This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Splatoon.
Reports are in that Halley's Comet has been sighted and appears to be making a trail in the shape of the winning lottery numbers, but in even less likely news, Nintendo has come up with an entirely new first-party IP!
I speculated in that lovably-misanthropic way of mine that the decision to come up with new IP may be rooted partly in the protracted barrel-scraping session Nintendo had to undergo to find enough characters to justify a new Smash Brothers game. But not only is Splatoon an original IP, it's also a third-person shooter with online multiplayer focus, no less?! Don't tell me someone at Nintendo actually opened a curtain for a second and caught a brief glimpse of the direction video games have largely been taking for the last twenty fucking years! Somebody stop them before they actually look out of the window and go into shock-induced catatonia!
Still I th-ink there'll be an ink-rease in the number of Wii U sales with this ink-redible new title! God knows why it keeps making ink puns, though, when everyone's very clearly throwing paint around, but that's hardly a complaint. Com-paint.
In a horrifying Waterworld-style post-apocalypse, humankind has been supplanted by a race of highly-evolved squids who battle each other for supremacy amid the abandoned ruins of shopping malls, skate parks and various other disused Saved by the Bell filming locations. But it's Nintendo, so obviously it's about as gritty as a cuddle soufflé, and has a very, "kids these days probably think that this is cool", aesthetic, designed by people who haven't gone outside since the mid-to-late-nineties. The online multiplayer focus is writ large as you enter the game world staring directly at the door to the online multiplayer, flanked on all sides by cosmetics and weapon shops that will shun you like a stinking leper until you're at least level four.
And speaking of stinking lepers, it's lucky Halley's Comet was in the sky, because that meant my Australian internet connection would be able to hold it together for as much as a whole fifteen minutes at a time! When it was, the matchmaking speed decisively smashed GTA Online into a copper kettle and did a poo on its head. Barely two seconds of Crossy Road went by before I was whisked off to join a server full of massively-overleveled Japanese dudes. Nevertheless, it was fun. Obviously. Nintendo powderizes fun and snorts it off Kid Icarus's buttocks, probably because engaging the massively-overleveled Japanese dudes in combat is less important than covering the most amount of arena floor with your team's colour. So while the three massively-overleveled Japanese dudes on my team ran ahead to meet the enemy team head-on, I'd stay behind with my big paint-roller ('cause that's totally something you do with ink, isn't it? Put it in a paint roller, and ink your living room with a lovely cornflower blue ink! Get your fuckin' story straight!) and I'd cover all the little nooks and crannies that everyone else forgets about and frequently cement victory. Sometimes I'd see an enemy paint-roller thinking they have a better idea what colour the floor should be, so I'd follow them closely behind without them noticing until they finally stop to admire their work and get a big fat paint roller up their arse sideways, until you could post letters down their distended anus, ha ha ha.
Yeah, it expands the area you and your team can move around in, so it aids the fun that way, but I also find something basically satisfying about painting a big space, it's like competitive tidying-up. Which is not to say it's not chaotic fast-paced fun. If it wasn't, getting kicked to the lobby when my connection died wouldn't have given me balls resembling the Blue Man Group having a heated argument between my thighs.
So what other online content is there? "Other online content?" said Splatoon, bemused, "We've got a whole two maps! You can wear different shirts that no one besides you will ever notice or care about. What more do you want?" Two maps?! "No, of course not just two maps! We wouldn't be much of a multiplayer-focused game with only two maps, would we?! We've actually got five maps, thank you very much, but we artificially restrict you to two and change them every few hours." Okay... Why? "What's with all the fucking questions!? You see anyone else complaining?", said Splatoon, pointing to the many player avatars standing around the lobby like Village of the Damned, with Miiverse posts floating over their heads saying things like, "This is the best game ever" and, "Hooray for Splatoon" and, "My connection died again whoops I mean 'I love Nintendo'" and, "Thanks to Nintendo and to [LOCAL GAMING RETAILER] for bringing me this great game." That was a real message I actually saw. How many checks do you think that guy's cashing?
Turns out, a big chunk of this online-multiplayer-focused game is a single-player campaign. Oh, Nintendo, you poor sod. Someone suggested making an online shooter and was smart enough not to stand on the trapdoor to the piranha tank, so you had to reach a compromise but you just couldn't fight the old instincts! What with the core gameplay essentially being the diametric opposite of Super Mario Sunshine, the single-player does play quite a bit like a recent 3D Mario game: You complete a series of levels consisting of groups of floating platforms on which you complete a brief challenge then rocket to the next group of floating platforms on a jet of magical diarrhoea "Wow!" I said as I was two-thirds of the way through, "I am really bored!"
It's not awful, it just feels kinda token, really. All the levels blur together in my head and the slower platform/movement challenge gameplay seems to be reading off a different page to the chaotic third-person-shooty identity of the online mode. I liked the music in the online mode, for one thing, but the single-player campaign music sounded like someone took the Crash Bandicoot soundtrack and beat it to death with a Fisher-Price piano. Each subset of levels ends with a highly Mario-esque boss fight ("Mario-escent?"), so you know how that goes: do a thing three times, then win. Until the final boss, with mixes things up with, "do a thing five times then win," which serves to illustrate why "three times then win", tends to be the preferred model. Because after laboriously beating it and watching the credit sequence where you spray paint to reveal the names in such a way that totally looks like you're urinating on them, I found myself suddenly feeling down on the game.
What's important is that the core gameplay - spraying stuff on things and then swimming through it like a small barbed Amazonian fish up a stream of wee - is inherently fun and well-designed, backtrack-backtrack, mollify-mollify. Everything else is trappings and finery, but as trappings and finery goes, it's rather anaemic. Maybe that's the sort of criticism that dates a review after additional content gets patched in later, and perhaps I could interest you in my escort service where you pay sixty bucks to feed me crisps in the hope that I might decide to knob you at some point.
I have an inkling that that'd be a nice little earner, or should I say, ink-l-in-k, mother-f-ucker!
- Painter & decorator: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Don't you just hate it when you splatter all over your skintight bicycle shorts
- Exact brand of crisp negotiable