Splatoon Review: A Splattering of Greatness

Nintendo steps outside its comfort zone with an online multiplayer shooter. While it has a wealth of creativity and playfulness, that praise has to be tempered with the acknowledgement that this first step is an awkward one. Our review. 


After years of dogged complaints that Nintendo complacently lives on the strength of its already-popular franchise characters, the company has seemingly made a point to address the critique head-on. Between Code Name: STEAM and now Splatoon, 2015 has dramatically increased the pace of introducing new series. Splatoon is further outside of Nintendo's comfort zone than STEAM, so while it has a wealth of creativity and playfulness, that praise has to be tempered with the acknowledgement that this first step is an awkward one.

Getting Inked

Splatoon is, after all, an online multiplayer shooter--albeit a unique one. Ingenious little touches like allowing you to swim through and hide in your own ink means you're responsible for making your own quick-travel pathways and cover. The ability to swim up sheer walls makes traversal feel naturally tied to the fundamentals. Those traits are really something special, because there are no other shooters that feel like this does.

In a very Nintendo touch, it deemphasizes shooting each other. In the most common Turf War mode, your real goal is to paint every square inch of the map you can. Splat Zones is similar, but has you contesting smaller areas. While your weapons are certainly meant to be used offensively against other players, it's mainly just to remove them as obstacles to your own ink coverage, and to prevent them from covering more of the map with their own. Kills (or "splats") don't add to your point total, so players without one-on-one battle skills can still make a difference by playing smart and avoiding conflict. It's a cuter, friendlier shooter.

At the same time, no genre has been better defined through sheer powerhouse popularity with series like Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield. I didn't go into Splatoon expecting all of their bells and whistles, but even some of its fundamental choices are oddities.

Messy Multiplayer

Strangest among these is the rotation of two maps at a time. Unlike more established shooters, or even Nintendo's other popular online games like Mario Kart or Smash Bros, Splatoon starts every play session with the announcement of which two maps are currently playable in both unranked and ranked modes. That's only four maps open at any given time. I was left feeling like the game didn't offer enough map variety on the whole, but that could be chalked up to the two-map limit that made play sessions feel repetitive after only a handful of matches. For this reason, it's best played in short bursts.

Nintendo also lifted the gear from multiplayer shooters, without entirely grasping how to best utilize it. Gear is for sale as you level up, with different ratings based on how many passive traits are available on it. The traits are apparently randomized, and partially hidden until you upgrade the gear through use, making it harder to spec a character to suit your playstyle. Plus, it's difficult to compare the gear you have equipped to the ones for sale, making shopping a chore.

Those storefronts are physical places, thanks to a hub world that encourages exploration. I had played a full week before discovering a vendor that could dig up a piece of gear that I found on another player, for instance.

Child of FLUDD

Tucked away in a corner of the hub is the single-player campaign--a shame for how fleshed-out it is. The story is nothing special, or even all that sensical, but it's here where Nintendo's experience really shines. The single-player stages are designed like a shooter-platformer, borrowing Super Mario Galaxy's isolated platform gauntlets with Mario Sunshine's FLUDD mechanics. It does fine to teach the fundamentals, but it actually goes a step further by being fully-realized in itself.

Those fundamentals will only do so much to prepare you for multiplayer, which tends to become an exhilarating, chaotic romp. It certainly isn't balanced, since experience nets better weapons and gear. It can be sometimes frustrating to be thrown into a match with much higher-level players. There was also no way to back out of a lobby while waiting for players, so if I mis-clicked or had trouble finding a match, I was simply left waiting for a full party or for the clock to time out. Fortunately the full retail version has matched me almost instantly every time, but if the player base starts to dry up it will become a real problem.

The color palette is intentionally garish, with bright hues that always feel perfectly contrasted with each other. The character style was more off-putting for me. Though the designed characters looked fine, like the aforementioned map announcers, the player characters always struck me as gangly and indistinct. It's a matter of taste, but I didn't find the inklings as instantly endearing as other Nintendo creations.

Fully Covered

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Splatoon, whenever I was simply playing it. My complaints all revolve around the periphery: factors like map selection, matchmaking, and gear. That the core is so solidly built is a testament to Nintendo's skill at refining a unique concept, but taking note of other shooter norms would have made it more welcoming on the whole.

This review is based on a Wii U download code and Amiibo provided by the publisher. Splatoon will be available in retail stores and on the Nintendo eShop on May 29, for $59.99. The game is rated E-10+.

Review for
  • Exhilarating and chaotic multiplayer
  • Inventive painting goals upends usual shooter tropes
  • Traversal feels naturally tied to mechanics
  • Great single-player stages
  • Lack of variety forces map rotation
  • No way to back out of empty lobbies
  • Randomized gear
From The Chatty
  • reply
    May 27, 2015 7:00 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Splatoon Review-in-Progress: A Splattering of Greatness

    • reply
      May 27, 2015 7:31 AM

      Looking like this is getting good reviews all over the place. Splatoon shackbattles soon? Who's getting this??

      • reply
        May 27, 2015 7:49 AM

        I'm a day 1, unfortunately I'll be busy this weekend but I'll be playing a bit still.

      • reply
        May 27, 2015 8:02 AM

        The ars article had a negative review of it.

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        May 27, 2015 8:03 AM

        Will have it in my hands on Friday, ready to shoot hot ink all over shackers faces.

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          May 27, 2015 8:04 AM

          Wouldn't be the first time amirite

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        May 27, 2015 9:40 AM

        I will say I think organizing Shackbattles in this will be a bit harder than it was for Mario Kart. I didn't see any options to set up custom groups with invites, so it seems like we'd all have to trade friend codes and do manual invites every time.

        Any other questions? Now that I'm free to talk about it I'm glad to answer any.

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          May 27, 2015 9:46 AM

          Yeah didn't they say private matches and other friend features would be coming in a future patch? Seems dumb but at least we'll get it eventually.

          Also i think they really shot themselves in the foot by only having 5 maps available at launch. Lack of online content seems to be the common negative throughout all the reviews I read.

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            May 27, 2015 9:50 AM

            Yeah, I give them credit for planning a lot of free post-launch content, but the maps here do feel pretty bare-bones. I almost wonder if the idea to rotate two maps at a time was meant to obscure the small selection somewhat.

            Plus, by-and-large most of the maps play very similarly, with the two teams starting on opposite ends and pushing towards the middle. The exception, in which they both start equidistant from a large area rich with inking opportunities, is actually the best one in the game.

    • reply
      May 30, 2015 9:01 AM

      UPDATE! Now that I've had time to play with it in a live environment, I've updated the review and given it a score.

    • reply
      June 1, 2015 6:44 AM

      This game is a lot of fun and I love it. My only concern is that WiiU user base is low, how will Nintendo rate how successful it is?
      I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

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