[Update the 2nd]: We’re officially done with the livestream of Splatoon. See you next time!
[Update] I’ve decided to try more live-streaming right here and right now. Join me from now until the Global Testfire Ends at 4:00PM EDT as I go squid to squid with others online.
While I was too tired to catch the 11-to-midnight shift of the Splatoon Global Testfire, I was up bright and early for the 7-8AM run. This was the second of three server tests for Nintendo to see how their servers handle the strain of these international skirmishes. After some coffee, I was ready to test out one of Nintendo’s first forays into an almost exclusively multiplayer title. This morning, I was going to become familiar with Saltspray Rig, and Walleye Warehouse.
Once you select your load out for the first time, you are taken to a short course so you can get the hang of the game. It quickly explains how to lay down the paint, and how to swim through your mess. Once you use all of your weapons, scale some walls, a portal will be waiting to take you into the multiplayer experience. All of these matches were Turf War, so the goal is to cover the most amount of ground with your paint to attain victory for the good guys. I should bring this up now, you are always the good guys, and they are always the bad guys, which really raises some existential questions.
I am notoriously terrible at shooters, but even I found myself holding my own against my fellow squid. On paper, having gyroscopic controls in charge of aiming in a shooter sounds horrible. Soon, however, gyro-aiming soon became second nature, and rarely interfered with the rest of the controls. You won’t need to move the gamepad far to get the crosshairs where you need them. Nintendo is more than familiar with the perils of motion controls; if you find yourself hugging a wall, a quick tap of the “Y” button will recenter the gyro-controls, and you will be back in the action.
The match will start once all eight slots are filled for the 4v4 match. The wait was never long, but still spent those minutes playing the “Squid Jump” mini-game, a very simplistic climber. I’m not sure how many hardcore Squid Jumpers are reading this, but I’ll let you know that your score will carry from match to match, even if you back out to change your load-out. Once the match starts, you quickly realize that everything is shuffled around; not only do you not know your team, but you won’t know the battlefield until the lobby screen falls away, and you appear from the portal. These random elements keep the game fresh, but also prevents players from entering in with an initial strategy. I can see this same mechanic frustrating the more hardcore players who feel more comfortable going in with a game-plan. I’m sure that’s why the Splatoon team has created the Ranked Battle modes.
In just the hour I played, I came across almost every combination of fighters on the field. One thing was certain in these skirmishes: There was no definite advantage. After ten minutes, I noticed the paint-rollers carried teams, and I figured that was the key to victory. The next match saw my team of gunners were taking on four rollers in the warehouse, a flat battlefield perfect for our adversaries. “We are going to get steamrolled,” I sighed to myself. However, quick team-work kept those rollers pinned down, while we slowly took control of the field. Our team took an overwhelming victory 61-31.
The lack of communication (aside from yelling “Booyah!” or “Come On!”) was an interesting decision, and it will take more that an hour for me to gauge whether or not this was the right move. The small maps, simple objective, and ability to see the entire map on the gamepad kept the need to communicate down, but I still had a lot of guesswork when making sure I was the being most effective for my team. “Were the rollers going to play aggressive? Is the sniper going to be alright on top of the tower?” I’m not saying my guessing never payed off, but Splatoon relies on teamwork, and I would really like to know what my teammates are up to as I graffiti my way through the war zone. Once the 4v4 match with friends is created, I’m sure players will be reaching for third party chat software.
Thanks to the aforementioned shuffling mechanic, I felt comfortable trying every combination without worrying about creating a vital weakness in whatever team I was paired up with. The four weapons felt like they had a place on each theater of war. Rollers were powerful, and you can get your special weapon quick, but they could only hold their own when you are up close and personal. Otherwise, you are just a huge target. Each of the Splattershots were good for pinning the enemy down, but you had to keep your eyes peeled for a perched charged shooter, or else be introduced to the pavement. Unfortunately for the charged shooter, the range isn’t anywhere near what I would like. Even at your longest range, you can easily get caught in the heat, which the exact opposite of what a sniper wants. However, if you are skilled enough, a charged shot can lay down a trail for your quick escape.
The ability to turn into squid form by-far surprised me the most in just how essential it is to strategy. Not only do you need squid form as an ammo refill mechanism, but swimming can get you where you need to go in a heartbeat. The right trail of paint can give that precious second you need to get out of range of a big attack. I’ve stared down a vortex blaster, only to duck out just as the sound-wave tore through the stage. Likewise, I’ve had an opponent flank me and bring a roller down on my head before I could react. Once I respawned, I tapped the gamepad to where my ally was in the fray, and was able to exact my colorful revenge.
One of the worst penalties in a shooter is not death, but watching that respawn counter tick down. The amount of times I saw that counter in Splatoon? Zero. You respawn almost immediately after Splatoon shows you the name of the squid who took you down. Your fingers are almost never just sitting idly in a match. Once you are back on the portal, just tap to any one of your allies to jump right back in to finish the fight. Shockingly, there is a disadvantage to even this mechanic. Not only can allies see where you are jumping, but so can your enemies. As I stood behind a pile of crates, I noticed a familiar purple icon appear a few feet in front of me. I still wonder what went through that player’s mind as they felt the full force of my charger the moment their boots hit the ground.
You may have noticed that not once have I mentioned problems with server lag or untimely disconnects. Take this as a sign that there was none. I’ve only lost a lobby twice due to someone’s connection, but I was immediately able to get back into another. Of course, we’re still in the testing phase, and not one that was particularly friendly to the Americas. It only took one match before I was aware that I was outnumbered internationally.
I may have more to say once 5:00PM rolls around, but for now, Splatoon was a thoroughly satisfying experience. The constant shuffles kept the experience fresh, even with only two stages. No one team ever had a definitive advantage or disadvantage in a fight, which served to make a more enjoyable time for all. Even with motion controls, it didn’t take long to blast my way down the battlefield. I was always fighting the bad guys and never the gamepad. We have only a few weeks before the full experience is released, but this first look is absolutely a good sign of things to come.