Some brief hands-on time with Nintendo’s Splatoon
Saturday marked the end of Nintendo’s two-day initiative to allow Wii U owners to have some hands-on time with their upcoming competitive multiplayer shooter, Splatoon. Originally announced this past Thursday during a Nintendo Direct focused entirely on Nintendo’s new third-person paint-shooter, the Splatoon Global Testfire ran during 5/8 and 5/9 for the three different hour-long periods: Friday from 8pm-9pm (PT), Saturday from 4am-5am (PT), and Saturday from noon-1pm (PT).
While the times at which this demo was available were limited, I managed to get an hour of play in during the Testfire’s final round. Upon booting up the roughly 0.5 GB demo, I was met with a colorful title screen, followed by a brief tutorial walking me through the basics of running, gunning, and sliding through paint. After completing the tutorial, I was allowed to select one of four preset weapon classes before jumping into my first game.
Right off of the bat, I was impressed by the level of polish that Nintendo has given Splatoon, a title that had flew under many people’s radar after its announcement at E3 2014. In many ways, Splatoon had simply been overshadowed by the announcements of new games in established Nintendo franchises, such as Star Fox and The Legend of Zelda. However, after playing Splatoon both through the Global Testfire and back at PAX East 2015, it has become clear to me that the game is receiving the same level of attention as any other major AAA Nintendo title.
Games are three minutes in length, and consist of 4v4 matches during which teams vie for control of the map. This “Turf War” is fought through the spraying of ink over the walls and ground. By the end of the three-minute period, the team with the most area covered is deemed the victor. Seems simple at first glance, right?
Thankfully, underneath Splatoon‘s simplicity is surprising amount of depth. By painting the ground and walls their color, players are able to turn into their squid-form and swim across claimed ground. This opens up a surprising amount of tactical possibilities, from fighting for an important sniper perch high up on the map, to hiding in your team’s ink around a corner to ambush nearby enemies.
Adding to the complexity of matches, there were four different weapons offered during the demo (which were new additions to the game since Nintendo’s PAX East build), with the promise of many more being available by the game’s May 29th release (and even more offered by way of free post-release DLC). Mid-range machine guns offer a wide horizontal area of spread, as well as a high rate of fire against enemy players. Charge-up sniper guns allow for a more powerful, vertical spread, and are useful for picking off distant enemies or for providing a straight path for pushing forward in squid-form. Finally, rollers act as close-quarters melee weapons, allowing players to literally stroll around the map and roll paint wherever they walk (very useful for covering a lot of ground in very little time, yet obviously vulnerable to longer-ranged weapons).
Each weapon feels unique, yet balanced. There is a rock-paper-scissors dynamic that is always at play, where rollers are vulnerable to snipers, snipers vulnerable to machine guns, and machine guns vulnerable to rollers. Regardless of what I picked as a starting weapon, I always enjoyed the power behind each respective weapon, and loved seeing how each armament painted the field differently. Given the sheer difference behind each class of weapon, it was a shame that players were confined to one sole weapon for an entire match–yes, you were forced to choose your weapon prior to even being placed in a lobby. For the final game, Nintendo has advertised a voting mechanism where players vote between two different maps (rotating throughout the day), which will allow players to pick and choose their outfits accordingly given the maps being played at the time. While it remains to be seen whether or not this will ameliorate the dilemma of bringing a roller to a match filled with snipers, considering the fact that each match is only three minutes long, I doubt this issue will be too much of a problem after launch.
In addition to main weapons, players have access to sub-weapons and special weapons, from paint grenades and mines to bazookas and tornadoes. While these elements were pre-determined for this demo based on which weapon players decided on, for the final game players will be able to outfit their character’s various weapons to their heart’s content.
In fact, during their direct, Nintendo introduced a hub town where players will be able to shop for clothes for their characters (which can then be outfitted with various perk-like buffs), purchase new weapons, launch both online and offline multiplayer matches, and tackle various single-player missions and amiibo challenges.
All-in-all, it looks as if Splatoon is set to offer complex and addictive multiplayer matches for its May 29th launch date. And with plenty of additional game modes, gear, weapons, and maps promised to be added as free post-launch DLC (at least through Summer 2015), Wii U fans should have a lot to be excited about. While the controls take some getting used to, and not being able to switch out weapons mid-game is a bummer, Splatoon has a ton of potential as Nintendo’s first true foray into competitive shooters on the Wii U. And if the micro games offered on the Wii U Gamepad during waiting times in the online lobbies are any indication, Splatoon offers a level of polish and attention to detail that even the most hardcore Zelda and Metroid fans will find impressive.