It's rare for Nintendo to reveal a new IP, but when the house of Mario first revealed Splatoon at last year's E3 it was surprising not just because it was a fresh face, but because Nintendo was diving into waters it hasn't previously charted: online multiplayer shooters. With Splatoon's release just around the corner, we jumped online and threw some paint around to see if this new property lives up to Nintendo's standards.
Unlike most shooters where players single-mindedly train their weapons on the opposing team, Splatton's primary multiplayer mode, called Turf War, tasks two teams of four with spreading paint across the floor. Players can still shoot paint at their opponents, causing them to respawn at their home base, but kill counts aren't important; the only number that matters at the end of each round is the percentage of your team's paint covering the floor.
Rounds only last a couple minutes, which sets a nice pace for each match. Even if your team gets outclassed early on, it's still possible to turn things around during the last minute of a game. The minute-to-minute action also feels brisk thanks to the Inkling's ability to transform into squid and swim through any area of the map covered by their team's paint. Diving into the ink doesn't make you invulnerable, but it does make you largely invisible to the other team, and I had fun sneaking around the map, swimming up walls to reach better vantage points, or attacking players from behind.
Like its untraditional gameplay, Splatoon has an inventive range of weapons. The basic Splattershot sprays paint like a machine-gun while weapons like the 5.2 Gallon dish out larger amounts of paint with a slower fire rate. I had a lot of fun with the Ink Roller, which seems like a great weapon for newbies, since it allows players to paint a wide swath across the floor by simply holding down a button, but is less effective in combat. The Splat Charger takes a bit more skill since you have to charge up a sniper-like blast that fires a line of paint down the map
Sub weapons, such as ink bombs, deal a lot of damage but eat away at your paint supply. However, the most effective weapons in the game are fueled by a meter you build up while painting the ground. Once your meter is full, you can unleash these special attacks to give yourself a shield that provides temporary invulnerability, call down an airstrike of paint, or unleash a Killer Wail, a device that fires off a sonic scream that obliterates everything in front of it.
Aside from Turf War, Nintendo also announced a ranked mode that features a game type called Splat Zones. In this game, players fight to control a specific territory in the middle of each map. Teams that coat these areas with the most paint will activate a countdown timer that ticks towards victory until the opposing team recaptures the zone.
Bizarrely, Nintendo has chosen to leave Ranked Mode locked until it feels enough players have reach level 10 in multiplayer, so those who buy Splatoon on day one won't have access to Splat Zones for the first week or so. In another shameful omission, Nintendo has chosen not to support online voice chat for any multiplayer mode.
Despite these faults, we had a lot of fun with Nintendo's off-beat shooter. Matches move at a breakneck pace, the maps are colorful and fun to explore, and the mechanics make it easy for newcomers to feel like they're contributing to their team's success. Nintendo is bucking shooter norms, but if Wii U owners can move past some of Splatoon's idiosyncrasies, we might have a delightful new series on our hands.
For more about Splatoon, check out the NIntendo Direct from earlier in the month, and stay tuned for our review.