My thoughts after an hour with Splatoon

Nintendo launched its fledgling shooter Splatoon into the public’s hands this weekend with the Global Test Fire, a multiplayer stress test split up into three 1-hour long blocks. I was able to join in on one of these sessions this morning to put the game through its paces. It may have only been an hour, but Splatoon left a fairly positive impression on me. Here are a few things that I took special note of that I think you might find interesting:

The tablet is a bit wonky for a shooter, but manageable.

The Wii U tablet controller was not made with shooters in mind. After playing Splatoon I feel comfortable saying that. It’s big and bulky and there’s an odd disconnect between your hands when trying to get them to interact together at once. The closest comparison I can come up with is trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time. That is what it feels like to play a shooter with the Wii U tablet controller.

That’s not to say it’s indomitable though. After a few rounds my hands seemed to sync up and was able to begin stringing kills together in a way that felt somewhat natural. It’s certainly not my preferred way to play. The Wii U Pro controller would be far more comfortable to use, but the tablet is a serviceable option. Also, the motion controls with the tablet are not worth the hassle. Do yourself a favor and switch over to standard controls in the settings as soon as you can.

Every class seems useful.

Class-based shooters are in a constant struggle to find a proper balance between each class’s unique roles. Thankfully Splatoon seems to have this little issue worked out. While I only had a limited amount of time with each class, it’s already quite clear that each loadout can play a vital role within a round. Roller classes play a kind of support role, covering everything they touch. Chargers act as anti-player deterrents, with the ability to take out players before they can cover the map in paint. Meanwhile, the shooter classes land somewhere in between. Each class allows for a very specific role and should give players plenty of opportunities to contribute to their team’s efforts. If you want an example of how well these classes are balanced, just look at the makeup of teams that consistently win. In my experience, the winning teams were normally the ones that had a variety of classes working together.

The map design is on point.

Of course, Splatoon’s classes can only find proper balance if the maps they play on allow for a wide variety styles of play. Only two maps were featured in the stress test, and both make good use close quarter, and long range combat. I got a serious laser tag/paintball field from the maps. Each seemed split up into separate quadrants that required different styles of gameplay. One area might be littered with spaced out barriers for ambushing, while another would be more open and surrounded with tiered towers just begging to be topped with snipers. The variety led to plenty of frantic matches that required effective teamwork between classes in order to ensure victory. My one complaint with the maps? Some surfaces are not able to be covered in paint with little to no indication, but that issue should be short lived as you learn the ins and outs of each stage over time.

Prepare to rage at player who go for kills over coverage.

This issue likely comes with playing a stress test with random people online, but it’s an issue nonetheless. What makes Splatoon unique is that the sole criteria for victory is covering the stage in more of your own team’s color than your opponents’. Kills are nice, but really they’re just an inconvenience meant to keep the other team from accomplishing its ultimate goal. Not every player understands this. I finished multiple rounds where our team dominated the kill-count, only to horribly lose the final result because no one cared about coverage. It’s certainly annoying and you should be ready to experience this issue many times if you play online with random players. This is a scenario where Nintendo’s decision to not include voice chat can really sting. Hopefully people catch on quickly.

This game is going to be a blast to stream.

If there is one takeaway I retained from my time with Splatoon it’s gameplay provides plenty of big moments. At one point I was covering a narrow hallway with paint only to have two rollers bearing down on me. I quickly squid-slid backwards and activated an invincible bubbled shield. Luckily, I earned an invincible bubble power-up and was able to activate it just in time to watch my assailants helplessly press against my newly-found shield. After that it only took a second to mow them down with my splatter shot and continue on my way. My rounds with Splatoon were filled with these kinds of moments. The maps layouts and class capabilities make for incredibly diverse and chaotic matches, and the stage-coverage gameplay keeps the majority of matches tense until the very end. It’s because of this that Splatoon seems like the perfect game to stream live for viewers. I was a bit on the fence before, but after taking the game for a spin in this stress test I cannot wait to get my hands on the full game in a few weeks.

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