During past Nintendo Direct presentations, the main focus of Splatoon has undoubtedly been the multiplayer gameplay, leaving many caught off guard when it was announced that Nintendo's upcoming squad-based shooter would feature a single player campaign as well. Not much has been revealed about the solo adventure up to this point, but we were lucky enough to get some hands-on time and work our way through several of the campaign's stages. What we found was a surprisingly charming story and gameplay that feels unique from its multiplayer counterpart.
What we know about the multiplayer gameplay so far is that the major focus is on colouring the land and marking your team's territory with paint. As you can imagine, this doesn't exactly translate well into a single player experience. In order to provide a fulfilling campaign, Nintendo has taken the core gameplay mechanics of Splatoon's multiplayer and reworked them into something completely different. Single player, while still making use of the paint-based weaponry and squid transformations that allow you to quickly and effortlessly travel through your own ink, instead focuses on platforming and puzzle solving.
Led by the elderly war veteran Cap'n Cuttlefish, your goal is to reach the end of each stage by solving puzzles and fighting off the opposing Octarian army along the way. From what we experienced, stages are set up to give off an enormous appearance, not unlike those in Super Mario Galaxy, but the reality is that they are very linear in structure. Paths are marred with traps and enemies, most of which can be taken care of with a quick splash of paint, but it is all very straightforward. Some baddies hold keys and other such items to open the path forward, meaning that, unlike in the multiplayer mode, Splatting enemies is necessary to progress. Though you're working against more immediate dangers rather than a clock, fast paced movement and a steady momentum are essential in successfully working your way to the goal.
Both single player and multiplayer use the same control scheme, creating a very comfortable transition from one to the other. Controlling your character is surprisingly simple, mainly utilizing the Wii U Gamepad's control sticks and shoulder triggers. The interface also makes good use of the GamePad's touchscreen and gyroscope, allowing for alternate methods of play that involve more user interaction than simple presses of the lettered buttons. The multiplayer maps that we spent time with are mostly large open spaces that didn't require precise movement, but the campaign stages are much more condensed. Careful jumps and well-places shots are necessary to be successful, and the controls lend themselves well to this type of gameplay. It's a mark of an effective control scheme when it can be used equally well for both precise and more boisterous movements.
Despite a solid single player experience, the focus of Splatoon's development was clearly the multiplayer. Throwing aside many of the conventions of traditional online shooters, you're tasked with covering the ground in as much of your ink as possible in order to best your opponents. The same squid mechanics hold true from the single player, but learning to use them to their full advantage is even more important when facing human opponents.
There are two modes that have been revealed so far: the previously announced Turf War, wherein the objective is simply to cover as much ground as possible with your ink, and Splat Zones, a more strategic experience where you are tasked with filling a set area with ink for as long a period as possible, fending off enemies who are trying to do the same. Splat Zones is very reminiscent of traditional king of the hill style game modes, but rather than being forced to remain in the designated area, as long as a large majority of its surface is covered in your ink, your team's timer will begin to count down, the victor being the team that has their counter reach zero first.
The Splat Zones game mode was playable in an entirely different playlist to Turf War known as 'Ranked Battle'. This option allows you to play a number of different game modes using a traditional ranking system found in many online multiplayer shooters, but at the time of writing Splat Zones is the only announced mode. Due to the ranking system and overall more competitive feel to Ranked Battle, it will not be available at launch, rather the developers will be keeping a close eye on the number of players and their levels before releasing this mode so as not to put players at a disadvantage due to inexperience. We have been assured that this will only be a few weeks if the numbers are all satisfactory.
You also have access to a significantly more varied arsenal of weaponry than in single player, all themed around real-life firearms but with an inky twist. There is of course the standard, rapid fire, assault rifle-esque weapon found in the single player and previous builds of the game, a roller which covers a huge amount of ground but has extremely limited range, a grenade launcher-like weapon that fires a single glob of ink that explodes after a short time (but will not explode if it hits a surface before this time has concluded), and a gun that resembles a sniper rifle that requires the fire button to be held and released before covering any significant range. There are also numerous variations of these weapons available to try that vary in range, power, speed, and many other factors that change up how the gun works. These small changes in stats allow you to find a weapon that truly suits your playing style and get the jump on your opponents, and understanding them is vital in order to achieve success.
Though you may not be able to change and customize the loadout, each weapon is accompanied by a secondary weapon and a special ability. The secondary weapons include various grenades, ink shields that block your enemies' shots, and more we're sure we weren't privy to. The real fun comes from the special abilities though, which can wildly change your play style and are charged by covering areas in ink. They range from the basic and sensible such as a shield that prevents you from taking damage from enemy ink to the wild and spectacular that are much more interesting to have in your arsenal. One ability allows you to use unlimited grenades for a short amount of time, meaning you can cover some serious ground with your ink which is exaggerated even further by using it from higher ground. There are also two abilities that are more focused on eradicating your opponents – the Killer Wail and the Ink Strike – the former of which emits a shockwave that spreads a bit of ink over a wide area and obliterating anything caught in its wake. The Ink Strike is almost the opposite, allowing you to drop torrent of ink entirely covering a medium-sized area and slaughtering anything that gets caught up it in, controlled by tapping on the map displayed on the GamePad. These abilities are truly make-or-break for many matches, and can tip the balance of a game in a fraction of a second.
Finding a match is a simple and painless experience. You can either choose to play with friends or with anyone in the world as in many other online games. You are restricted in the sense that only one person can play online per console, but given how integral the GamePad is to the experience this is hardly surprising. There's no confirmation yet whether or not you can team up with friends to battle strangers, but given the team-orientated nature of the online gameplay we'd be surprised if it wasn't possible.
It's not a stretch to compare Splatoon to Super Mario Sunshine, something that is much more apparent in the solo campaign, but by no means is that a bad thing. Making use of liquid-based guns as a means of taking out foes and making the terrain accessible permeates both games, but that's about where the similarities both begin and end. It's safe to say that the former influenced this new game, but Splatoon provides a unique enough experience to stand on its own two tentacles. As we were only allowed access to a few of the single player stages, the only thing left to be determined is whether the full campaign feels like a legitimate piece on its own like the multiplayer does, or if it's filler tacked on to appeal to a wider audience – we're hoping for the former of course! Overall Splatoon is a tremendously fresh and joyous experience, and keeping an eye on it leading up to its release is something any multiplayer fan should consider.
Alex Olney and Ron DelVillano contributed to this report.