The following is an account from what I played of the E3 2014 demo of Splatoon. This is before any singleplayer content was revealed and as such this preview is only covering the multiplayer portion of the game.
Splatoon is Nintendo’s new 4v4 shooter based around ink and I honestly did not go into E3 expecting to like it as much as I did. It’s a pretty straightforward concept – splatter ink around a map and try to paint as much territory as you can – but the execution is just so refined and everything works together so well that I found myself repeatedly returning to the field of inky combat for just “one more round”.
The ultimate goal of Splatoon is to cover more territory in ink than the opposing team, a simple goal but one that soon expands into so much more. While it may look like a standard third-person shooter, Splatoon actually plays quite a bit differently. Shooting other players is a secondary concern to covering the ground, making Splatoon less about direct conflict and more about area control and the demo map I played was designed to reflect this. The map was designed to carefully herd players towards towards one another, while at the same time having smaller paths around the outside in order to get behind the battle lines and claim enemy territory. One area in which the game excels is making sure there is never any downtime. Movement is fast, and any time you die you can immediately get back into the action by using the Gamepad’s touchscreen to tap on an ally’s location. This will immediately launch you through the air and land you beside them and it keeps the action very frantic and fast-paced as you’re never alone on the map. And speaking of fast-paced, Splatoon is very fast. Running moves you along at a brisk pace, but by turning into a squid (holding the the left trigger) you can swim through your team’s ink at highspeed, once again allowing you to get back into the action quickly. Turning into a squid also has other advantages, such as allowing you to slide under grates (which is how to access the side passages) or even climb walls if they’ve been painted in your color. It’s even possible to use your squid form to hide in the ink and pop out when an enemy is nearby to give them a quick blast on ink right to their face. Just don’t wait around too long – every inch matters and the longer you hide the more territory you’ll give up.
Shooting other players may be a secondary focus, but it’s still a focus. Shooting players with enough ink, or hitting them with one blast of the super weapon (an infinite ammo, high-powered ink bazooka that you can use for a few seconds) causes them to explode in a cloud of your own ink, painting the area around where they died and ceding control to your team. You even have the option of throwing bombs to cover a wider area in ink and splatter anyone who happens to be caught in the blast. These bombs use up 75% of your ammo (signified by an ink tank that your character wears on their back) but replenishing ammo is as simple as turning into a squid and swimming around in your own ink. It’s in this way that the game encourages you to be mobile and always on the move, and with the ability to jump across gaps as a squid I quickly discovered a winning strategy of constantly being on the move as a squid and only popping out for moments at a time to spray some ink. The only things stopping you from being a mobile death machine are unpainted land, where you’ll move much more slowly as a squid, and enemy ink, where in either squid or human form you’ll move incredibly slowly and be a sitting duck. Strategically painting chokepoints and paths through enemy territory, as well as the multiple movement and combat options provides teams with an incredibly robust set of tactical options. There’s always more than one way to tackle a situation.
Splatoon, by it’s very design, encourages teamwork. By spraying ink deep into enemy territory you’ll open up a path for allies to zoom along, and good communication is key to defeating your opponent. There’s even a bit of inter-team competition; the more territory you cover and the more players you splatter the higher your score will go, and at the end of every round you’re ranked against every other player in the game.
One thing worth mentioning is the controls. By default, you don’t aim with the right stick as you would expect. Instead, the right stick allows you to turn while aiming up and down is entrusted to the Gamepad’s gyroscope. It’s possible to change this on the fly by simply tapping a button and move all aiming to the right stick, but after a few minutes of playing with the gyroscope controls I found I actually preferred them. The gyroscope is extremely responsive and I found I was actually able to aim much more quickly and accurately than with the stick.
As far as I’m concerned, Splatoon definitely went from “wait and see” to “buy immediately”. Far from being your standard first-person shooter, Splatoon is all about map control and mobility. No part of the game feels extraneous, and every single feature works towards a single purpose. Even if it sometimes seems like it shouldn’t, everything just works. If I can have this much fun with only a single mode and single map then I can’t wait to see how great the full game will be.