Review: Splat goes Nintendo all over the shooter with ‘Splatoon’ fun
The enemy is around the corner. The floor is stained with the bright orange scars of battle. I can see my rival — she’s wearing a baseball cap backward, high-tops and is firing blindly.
This can only mean one thing: It’s time to turn into a squid.
“Boo-yah!” my character screams, and out come the tentacles.
I dive into a pool of neon orange paint with a gooey splat of my squid limbs, never seeing the giant paint roller coming to steamroll me from behind. So much for my surprise attack.
This is “Splatoon,” one of the most senselessly entertaining video game shooters of this — or any — year. The shock is that it comes from Nintendo, entering an arena it long ago ceded to its competitors: the online multiplayer shoot-'em-up.
Nintendo may be late to the game, but with “Splatoon,” the company seems to out-weird its competitors.
“Splatoon’s” oddness isn’t all that sets the game apart. For once, a gun-based game feels approachable to all.
It’s essentially an interactive game of paintball, one that is bright and funny. Where other games have blood and guts or complex weapons, maps and control schemes, “Splatoon” has aging cats full of wisdom and a pick-up-and-play sensibility.
Then there’s the whole half-human, half-squid thing. Why run and hide when swimming and gliding are much more fun? As someone who long ago decided that shooters will never be my go-to genre, “Splatoon” is the shooter I never knew I wanted. It is, in short, to gun-driven games what “Mario Kart” is to racing titles.
When it comes to story, trying to explain “Splatoon” can be a futile task. Just know that you play customizable boys and girls who can turn into squids.
They can hide from enemies by swimming in paint, but they should avoid water. Water kills. Weapons are essentially squirt guns — some are paint rollers — and you win not by obliterating your foes but by covering more ground in paint.
The focus isn’t on taking down others; it’s on becoming a sort of interactive graffiti artist.
There’s also a single-player version in which octopus-like creatures are out to destroy the wacky, electronic-music-loving town of Inkopolis. These critters wear their tentacles like clown hats; not since the days of Jules Verne has the octopus been this demonized.
Just try not to be creeped out by their bulging, eyeliner-enhanced eyes. And what’s with those lips that look as if they should be walls of a bouncy house?
The key to understanding “Splatoon” is that it speaks its own language.
“Hold on to your tentacles!” implores one of the in-game hosts, a Gothy rascal who I’m pretty sure is wearing a piece of pink sashimi on her head, as you boot up “Splatoon.”
The characters here have invented their own slang — “Splatastic!” “Staaaay fresh!” — and “Splatoon” itself has taken all that’s imposing about multiplayer games and thrown it out to sea.
Blissfully, there’s no voice chat, meaning parents need not worry about the more unsavory aspects of the gaming community. If I want to talk to my teammates, I hit a button and watch my squid person scream “boo-yah!” and that’s enough, as matches aren’t more than a couple minutes.
“Splatoon” is also the rare game to make good use of motion controls. Novices, forget having to master a camera while attempting to aim — simply flip the Wii U’s GamePad up, down or left and right.
Experienced players can turn off motion controls for a more standard style of play, but having the controls on is my preferred way to handle “Splatoon.” The game is fast, with squids sliding into paint puddles, up walls and down ramps in battle arenas that feel like giant skate parks. It’s hectic, and keeping up with the characters via simple flicks of the wrists is easier than having to master an in-game camera.
It’s also a far more natural style of play for those who haven’t been raised on “Call of Duty.” I never felt like I was out of a match in “Splatoon,” and if an opposing team happened to be ganging up on me, I simply remembered that the point of “Splatoon” is to paint the battlefield rather than to attack others. Thus, I just found somewhere else for my team to make up ground.
Or I retreated and started playing single-player levels, which are a bit like “Super Mario Bros.” with squirt guns and the ability to traverse lands via paint. I soared down paint-filled zip-lines, etched a pattern on an enemy for a sneak attack and destroyed an octopus outfitted in a giant Jack-in-the-box-like contraption by covering it in paint and then zigzagging up its sides.
Though levels here may not be as intricate as those designed for a “Mario Bros.” title — four-on-four multiplayer is “Splatoon’s” focus, after all — the single-player edition is full of surprises.
Take, for instance, the Roomba-like robots that gobble up paint, making traversal all the more difficult. Or levels that are built on propeller-affixed platforms, requiring one to spray paint on the blades for liftoff.
Meanwhile, the octopuses (here they’re called Octarians) have propellers of their own, wearing them on their head to soar over our humanoid heroes. I can’t tell you why there are flying cephalopods that fire paintballs, but they’re here, and they’re something I’ve never seen before.
Ultimately, everything about “Splatoon” feels fresh. The game may not have, say, the same sort of sprawling maps of other trigger titles, but who could have foreseen that after all this time guns would be better with tentacles?
Developer and publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Wii U
Release date: May 29
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