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Splatoon Preview – PAX East 2015

Ed goes hands-on with Splatoon, the upcoming squid vs. squid shooter (yes shooter!) from Nintendo at PAX East 2015.

If you made a list of companies least likely to produce a shooter, Nintendo may very well top that list. That is at least until they surprised everyone with their new squid vs. squid team shooter, Splatoon last year. It’s is totally the type of shooter you would imagine one from Nintendo would be. It’s bright, colorful, and the characters look like they could be ripped out of a Saturday morning cartoon. However, Nintendo’s rustiness (if you can even call it that), when it comes to shooters is evident despite the overall quality.

Real quick in case you’re unfamiliar with Splatoon: The object of the game is to cover as much area as possible with your team’s color by using your ink shooting gun. You can shoot other players to knock them out and slow down their efforts to do the same, but victory is determined by who can cover the most surface area with their ink. What’s especially neat is that you can turn into a squid and quickly swim around (including up walls) as long as you’re doing so on ground covered by your team’s color.


At PAX East 2015, I was able get two full rounds of 4v4 gameplay. After a quick tutorial I was up and running. The first thing everyone seems to do is make sure that your side of the map is completely covered in ink. It kind of felt like an extra point in football in that it’s a necessary formality, but not very exciting.

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Luckily that doesn’t last too long and we eventually meet the opposing team in the middle. The instinct for many will be to shoot your enemies, but if you let that distract you from turf control it quickly snowballs into a big problem. Trying to swim through opposing team’s colors will make you a sitting duck. Also, death and waiting for respawn matters more in Splatoon than other shooters. Give the opposing team just a few seconds of freedom and you could be quickly pushed back into your own territory.

The frantic moments when you’re trying to fend off the opposing team, sticking and moving through the ink with your squid, while simultaneously getting ink everywhere is where Splatoon truly shines; and let me be clear before I start sounding negative, it’s really fun. Taken individually though, all of those mechanics aren’t anything special.

Whether it’s the beginning of the game, or when you find yourself alone up against enemy territory, sometimes the best course of action is to go about splattering ink. Let’s face it though, despite how pretty it is, shooting at the ground isn’t particularly thrilling. I could go somewhere else, but then I’m hurting my team’s chances to win. Considering how important spreading ink is in Splatoon, it’s best to take advantage of any chance you have to peacefully cover the ground with goo before it gets too hairy, despite its propensity to get dull.

Your basic primary ink shooter isn’t that fun to use as it just lobs ink blandly in front of you. There was a bazooka that shot larger, more damaging globs of ink, as well as a bomb that I could fling, but that’s all I got to use in my two rounds of play. I’ve seen other, more exciting looking weapons such as paint rollers, and that looked fun, but my experience could very well be your experience too. Not having any of the special weapons is a drag.

A lot these issues could be avoided if players could communicate to each other in order stay on top of where the action is, and specialize in roles that they enjoy without hurting the team.  However, Nintendo has announced that there’s no online communication between players in Splatoon which is disappointing to say the least. At it’s core the game is simple enough that even if you’re unskilled or not sure what to do, you can always just go shoot some gloop on the floor and contribute but still; not being able to effectively communicate with teammates puts a dagger in any kind of hardcore competition/strategy planning while online.

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All of that being said, despite my unenthusiastic tone about Splatoon’s finer details, more often than not everything does comes together and it’s every bit as chaotic and fun as it looks. When you’re knee deep in the climax of a round, it’s easy to overlook the blemishes.

More importantly though, Splatoon is trying something different and right now that’s shaping up to alone be worth the price of admission if you’re a Wii U owner. It’s a shooter yes, but it’s unlike any shooter you’ve played before (in a good way).

Short term, it’s exciting and should be an attractive Wii U exclusive for fans of all ages. Whether or not it will hold people in the long term is a question for another day.

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