Pop, pop. Splat, splat. Cha-ching.
Nintendo has had a lot of faith in their first-party titles as of late. While much of the games industry is under fire for last minute (or even post-release) review embargoes, Nintendo has always been ahead of that curve. Despite their slow pace in Wii U sales, they create fantastic games, and get them in the hands of critics often weeks before their release. For the most part, this is a sign of their excellence (we’ll ignore you, Mario Party 10), and with their upcoming new IP, Splatoon, Nintendo has taken that faith to the next level. While a beta test is fairly common these days for MMOs or even shooters like Call of Duty and Titanfall, Nintendo has never done one.
That all changed this past weekend for the “Global Testfire” for the late May release, Splatoon.
This beta weekend was brilliant for several reasons, the first of which is most important: Splatoon is actually awesome. While we’ve seen it demoed at plenty of events, and Nintendo clearly is putting its muscle behind the new series, Nintendo mostly finds success with their known IPs – Mario, Kirby, Smash Bros., etc. – and rarely tends to stray from that path. Splatoon not only features all new, nameless, characters, but also isn’t a single-player game, nor a couch co-op multiplayer title. It’s an online arena-based shooter, and it has an E rating from the ESRB. Splatoon is an anomaly, but manages to find success.
Splatoon uniqueness comes from the fact that every weapon sprays paint around the level as you fire. This paint is not only used to eliminate enemies, but also cover the terrain, claiming that territory as your own. Not only used for aesthetics, your team paint is used to refill your ammo, as well as turn into a squid, seep into the paint, and move around the level with speed. The Global Testfire consisted of one mode, taking place on several maps. The point of the game is to cover more of the map with your paint, with each round ending after a few minutes. The winner is determined by the percentage of ground covered in your color.
Unless you ignored the internet for the last few days, you’ll know that everyone loved it, myself included. That’s not to say the demo didn’t generate some concerns for me. Since we only got to play one mode, the longevity of the game will definitely be determined by the rest of the games modes, and how engaging they all are. The demo also gave you experience points for kills/score after each round, but game no hints at any character progression that will be available, nor did it let us customize any weapon builds. While the variety of maps and modes will keep players around long-term, the short-term engagement will rely on unlocks and customization. I’m really curious to see how vast all of this is in the final release, as well as if DLC will play a part in Nintendo’s long game for Splatoon.
Weapon balance also currently seems to be an issue, but I half suspect that this was only due to the lack of customization, as well as the 3 collective hours we had with the game. The 4 weapons available were each very interesting, but one in particular definitely seemed over-powered in comparison to the other three.
Technically Splatoon is stellar. Visuals harken to previous Wii U titles, where you know they’re not top tier like The Order: 1886 or Sunset Overdrive, but they manage to be so fluid, crisp, and wonderfully designed, it’s hard to not peg them as some of the best around. Paint and weapon sounds are pitch perfect, and really embody the casual nature of destruction present. Voice chat, however, is absent in Splatoon. Personally, I very rarely use voice chat with online multiplayer, but in the case of Splatoon, it really feels like it is an oversight. I know Nintendo has concerns of inappropriate chatter, but given the tactical core of what this demo offered, voice chat feels like a necessity.
Splatoon offered a pre-order bonus, of a special outfit to use during the Global Testfire. In an odd twist, however, this outfit is only available for use during this beta, and won’t transfer to the full game. Considering we only got three separate one-hour sessions with Splatoon over the weekend, this is probably the worst incentive I’ve ever seen.
While I had a blast with Splatoon, and it furthered my belief in Nintendo’s ability to craft gorgeous, unique experiences, the verdict is still out for me. I know that fans of multiplayer shooters will dig it, but until I’ve seen the variety of maps, customization, and unlocks, I’m not sure how long it would hold my attention, especially given the upcoming releases of The Witcher 3 and Arkham Knight.