Review: Splatoon

Splatoon is a pretty big deal. When it was revealed at E3 2014, it excited fans for being Nintendo’s first foray into the online shooter genre. It’s also the first new character based franchise from Nintendo’s main EAD development teams since Pikmin was released on the Gamecube back in 2001. Fans have already embraced the title with open arms, with fan art communities already growing and cosplayers bringing the squid-like characters to life before the game has even been released. So, is Splatoon worthy of all this hype?

At its core, Splatoon is a third-person shooter, but its so unlike anything that has been done before. Many fans had dreamt of a 'Mario Paintball' game, a way to have a shooter on Wii U that is family friendly. Instead Splatoon takes us to Inkopolis, a place where teen inklings – human/squid hybrids - battle for turf in skate-park like arenas by painting it with a variety of ink-filled weapons.

A Splatoon squadron!

In humanoid form, you can run and gun like in any other shooter, but what makes Splatoon so fun is the ability to transform into a squid and rapidly swim through the ink you’ve laid down, climb up walls and through fences, and hide from enemies. You can only swim through ink of your own colour though, so you must be careful not to be caught in enemy territory, and you have to dip back into the ink to reload your tank when low on ink. The mechanics are so fresh and easy to use it’s a lot of fun just inking up an area and swimming around.

When you first load up Splatoon, it is clear that online is the focus here. The main ‘menu’ is the Inkopolis Plaza, a free-roaming area populated with other players’ inklings with Miiverse posts floating above their heads not unlike the Wii U menu. From this plaza you can access all of the game’s content, either by walking to it or by selecting it from the map on the Gamepad.

Inkopolis Plaza

At the centre of the plaza is the Tower, which is where you’ll find the main online modes. Regular battles take the form of Turf Wars, where teams of 4 inklings battle for three minutes to cover the map in as much ink of their own colour as possible. While it is fun to go after your opponents, and killing them will result in a large splat of your own paint, the priority is covering the arena in as much of your own paint as possible. Do you risk being splatted yourself to gain a bit more territory, or do you avoid your enemy by hiding in the ink and focus on inking the ground?

Matches are chaotic and the tide of battle can turn very quickly. So matches are fair, all the maps are symmetrical; each team only has one spawn point which you’ll be returned to if an enemy defeats you.  Thankfully, by tapping on one of your teammates on the map on your lower screen, you can ‘super-jump’ to their location, but beware, their may be an enemy waiting for you!

Turf Wars

With a bit of practice you’ll find a battle style that suits you by experimenting with the many different weapons, which come under three main categories – shooters, chargers and rollers. Shooters are guns that will give you a constant stream of paint, with varying ranges and firing rates. Chargers, as their name suggests, charge up briefly before shooting to give a more direct, powerful shot to take out enemies. Rollers cover a lot of ground when spreading ink, but leave you more exposed to enemy attacks. A sub-weapon, which is one of a variety of ink bombs, accompanies each weapon and special attacks are unlocked when you’ve inked enough turf. These comprise of powerful weapons like an Inkzooka and the killer wail – a powerful sound beam that will take out any opponent in its path.

After each match you’ll be awarded experience points based on how much area you inked, which contribute to raising your level, which unlocks new weapons to purchase and allows you to access the other online mode. 

Ranked Battles unlock when you reach Level 10, and comes in the form of Splat Zones. In this mode you will battle with your team for the control of a small marked section of the map. Once you’ve inked it in your colour, you must defend it until your team’s timer has counted down from 100 – the team whose timer reaches zero first wins, and your rank rises or falls depending on the result. It is a more traditional battle mode and requires a lot more tactical thinking than the free-for-all nature of Turf Wars. For me, it isn’t as fun and exposes some of the flaws of Splatoon’s online mode.

Online lobbies

Firstly, I found that some of the maps really didn’t suit Splat Zones – once a team controls the area on one map in particular, it’s pretty hard to claim it off them. The other big issue is communication. On Turf Wars, you can cope with no voice chat as the priority is covering the map – you can decide what to do based on the situation on the lower screen. Splat Zones, however, requires more teamwork, but you have no way to communicate tactics with your teammates. You can’t coordinate an attack, or warn others of an incoming attack. Teams are also randomised, so even if you join a friend in a match, you may be with them one match, but against them in another. I also think random team allocation doesn’t gel well with the ranked nature – you could be a decent player assigned to someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing and lose ranking points because you can’t even talk to them to help them out.

The amount of content offered in Splatoon will receive widely different receptions depending on the type of gamer. On one hand there is a lot of customisation – on top of all the weapons you can also personalise your inkling with a range of gear from the shops in Inkopolis Plaza, whose proprietors have wonderful fishy pun names - Crusty Sean being my favourite. Shoes, shirts and headwear will all give different perks as well as giving him or her a unique look – some may increase your defence, speed or attack, others will allow you to refill your ink tank quicker. Some people will love testing out different combinations to gain online dominance, but unfortunately, many will be put off by the limited options available when you actually go into battle.

Shop customisation

At launch only five maps are available, and unlike Mario Kart 8 you don’t have any choice of which you’ll battle on. Each of Turf Wars and Splat Zones is assigned two maps every four hours, so you are limited to which you can play on. Once your online lobby has filled with 8 players, a match will start in a randomly selected map of the two available, but because you’ve only got the limited choice, you’ll often end up playing the same map over and over again, which can get dull. The user interface does suggest that they’ll introduce a third map into rotation for each mode, but it’s still limiting.

Nintendo have promised more maps and more modes over the coming months but it is disappointing that Splatoon’s online options are relatively thin at launch. It may struggle to keep some players’ attention until it is filled out more, especially with the ability to team up with four friends coming in August.

Although voice chat isn’t the be all and end all of online gaming, a lot of people will play a game for longer if they can socialise with their friends while doing it, especially in a team based game like Splatoon. While I understand blocking off communication with those who aren’t your friends, not having the option to chat with your friends is upsetting. In addition to the limited communications, it's an oversight that it's impossible to change weapons between matches without leaving the lobby.

It is amazing that I’ve got so far into this review without a sole mention of the single player mode. While online matches take place in the main tower of Inkopolis, the single player campaign is the last thing you’re shown when you are introduced to the game, and it is hidden down a drain in the corner of the plaza.

As with many Nintendo games, the plot is thin – you join a Splatoon squad in Octo Valley fighting the evil Octarians to regain the Great Zapfish. There is very little narrative, with the gameplay as the focus. While the core mechanics are the same as the online mode, it couldn’t really be more different. It is more of a third-person puzzle platformer than a shooter, with your ink used to help you traverse obstacles rather than defeat enemies. Only four levels pit you against humanoid octolings, the rest of your enemies basically acting as minor obstructions to hold you up. The closest game I could liken this style of gaming would be Valve’s Portal, but with ink as your weapon, mixed with the wonderful level design of recent 3D Mario platformers.

Single player

There are 27 stages to conquer with new mechanics introduced throughout the game. It’s a perfect proving ground to get used to the controls and movement before heading online to battle. Although it took me a little while to get used to the motion controls used to aim, once they click they couldn’t be more fluid. The dual analogue option is sufficient, but clunky in comparison.

Although you will reach the final boss (which is an absolute highlight of the game) in around 5-7 hours, your play will be extended by the challenge of finding a Sunken Scroll in each level which will expand on the lore of the battle between the squids and octopi. It’s short, but very sweet, and I would welcome more levels being added via downloadable content in the future.

Along with the skater-influenced aesthetics - Miiverse posts are converted to graffiti throughout the game's world - the soundtrack that accompanies it is unique and rocky. Some won’t like it, but it fits the style of the game perfectly. Its downfall is that the number of tracks is quite limited, and I personally got fed up of the waiting music in the online lobby, but that should be less of an issue when there are many more people playing.


Splatoon launches along three new amiibo – Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl and Squid. In Europe, the squid amiibo is limited to the special edition of the game. Using the amiibo will unlock new challenges based on the single player levels, but with unique conditions and different weapons, which will unlock exclusive gear. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to test out this feature. I think it is a shame that unlike other games, where an amiibo will just give a small bonus like a skin or weapon, a whole chunk of gameplay has been locked behind them in Splatoon.

Amiibo challenge

While there needs to be an incentive to buy the amiibo, a lot of gamers will miss out on a significant chunk of the game, especially as the amiibo can be quite hard to get hold of. This is only slightly mitigated by the fact that Splatoon is being released at a budget price in Europe.

There is also a local multiplayer option, where one player plays on the gamepad and the other uses a Pro Controller or Classic Controller and fight to pop balloons dotted around the map. With just two players, it isn’t nearly as much fun, and is clearly an afterthought. It is a shame you can’t take a second player online, but it is understandable due to how important the map is to Turf Wars and would probably significantly impact the game’s performance.

Battle Dojo

Splatoon is full of character and is yet another wonderful looking addition to Wii U’s library. The gameplay is so polished, and it really is a joy to play. Turf Wars is such a unique concept and is extremely addictive. However, although it is Nintendo’s first attempt at an online shooter, it is missing many of the features expected of the genre. Although these may come in the future, it is a shame the game’s main focus seems unfinished at launch. We can only hope that the improvements Nintendo plans to release in the near future make Splatoon the perfect package to keep fans hooked for years.

N-Europe Final Verdict

Splatoon is the freshest new idea from Nintendo for years. It looks beautiful and plays wonderfully but it is unfortunately hampered by a lack of online options, which threatens the longevity of Splatoon’s online community.

  • Gameplay5
  • Playability5
  • Visuals5
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan3
Final Score



Fun, flowing gameplay
Tons of customisation
There’s nothing else like it


Lack of online options
Limited local multiplayer
Too much locked behind amiibo

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