Sim­ply splatas­tic

Nin­tendo’s colour­ful team-based shooter Spla­toon is back, and it’s as fresh and off the hook as ever.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Technology - By SHAUN A. NO­ORDIN bytz@thes­tar.com.my

A FEW weeks be­fore Spla­toon 2 was launched, my friend asked me: “why am I be­ing flooded with squid fan art on my Twit­ter feed??”

“Oh, ev­ery­one’s ex­cited about Spla­toon 2,” I ex­plained, “it’s an on­line com­pet­i­tive team­based shooter for the Nin­tendo Switch, but in­stead of shoot­ing to kill, you have ink guns to paint ter­ri­tory. Also, ev­ery­one is a kid who isal­soasquid­whoisal­soakid.”

After star­ing at me blankly for a full minute, she replied, “That’s dumb, I hate stress­ful games where you fight other play­ers, and I’m block­ing #Spla­toon tweets for­ever.” Ah well. It’s a shame my friend stopped my ex­pla­na­tion pre­ma­turely, be­causeIhad­so­many­greatthingstosay about this game: its stylish youth­ful fash­ion aes­thet­ics, the catchy mu­sic, the de­cep­tively in­tu­itive game­play, the vi­brant on­line com­mu­nity,and­so­much­more.

But I’m get­ting ahead of my­self – let’s start this re­view of Nin­tendo’s quirky and colour­ful game with a proper in­tro­duc­tion.

An ink­tro­duc­tion

Spla­toon 2 is pri­mar­ily an on­line game where two teams of four play­ers face each other in “Turf Wars”. In­stead of wield­ing deadly guns and shoot­ing to kill, ev­ery­one has colour­ful weapons that splat­ter ink, and the goal is to paint the arena so it has more of your team’s colours than the en­emy’s.

To add to this un­con­ven­tional setup, your char­ac­ter is an Inkling – a kid who in bat­tle can trans­form into a squid to swim through ink, and who out­side of Turf Wars spends their time hang­ing out in the Shibuya-es­que cen­tre of fash­ion that is Inkopo­lis Square, lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic of the city’s hottest pop idols.

If you’ve played the orig­i­nal Spla­toon on the Wii U, then there’s not much new here to sur­prise you. How­ever, given how rare Wii U own­ers are, it’s worth ex­plain­ing a base­line for Nin­tendo’s ec­cen­tric premise that so ca­su­ally up­ends com­mon com­pet­i­tive shooter tropes.

The most im­por­tant thing I need to point out about Spla­toon 2 – more so than its stylish aes­thet­ics and slick shooter/painter me­chan­ics – is that it’s an in­cred­i­ble in­tro­duc­tion to the com­pet­i­tive team-based gamegenre.You­can­bea­ca­su­al­gamer,a genre new­bie, or – like my­self – com­pletely averse to on­line PvP games, yet still have gal­lons of fun. Take my afore­men­tioned friend as an ex­am­ple: after watch­ing me play, she de­cided to try a few rounds of Turf War. Not only did she have fun, she ac­tu­ally won quite a few rounds de­spite be­ing an ab­so­lute new­bie.

New Squids on the Block

There are two main rea­sons for this easy in­tro­duc­tion: first, the rules for the game are pretty sim­ple to in­tuit. My friend just painted ink wher­ever she didn’t see her team’s colours and avoided any di­rect con­fronta­tion with en­emy play­ers, and this is just as valid a strat­egy as rush­ing into en­emy ter­ri­tory with a Splat Roller (a com­i­cally huge paint roller) or care­fully co­or­di­nat­ing a safe ad­vance for your team as you snipe en­emy In­klings with a Splat Charger.

Sure, deeper strate­gies, trained re­flexes, and team com­mu­ni­ca­tion mat­ter when you’re go­ing for the ad­vanced Ranked or League bat­tles, where the standard rules are re­placed with vari­ants like Splat Zones (point con­trol). How­ever, for a ca­sual player like my friend, she didn’t need to worry about mas­ter­ing an op­ti­mal weapon load­out; the syn­er­gies be­tween her gear’s abil­i­ties and her Sub Weapons/Spe­cial Weapons; or the crazy map-travers­ing stunts she can pull off on some of the more eclec­ti­cally-de­signed maps.

(Heck, the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion a ca­sual gamer needs to worry about is choos­ing which kick­ass hat/shirt/shoes makes her Inkling stand out from the crowd – in this game, fash­ion and look­ing cool mat­ters.)

Sec­ond, Spla­toon 2 is one of the least stress­ful PvP games I’ve ever played. Reg­u­lar matches only last for about three min­utes, so even if you lose a game, it won’t take too long to jump back in and try again. More im­por­tantly, the dis­tinct lack of built-in voice chat* means you’ll never need to worry about the de­press­ingly com­mon si­t­u­a­tions where in­sane op­po­nents scream ex­ple­tives at you, or toxic team­mates yell at you about how you “should” play the game.

(*If you do want voice chat – erm, maybe you like yelling at team­mates? – you’ll need to down­load the free Nin­tendo Switch On­line app for An­droid/iOS, and even then, you can only chat with friends.)

Run­ning with salmons

If you want a break from Spla­toon 2’s main course of mul­ti­player PvP com­bat, the game also of­fers two alternative modes. The co­op­er­a­tive Sal­mon Run – newly in­tro­duced in Spla­toon 2 – is a fran­tic “horde mode” where you work to­gether in a team of four to fend off swarms of AI-con­trolled salmon­mu­tants while you si­mul­ta­ne­ously try to har­vest their eggs.

Like reg­u­lar Turf War bat­tles, you’ll find that most play­ers in­stinc­tively grav­i­tate to­wards the tasks they need to per­form, and a great deal of team­work hap­pens with­out any­one ex­plic­itly com­mu­ni­cat­ing. Strangely, this mode is only avail­able on an er­ratic sched­ule, so don’t ex­pect to play this all the time.

Mean­while, Spla­toon 2’s sin­gle player mode is per­haps its most un­der­sold and un­der­stated fea­ture of the game. It’s ba­si­cally Su­per Mario 3D, if Mario had an ink gun. The “story” per se sees your char­ac­ter help­ing out Marie (one of the two pop idols/ bat­tle hosts of the orig­i­nal Spla­toon) se­cretly fight off an army of Oc­tar­i­ans (mu­tant oc­topodes), res­cue the kid­napped Great Zap­fish that pow­ers Inkopo­lis, and find out what hap­pened to her cousin/co-host Cal­lie.

Yeah, the plot is Nin­tendo-lev­els of crazy, but the level de­signs are Nin­tendo-lev­els of cre­ative. Each stage is an imag­i­na­tive ob­sta­cle course full of neat lit­tle twists (and se­crets to un­lock), so one stage will see you snip­ing en­e­mies while you grind on rails, while an­other has you dodg­ing en­emy fire while bounc­ing off in­flat­a­bles.

Splat­ac­u­lar fan­dom

While the var­i­ous game modes are su­perbly en­joy­able and show off Nin­tendo’s abil­ity to finely pol­ish game­play un­til the fun shines through, they aren’t why I love Spla­toon. In­stead, the best thing about Spla­toon is the fan cul­ture that forms around it – while other games have stories that get you im­mersed in their world, Spla­toon’s en­er­getic cul­ture is so colour­ful and de­light­fully messy that it splat­ters it­self into our real world.

The epit­ome of this cul­ture is the reg­u­lar “bat­tle fes­ti­vals” known as Splat­fests: ev­ery now and then, Inkopo­lis’ favourite pop idols and event an­nounc­ers – the sassy Pearl and the cool Ma­rina – will de­clare du­elling themes, and each player must choose a side be­tween Cake vs Ice Cream, or Cats vs Dogs, or Pi­rates vs Nin­jas, or what­not.

As the fes­ti­val draws near, an­tic­i­pa­tion builds both in-game and out. In Inkopo­lis Square, crowds of In­klings gather as a per­for­mance stage and neon signs be­gin to be set up. Your screen will be full of ex­cited graf­fiti shared by other play­ers. Out­side, in the real world, ex­pect ea­ger fans to post their art­work which ex­tols the awe­some­ness of their side.

Then, on the day of the Splat­fest it­self, ev­ery­thing ex­plodes in a glo­ri­ous crescendo of neon colours: the game’s lobby turns into a vir­tual party with singing pop idols, while in the Turf Wars, the two sides duke it out to de­ter­mine which team’s the best. It’s an ex­hil­a­rat­ing whirl­wind of com­pet­i­tive en­ergy, and yet after ev­ery­thing’s done, ev­ery­one goes back to be­ing friends again. It was a gen­uine fight, def­i­nitely, but it’s really just for fun.

This is the spirit of friendly com­pe­ti­tion that forms the heart of Spla­toon, and the rea­son I’d hap­pily rec­om­mend the game to any­one, not just hard­core PvP gamers.

Fresh and off the hook

Spla­toon 2 is an­other unique – and ex­tremely en­joy­able – achieve­ment from Nin­tendo. Just like how Mario Kart 8 isa friendly, ev­ery­one-can-play in­tro­duc­tion to what’s ac­tu­ally an ex­pertly de­signed com­pet­i­tive rac­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, Spla­toon 2 is a great way for new play­ers to try out com­pet­i­tive team shoot­ers.

Then, once those play­ers have got­ten their feet wet with the splat­ting me­chan­ics, it’s easy for them to get hooked by the game’s colour­ful world that’s just burst­ing with char­ac­ter and style, be­com­ing huge fans of Spla­toon’s awe­some pop idols, im­pec­ca­ble fash­ion sense, fan­tas­tic-yet-in­de­ci­pher­able mu­sic, and, heck, even the end­less squiddy puns. It’s just inkred­i­ble.

Now if you’ll ex­cuse me, I need to go check on my friend – I think I saw her tweet­ing some new squid art. SPLA­TOON 2

(Nin­tendo)

Com­pet­i­tive team-based shooter for the Nin­tendo Switch

RAT­ING: 4.5 stars

WEB­SITE: www.nin­tendo.com/games/de­tail/ spla­toon-2-switch

PRICE: USD$59.99 (RM256)

PROS: A great in­tro­duc­tion to com­pet­i­tive team games; it’s burst­ing at the seams with youth­ful en­ergy and flair.

CONS: Not really a con, but be aware that while the Switch’s on­line service is free right now, you’ll need to pay for ac­cess start­ing next year.

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