Nintendo jets to the top in this INKomplete--but still INKredible--multiplayer shooter
We all know the joke: Nintendo never makes anything new, and will rely on Mario and The Legend of Zelda for time eternal. Most people know that's not true: Animal Crossing, Pikmin, and Code Name S.T.E.A.M. have joined the lineup, Nintendo gave Fire Emblem a real chance in the west, and has been bringing back classics like Kid Icarus and Punch-Out!!, just to name a few. Now, Nintendo's joining the crowded multiplayer shooter genre with Splatoon, but has gone out of its way to craft a truly special experience.
The adorable, immediately-beloved Inklings are kids that are squids/squids that are kids, and you can pop onto Twitter or Tumblr to see just how just how many image macros and pieces of fanart have been created around them. The Inklings battle in paintball-like Turf Wars in the most intense family-friendly combat I've seen in a long while. Splatoon has a heavy focus on multiplayer and surprisingly balanced character customization, but still provides on the single-player side of things.
Single-player modes in shooters can either be the main attraction or filler--Splatoon doesn't do either in this case. While you're welcome to jump straight into multiplayer, single-player is more than just a fun side story to set everything up. Of course, single-player teaches you the basics, but what it really excels at is teaching the mentality of Splatoon, making use of the game's unique movement and tying it into the shooting action. Eventually, you're expected to put it all together to think and fight as creatively as possible against a variety of puzzles, enemies, and a handful of great boss encounters that proudly carry on a great Nintendo tradition.
While some single-player objectives get reused a few times (defeat Octolings in an arena, survive aerial bombardment from an Octostriker), most levels throw an interesting gimmick at you, forcing you to deal with implacable killer sprinkler robots, huge rotating platforms, and cover-hopping through trenches guarded by paint snipers and shielded machine (paint) gun emplacements. Splatoon give all the action and urgency of a shooter, but puts its focus on mobility and thinking outside the box instead of snap headshot aiming. Splatoon's action most reminds me of Gears of War, where you have to develop a clean rhythm between shooting (painting), moving (whether as a squid or on-foot), and reloading (swimming in ink as a squid), and making use of cover (or in this case, ink and territory control) to traverse levels quickly and intelligently, and strike at enemies from blind angles.
Multiplayer switches things up, making the fight about claiming territory--painting as much of the stage as possible in your color--instead of destroying the enemy. Taking out foes certainly helps, as defeated enemies explode in your team's color, but making a push into enemy territory and supporting your teammates is more important than getting a high K/D. It's a refreshing, addicting change of pace that makes Splatoon's multiplayer a real treat, even if you're constantly on the losing end like I am.
You start off with the Splattershot Jr, a pretty basic weapon that's reminiscent of the single-player HeroShot, but Splatoon has quite a bit of variety with its weapons, even making standard-seeming rifles and shotguns feel fresh, while introducing new strategies with the gets-more-crap-than-it-deserves Paint Roller. While some weapons hold their own advantages (it's always frustrating to round a corner and see a guy with a Paint Roller right there), nothing beats a coordinated team that keeps tabs on each other and makes on-the-fly tactical decisions. Being able to spawn next to teammates keeps the action fast and unpredictable, with overextended teams getting punished for not guarding home... or each other.
It's kind of disappointing that the variety of weapons in multiplayer isn't available in single-player, but Splatoon's multiplayer is the main focus of this game. It's frustrating how you're unable to change loadouts mid-match, effectively being stuck with a single weapon for an entire game. Online is strong (and not just for a Nintendo title), but it's at the cost of only having a total of four maps available for multiplayer at one time--two for standard Turf War, and two for Ranked Battle. Thankfully, map selection rotates every few hours so you're not stuck on the same battleground all day, but there are only a total of five maps available--that's something I hope Nintendo fixes soon. Like many other shooters today, local multiplayer only allows for two players to a screen, I'll let you all make your own complaints and tell old Halo and Perfect Dark war stories.
Splatoon is a more-than-welcome addition to Nintendo's pantheon of original titles. It's very much a work in progress, but it gets so much right on the first try that its "problems" are completely forgivable. Nintendo takes the shooter--an almost too-common genre today--and makes it fresh, fun, accessible, and smart all in one go.
+ Brilliant, fast-paced take on arena shooters that rewards creative thinking
+ Unique arsenal takes familiar tools and reinvents them for a brand-new way to play
+ Sense of color, style, design, and feel not seen in most modern video games
+ Single-player isn't just tacked-on filler, gives fresh new experience using multiplayer's mentality
+/- Great online play, but partially due to limited content: only one loadout per game, only five maps total, available two at a time
- Very much a work in progress--even with more Splatoon goodness on the way, it still feels incomplete