Hands-on Preview: Splatoon

The ink flies in Nintendo’s new third-person shooter for Wii U!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/12/2014 15:00 2 Comments     ShareThis

Rumors had been bubbling for months prior to Nintendo’s E3 Digital Event that the company was keeping a new IP under lock and key. Sure enough, this past Monday Nintendo unveiled its new, third-person shooter Splatoon! Featuring four-versus-four online multiplayer, Splatoon marks Nintendo’s most ambitious attempt yet to claim a place in the highly competitive online shooter market. Nintendo had a massive, split-level display dedicated to the new game, and that’s where I got to experience Splatoon firsthand.

Splatoon is all about fighting for turf. Rather than go for the traditional death match-style of competition that’s so ubiquitous in contemporary shooters, players are instead tasked with spraying colored ink onto the floors and walls of arena floors in order to claim territory. Players can engage one another in combat, but it’s not the focus of the gameplay by any means. It’s ink and not paint, by the way, because the cast is comprised of half-human, half-squid squad members. The characters are nameless at this point, but even without official titles, they’re bursting with personality, toting giant squirt gun-looking rifles brimming with ink, and staring out with big, cartoony eyes.

When I took my place on the second level of the Splatoon booth, I was quickly put into a match with my fellow attendees. I found myself immediately sucked in by the game’s visuals. The arena was stark, featuring a wealth of grays and whites, which made the splattering ink stand out even more once the shooting started. Each team is given a specific color at the beginning of a match, and the colors are all raucous and bright. Watching the ink spew across different surfaces brought back very fond memories of THQ’s De Blob games. I sat back and basked in the shimmering luminescence of the battlefield, grinning at the enormous mess my team and I were making.

The play control in the Splatoon demo was crisp and smooth. The player shoots ink, jumps, and most importantly, can leap down into the ink beneath their feet! This is where the half-squid part of the character design comes into play. The ink that players shoot isn’t unlimited, and when ammo runs low, diving into the ink that’s been sprayed onto the floors and walls is the only way to reload. Ink is stored in tanks, which also provide ammunition for the player’s powerful ink bombs. These bombs explode and spray ink in all directions, but the amount of ammo consumed per bomb is high, so it’s key to determine when it’s better to shoot rather than explode!

Diving serves a couple of other purposes that play greatly into the game’s overall strategy. While submerged, the player moves more quickly than on foot, and it also renders them undetectable. This is perfect when an enemy combatant approaches, as it provides for ample ambush opportunities. Diving into ink also allows the player to traverse up the face of sheer surfaces, too, which leads to parts of the map that would otherwise be inaccessible. This is important, because it exposes both shortcuts and more territory to claim. It’s a wonderful mechanic that I had a great deal of fun experimenting with.

One last feature that I found especially useful was the map. It does all the obvious stuff a map should, like cluing in the player to enemy location and arena layout, but it also shows which parts of the map have been claimed by the opposition’s ink. Even better, though, is being able to tap on a teammate’s marker and warp directly to them! Firefights can escalate quickly when teammates rush to enter the fray. It’s a double-edged sword, though, as traveling to help someone else leaves an area open for sneaky enemies to swoop in and claim territory. This comes into play quite a bit as enemies are sprayed down and respawn back at their starting point, as it allows them to backtrack to areas that have been recently vacated.

Frantic, fluid, and fun, Splatoon left quite an impression on me after playing the demo. I genuinely believe that Nintendo has landed on its next big franchise, so long as the online experience on Nintendo Network is as seamless as what I experienced in its E3 booth. The concept is unique, and the play control is perfectly balanced for longtime shooter fans and newbies alike. With Mario Kart 8 stunning fans and Super Smash Bros. on the way, Splatoon has the potential to add a third pillar to Nintendo’s online multiplayer offerings.  Splatoon is a game that all Nintendo fans should keep on their radar!

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