With a sigh, I traded in Splatoon at the weekend. A game, that made such a good impression, had become a millstone, sitting in my pile of shame. Why did it go so wrong?
Splatoon was meat to be a unique and funny take on the competitive shooting genre. Replacing bullets with paint and replacing kills with a unique cover the map mechanic. When it worked, it was a joy to behold. Unfortunately as a user experience, it was outdated beyond belief.
To be a competitive online shooter, you need to be user-friendly. Splatoon follows the Nintendo trend by doing everything possible to stop you getting at the great game, hidden underneath. For a start you need to level up enough to compete in the raked games. This is all well and good and has been implemented in other games. There is nothing wrong with playing a few rounds to get the hang of things, before diving into the carnage online. Splatoon decides to make you play to level 10. This takes at least 5 hours. While some may do it quicker, I’m counting the average gamer here. Usually you know if you are going to like a game in the first few hours of play. By locking the ranked mode behind 5 hours of essentially tutorial, the developers are hiding he best features of the game. Why would anyone do this?
Being on the Wii u, there are a number of other elements holding the game back. Like many other games, Splatoon doesn’t have full local play. This is a crippling feature of the console itself and kills this game as well. Think of other consoles and use even Call Of Duty as an example. Simply hand another controller to a friend and you can go in as a team of two, to conquer the online world. This as been a feature for years and over two console generations. For the Wii U not to have it, is criminal and unforgiveable, especially in a game like Splatoon. Why can they not employ a system like Mario Kart, the one shining light on this broken console. They may argue that some of the functionality of the gamepad is lost, but frankly, who cares. Lose the ability to warp on the map and make a game that families can play. That is probably why they got the console and the game in the first place!
The pain doesn’t stop there. Having arranged an online session with your friends, naturally you want to go in as a team against other players. Nope – not possible either. Splatoon doesn’t let you party up, before a match. One player has to go into a game, then the other has to join them. Joining isn’t as simple as other games either. The player who joins has to wait until an entire round has been played before jumping into the action. That’s three minutes. So say you arrange a gaming session with a friend, then hook up your PS4 or Xbox one or even Skype to be able to talk to them while playing, as the Wii U hasn’t got voice chat, then you get ready to enter a game, wait the three minutes and the server kicks you out. Welcome to the hate-loop that is playing Splatoon as a serious shooter.
Of course there wouldn’t be this anger towards Nintendo and Splatoon, if there wasn’t a decent game hiding underneath. The game itself is wonderfully creative. The three-minute round format, is a breath of fresh air that almost eliminates the spectre of camping. If you want points you simply cannot sit in one corner and hope to have a high kill death ratio. You have to go for it, tying to cover the map in as much paint as possible, the only time you should be thinking of killing, is when another player is tying to cover your area in paint. Kill them, then get back to the task at hand. You still see the odd person trying to play with Splatoon’s version of the sniper rifle but barring a few annoying kills, they usually end up at the wrong end of the leaderboard. The real high scores come from covering the map in paint and defending it.
The weapons are also nicely different. The roller is the equivalent of a shotgun, covering a wide swathe of ground and being lethal up close. The paintbrush is like a plasma sword from Halo and inbetween you have a number of rapid fire variants of uzi and assault rifle. They all have their own pros and cons and the game feels reasonably balanced. There is a kind of perk system, where the player adds items of clothing to give certain benefits. A tutorial on this would have been more useful than a five-hour one on the game in general.
The hub world is colourful and gets the message across reasonably quickly. Go here for this game mode, go there for another. However it doesn’t take long for the game to veer back into Nintendo territory. People who have the amiibo get a few unlocks, which are very powerful in the early game setting. The single player mode is horrible and a tedious slog to play through, all in the hope of new weapons to use in the multiplayer. Fighting unresponsive amphibians isn’t a patch on the game proper,so to include it is a misstep in my opinion. The control scheme seems to want you to use motion controls, even though this markets itself as an alternative to other competitive shooters. All in all they just don’t know what product thy have here or they haven’t taken the time or care to make it polished.
The worst aspect for me is the locking of content on the disc. This is a full price release. Firstly Nintendo have locked most of the weapons on the disc behind some kind of time barrier, rather than a level barrier. Then we have the mechanic where only a few maps are available until 24 hours pass. Then it changes to a new set of maps. Why keep this content from your players? It could be argued, that this is to limit server traffic, however the performance of the servers is erratic enough to ruin the experience. I mean there can’t be the levels of people playing that there are on other online shooters? To me it just smacks of a way of extending the life of a product artificially.
It was with regret that I traded Splatoon. The game was so imaginative and unique, that I wanted to give it a chance. But why should I devote my time to a game, that is so inherently difficult to play normally? In truth it’s for t best. If Nintendo keep releasing games like this, it won’t matter how much Nintendo magic is in the game. If it is too painful to find, I won’t bother trying anymore.