite a bit to take in, but here are my main thoughts.
Splatoon is a game that doesn’t take itself very seriously. It has a very bright and loud ‘90s look and sound that is more akin to a Capri Sun commercial than a video game. Something that adds buckets of charm to the bizarre futuristic ocean dweller world Nintendo has brought to the Wii U. It’s just all so darn cheery and fun. You can’t escape it. Even when you get lit up by enemy fire and explode in a combustion of ink and accessories you can’t help by smile.
The main characters (i.e. you) aren’t fleshed out, mostly due to them being generic inklings you create, but the world around you and the heavy vibes of playtime run amuck are just so enticing that you wish you could stay a while longer in this paint splattered universe. I can think of many games that have similarities to Splatoon (de Blob comes to mind), but the game feels fresh. It is giving players something they haven’t seen or experienced and it’s intoxicating. And this is just a demo.
The demo starts you out in a very brief tutorial about all things Splatoon. Shooting, aiming, jumping, squiding - it’s all covered in a balloon filled area that looks like a skatepark. As Splatoon is a third-person shooter of sorts, it’s pretty darn important that it handles well. The motion controls were decent (IMO), but they felt a little wonky and times, even with the realigning options of the Y button . When I actually entered the fray of “Turf War” I found myself overcorrecting and splattering everything but my enemies in close range. Which, I guess, isn’t a terrible thing in the grand scheme of things. You do want to get paint everywhere.
It should be noted that one can adjust the sensitivity of the motion controls or simply turn them off. They’re not horrible. I guess they just take some getting used to. Which is to be expected with any new game. Then again, with them turned off I did find myself doing much better on the whole.
After quickly cobbling together an inkling players were faced with choosing one of four main weapons. There was the Splattershot Jr., Splattershot, Splat Charger and the Splat Roller. Each one had its own distinct advantages and fallbacks, as well as differing sub and special weapons.
The Splat Charger was my first try and it was an utterly painful experience. I could see how others might dominate after the games release with such a weapon, but the charging part (and probably my messy aiming via motion controls) made me an easy target and at times a hindrance to my own team. The Splattershot, both Jr. and normal, were much easier to control and gave me a good amount of both defensive and offensive capabilities I felt the Charger lacked.
Then came the Splat Roller. Initially I pinned it as the worst of the four, due to it’s seemingly poor range and unwieldy appearance. Oh how wrong I was. This beast is basically a paint bulldozer and if you can get good enough at hiding in your own ink to escape or sneak up on enemies it can cause some serious damage to the opposing side. I won and lost many matches, but I only lost two Turf War rounds in my time playing with the Splat Roller. It feels almost too powerful, at least for this type of match up. I guess we’ll see how other, more powered-up, weapons fare in full game.
There’s not much to understanding the basics of Splatoon. As I helped my wife walk through the tutorial it didn’t take long for her to put together the few pieces of vital gameplay action that you need to survive and conquer. Shoot things and make a mess. Swim in ink to get more ink, move faster and get away from enemies. That’s really all you need to know before you head into battle and it’s not something that’s going to take you long to get a hold of.
Being able to take advantage of your surroundings, sub-weapons and special weapons are also tactics that aren’t too hard to grasp, though applying them can be a bit tricky at times. Obviously when the real game hits stores shelves (and the eShop), it will be brimming with more gadgets, weapons and gear. This will add some serious depth to the average online match. It’s certainly going to be one of those games you can hand to a novice and they’ll enjoy, but also one that’s sure to be analyzed ad nauseam by hardcore Splatoon fanatics. It’s great that it can appeal to such a wide spectrum of gamers, and I’ll most likely be in that second camp.
In the end I dub this Global Testfire a rousing success. There weren’t many technical issues (I think I was booted from two games in my time playing) and tons of folks were won over by the games quirky presentation. It’s going to be an agonizing three weeks waiting on an official release after getting a taste, but it sure seems like it’ll be worth it.