Beta Impressions: Splatoon

In its history Nintendo hasn’t really done a lot of shooters. Sure there were the big name ones, Goldeneye and even a bit more Nintendo – Jet Force Gemini but it’s one thing the child friendly company has steered clear of.

Enter Splatoon – an online shooter from Nintendo. You’re probably aware of the history by now, it’s a third person 4 vs 4 shooter but rather than bullets and brains flying amongst grizzled space marines it’s cutesy characters throwing paint. On Saturday 9th May Nintendo elected to do a global testfire/beta test which was classically in Nintendo’s way – open only for three hours (4am, 12pm and 8pm UK time) it gave gamers a taste of what’s to come. Clearly first impressions are limited based on what is on offer but they are first impressions nonetheless so here are mine.

On offer were the option to customise a character first and foremost. Options were limited between choosing from a boy or a girl and then eye colour (it actually made no difference as when I played I was sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl – gender confusion!). You then elected to choose from one of four weapons – essentially two different assault rifles, a sniper rifle and a melee weapon. The aim of the one mode on offer (Turf War) was a version of control – the winning team was the one that covered most of the level in their colour paint. Simples.

The tactical depth of Splatoon quickly becomes apparent. The rifles do a reasonable job of painting the world and despatch foes well enough too. When someone is killed (painted??) then are out for a few seconds then respawn so it gives your team a chance to paint some more stuff up. I quite liked that your team is referred to as ‘good guys’ and the enemy as ‘bad guys’. Just in case, you know, Nintendo had to justify why there’s a paint-pocalypse going on. Because they’re bad you know!!

Not everything can be painted. Some walls are covered in plastic so the paint doesn’t sit, and there are some mesh fences etc. The tactical element comes from exactly what you paint. Running through the bad guys’ paint slows you down drastically so you’ll want to avoid that. You can run out of paint as well which slowly recharges but you can speed this up by turning into a squid and sinking in your own colour.

It sounds surreal to say that. Holding left trigger turns you into a squid and you can zip about the map really fast on areas that you have painted. You can also go up walls, under mesh fences and traverse the environment a lot quicker than you could as a human. This is a nice dynamic which could lead to some clever team play. Also supporting the tactics are the ability to see the map on the Gamepad and push a team member to teleport from the start to their position for support.

The sniper rifle offers a one hit kill on an opponent but is useless for painting the world. On the other hand the melee only paint roller is amazing for paint coverage and also offers a one hit kill but only up close. You can see already that a good team will probably sport two rollers, a rifleman and a sniper but there are other weapons to come in the full game so this may chance. Control over certain areas and defence is also going to be key and requiring team work.

Paint grenades and bombs are here as well along with a special power up – I had used a ‘paint fan’ which did damage and a lot of coverage from where it was facing. There’s no doubt that the paint effects look really nice even if the characters are boring and Mii-style. There looks to be some future customisation by the way of shirts, hats etc but this wasn’t available.

The game is fun enough – I didn’t particularly like the controls however which by default uses left stick to move, right stick to aim left/right and tilting the gamepad to look up and down. Left stick, right stick and tilting seemed unnatural to me and even when I got the hang of it I’m not sure what this adds over the classic right stick aiming – especially when you’re already using the right stick! There was a way to change it to use the right stick only thankfully although I only discovered this afterwards (it wasn’t obvious).

It’s these sort of decisions which make me question where Nintendo’s head is at. Sure, they have their own ideology on what gaming and community should be about but they are behind the competition by some margin when it comes to online architecture. For a start, there is no voice chat. There are very few pre-fabricated text options in game (‘good job!’, ‘Nice!’) although more could come, but when the game is based on basic teamwork at its core this is a problem. The reason is due to personal experience from co-director Yusuke Amano. He doesn’t like the voice chat experience he has had with other games, the negativity despite admitting it can contribute to the experience. With a lack of party chat support on the console for friends, I think this is a massive oversight and will contribute towards me not playing it longer term – a core part of my gaming experience is talking with friends.

Also odd is the map roster. Despite it not being a full price game, it will ship with five stages and new stages to follow after launch. Also to follow will be a Ranked mode, fresh weapons and in August – matchmaking and private matches. Why isn’t this basic requirement for online shooters, nay, online play being built in for day one? This is classic Nintendo thinking they know best. It may not put everyone off, but personally I would like to play an online shooter with my friends when I get it, not wait two months to be matched with them (the Nintendo online side is already a nightmare getting hooked up with friends).

It is promising that post launch content and support is planned. It’s not promising that fundamental (in my opinion) functionally for an online shooter is missing from the off. These days a community needs to be supported from day one before the next big thing arrives. Still, the game seems fun if you can look past the slightly weird controls and the price point is certainly appealing so time will tell.

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