Wait…Nintendo ran a beta test!? NINTENDO?! Welcome to the future, folks! Splatoon was — oddly enough — one of the few Wii U games coming this year that I was pretty excited about. Notice how I emphasized was there? Let’s get into this before the ink dries, shall we?
If there is one thing that will drive me away from a game, it’s when a title forces a certain control method on me and its players. At first glance, Splatoon appears to fall into this camp. Splatoon’s tutorial runs you through the basics of the game, teaching you how to traverse the game’s environments while inking and taking over as much turf as possible, but it does so while forcing motion-controlled aiming on you. The gamepad is already rather awkward to play games on, so having to worry about moving that behemoth controller around in order to aim was annoying. Thankfully, upon completing the short tutorial, there was an option to shut off motion controls. This, of course, led to me needing to fiddle with the camera sensitivity setting several times, as the default option has the camera moving a little too fast for my liking. These are only minor gripes, but still things that hindered my enjoyment early on as I was learning to play the game.
Once the tutorial was completed, I was allowed to choose one of four different weapon types. I had about 45 minutes to play after completing the introduction, and I was able to check out what each type had to offer. The Splattershot and Splattershot Jr., neither of which feel all that different from one another, function as a sort of auto rifle or mini gun. The Splat Charger can fire a long line of ink after holding down the trigger for several seconds (think Fusion Rifles in Destiny). Lastly, and most effectively, the Splat Roller is the most over-powered weapon in the game and allows you to cover the terrain in ink as you move (Well, we know which weapon Brent will be rolling with). Once you pick a weapon, that’s your weapon for the duration of the ensuing match, as I did not see an option to switch weapons during a game in-progress. While I’m referring to these instruments for inking as weapons, they really shouldn’t be thought of that way. Sure, you can take out your opponents with them, but the name of the game here is coverage. Once you get past your need to eliminate the enemy players (you know, like a regular 3rd-person shooter!) and come to the realization that being successful in Splatoon comes down to how much of the map your team covers in ink, you’ll find yourself having a much better time.
There was only one game mode available to play in the beta and, much to my chagrin, no matchmaking with friends. This bummed me out as I was hoping to get into some games with fellow Short Pause compadre, Bender. We tried the old “hit start at the same time” method in our feeble attempt to get into the same game with or against each other, but had no such luck. Thankfully, a patch will be coming in August that will add matchmaking with friends. I only hope we’re still playing Splatoon come patch time.
The actual gunplay and combat featured in Splatoon felt kind of lackluster. Until you tweak the camera sensitivity to your liking, aiming towards and shooting down enemy inklings can be rather difficult (unless you’re just running around with the Splat Roller mowing everyone down). In fact, it wasn’t until I tried out some of the other weapons that require you to shoot your enemies — as opposed to simply running them over — that I felt compelled to start tweaking the camera controls. There is no traditional reload button, either, as the game will instead refill your ink tank as you swim through your team’s ink covered areas using the left trigger.
With the game’s focus on spreading your team’s ink over as much territory as possible during the course of a five minute match, I found myself having a great time with the objective-based gameplay. I had a blast rolling around the map, swimming up walls, lobbing ink-splattering grenades into enemy ink-fested areas, and even rolling down the occasional enemy trying to dip their pen in my team’s ink! While I had no problem wrapping my mind around the objective-based modes on display in Splatoon, I can see this game being unappealing to the typical shooter fan who sucks at understanding how to play this kind of game type. I think we all have that squad in Battlefield that’s going to play Conquest and treat it like Team Deathmatch, not even trying to capture the control points, so it was awesome to play a game that is tailored around its objective-based modes.
Of the six games I was able to squeeze in before the servers were shut down for the night, I saw two of the five maps that the game will launch with. This is concerning to me, as the game is only launching with two modes as well. While the maps appear to be large in scale, especially with such small teams inking it out, it presents the unfortunate possibility that players will exhaust everything there is to see and do in the game’s competitive modes within a few days.
Having spent about an hour with the game, I sit here with the feeling that, outside of the single-player component, maybe I’ve had my fill of Splatoon. Yes, I had a good time overall with the spoonful of content that Nintendo allowed us to play, but with such key features missing — especially the ability to play with friends — I question whether or not Splatoon is a worthy day one purchase for me. It’s a full-price release for a game with seemingly very little initial content, and it is launching in a post-Witcher 3 and House of Wolves world. There will be quite a bit of free post-release content, including some interesting sounding modes in the form of Rainmaker and Tower Control, but it still stings we won’t see matchmaking with friends until sometime after its May 29th launch date. Splatoon seems like a game that at some point in 2015 will be worthy of its $60 asking price, but given what’s going to be there on release day, I feel like my experience with this beta will tide me over until then.
My Splatoon experience got off to a rocky start, as I was unable to connect to the jam-packed servers the very first time I tried to play. The matchmaking experience during the beta test was mostly smooth, but there were a few times when I would be disconnected mid-match. I realize that the whole point of a beta test is to identify these issues so that they can be fixed, and hopefully these problems are ironed out by launch day.
Speaking of launch day, as Frankie mentioned, the limited number maps and modes that will be available initially is a bit disappointing. The ability to team up with friends is fundamental in this type of game, but that feature doesn't arrive until August. This delayed addition of core mechanics will probably cause me, as well as many others, to refrain from jumping into Splatoon on day one. Perhaps if the "demo" had included a taste of the single-player campaign, I may have been more enticed to reconsider my launch day purchase.
My biggest gripe with the experience was this: whenever a player got disconnected from or left the match, it didn't seem like the game was actively trying to find new players to replace the ones who were lost. In one match, two of the opposing team members vanished, resulting in my team winning by covering nearly 78% of the map, while the outnumbered opposition only covered about 6 percent. That sort of trouncing isn't fun, regardless of whether you're on the winning or the losing side.
Having said all of that, I did enjoy what little I got to play of Splatoon. The controls felt good (once I turned off motion controls), and the act of turning into a squid and swimming through the ink is a lot of fun. The visuals are very colorful and look great, and the music is upbeat and enjoyable. There is plenty of potential for different strategies to be employed by a well-coordinated team (if only there was voice chat for said coordination). All in all, Splatoon looks to be a unique take on shooters, but until the full suite of features is added to the game, I might be saving my money and biding my time.
What did you think of the Splatoon Global Testfire? Will you be picking the game up when it launches on May 29th? Let us know in the comments!