Ink it up with Nintendo’s freshest IP

A multiplayer online competitive shooter, “Splatoon” is the newest intellectual property from Nintendo. Despite having a stereotype for hanging onto the “Mario” and “Zelda” franchises for decades now, Nintendo has created their first new major IP since “Pikmin” and “Animal Crossing back in 2001.

Not only does this new IP feature an entirely new cast of characters in an entirely new setting, it also features a new genre of gameplay that Nintendo has never done before: third-person shooting. There’s the occasional reference to existing franchises, such as a few posters of a Blooper, an aquatic “Mario” enemy, but “Splatoon” stands entirely on its own as a new franchise among Nintendo’s legends.

Players will control creatures known as Inklings, who can alternate between appearing like kids or squids at will. As kids, players can spray ink all over the place using a variety of weapons, while as squids, they can dive into and swim very quickly through ink of their own colors, even up walls if the walls are colored with their ink.

After a short character creator and tutorial level, the player is put into Inkopolis, the hub plaza for everything in “Splatoon.” Here, the player can access shops, the single-player campaign, offline one-vs-one matches and the multiplayer lobby. Additionally, many other Inklings representing other players populate the plaza, and several players’ Miiverse posts can be seen as graffiti art throughout the area and occasionally in the multiplayer arenas themselves.

The setting of “Splatoon” is one of its most appealing aspects. Anyone who grew up in ‘90s culture will be right at home. The soundtrack has an alternative rock feel that at times evokes feelings of “Jet Set Radio,” the dialogue feels like it’s straight out of a straight-to-TV movie, spraying ink everywhere evokes feeling of Nickelodeon’s slime, matches take place in skate parks and malls covered in graffiti art, lots of the unlockable outfits include fashion statements like sneakers and punky t-shirts and the game has an overall fun and upbeat atmosphere.

“Splatoon’s” single-player campaign is a good start for new players, as several levels demonstrate important skills that players can use in multiplayer. It’s no small expansion either: The entire story takes place across 27 levels and five boss battles. Players are tasked with stopping the Octarians, an octopus-like race which once was at war with the Inklings and recently stole great Zapfish, which powers Inkopolis. All of the levels, especially the final boss fight, are a tough challenge on the first run and very fun to play. Of note, however, is that single-player and multiplayer progression is entirely separate; multiplayer levelling does not improve how you do in single-player and vice versa.

As stated before, “Splatoon” is a multiplayer competitive shooter. Online, teams square-off in four-versus-four matches to determine the victor. The most prominent mode, Turf War, has the teams try to cover as much territory on the map as they can with their own color ink within three minutes. Players have a limited supply of ink that can be recharged very quickly, preventing players from charging forward while spraying everything in sight. It’s a very intense match that is constantly shifting, as opponents’ ink reduces your mobility, forcing players to slowly re-ink their territory if they start to fall behind.

Several other modes can be accessed through Ranked Battle, which is only available to players who are level 10 and above. Splat Zones is a King-of-the-Hill type of game where, instead of covering as much of the map as possible, players must occupy one or two zones on the map with their own ink. Tower Control is a mode where players vie for control of a tower that will slowly approach their opponents’ base if they stand atop it. Other modes, such as Rainmaker, are on the way, and, like Tower Control, will be released in free updates in the coming months.

What perhaps is the most interesting aspect of “Splatoon’s” gameplay is its focus. Unlike most shooters, none of its modes place any value on one’s kill-to-death ratio. Killing, or “splatting,” as the game calls it, your opponents has no direct benefit; it only temporarily reduces the number of opponents who are spreading ink. By doing this, “Splatoon” strips away the realistic violence and aggression typically found in shooters and replaces it with genuine, innocent fun.

By performing well in multiplayer matches, players can purchase additional gear and weapons. Outfits are comprised of headgear, which can be a pair of large headphones, a paintball helmet, a fedora or many other forms of headwear, a top (which can be a graphic t-shirt), a jacket or a vest and shoes, which include sandals, sneakers and even dress shoes. Each piece of gear comes with two to four ability slots, which can increase damage, decrease damage taken, improve ink efficiency and reduce respawn time, among many other abilities.

Weapons come in a variety of types: Splattershots, which function much like submachine guns; Chargers, which are long-range, single-shot weapons; and Rollers, which are melee-range weapons effective at spreading ink quickly. Two new weapon types have since been added: Sloshers, which dump a large amount of ink straight ahead, and Splatlings, which deal heavy damage at close range, but take time to spin up and aren’t very mobile.

“Splatoon” has a very interesting content model as well, truly employing the “games-as-a-service” model. In the months following its release, there have been numerous free updates, providing players with new maps, new modes, new weapons and even new weapon types. Several in-game events known as Splatfests have also been conducted, pitting players in imaginary contests, such as cats versus dogs. More free updates and Splatfests are planned for the future, so it seems Nintendo is very committed to this new IP.

Even though they have several long-running franchises under their belt, “Splatoon” proves that Nintendo is no stranger to trying something new. The unique setting, the new take on shooter gameplay and the overall charm of the game make it one of the best games of 2015 so far, and the free updates and content ensure that “Splatoon” isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This game is highly recommended for anyone who owns a Wii U, and between this and “Smash Bros.,” non-Wii U owners should consider picking one up.

Game: Splatoon
Release: May 29, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★