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Arts in Review

Splatoon urges players to mark territory, have fun

The greatness of the game is that, even though I felt like I was trapped in a spinning teacup ride with nothing in my stomach but root beer and ground beef, I still played it for six hours straight the night I bought it. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who plays games primarily for fun, get into Splatoon.

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By Alex Rake (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 17, 2015

SplatoonI recently had the misfortune of discovering that certain videogames give me motion sickness. Years ago I could play Spyro the Dragon until I starved, but now it just nauseates me. Whether it has something to do with the way televisions are huger and clearer, or getting sick from everything just comes with age, I know I won’t be playing Spyro again anytime soon.

Splatoon for Nintendo’s Wii U also gives me motion sickness. It’s fast and colourful and requires focused eyeballs. The greatness of the game is that, even though I felt like I was trapped in a spinning teacup ride with nothing in my stomach but root beer and ground beef, I still played it for six hours straight the night I bought it. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who plays games primarily for fun, get into Splatoon.

The concept is simple: two teams spray ink everywhere and whoever covers more ground with their colour wins. Unlike many other popular shooters, the purpose is not just to kill the other team — although killing them is totally an option — but to be more strategic and efficient at covering ground as a team. There are several different types of ink-spraying weapons to choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses; spray guns shoot far, but don’t fire much ink, while paint rollers cover a tonne of ground but lack range. Knowing what your weapon is good at and what skills your team as a whole needs covered is essential, and keeps the game constantly stressful — but the fun kind of stressful where you get to use both your hand-eye coordination and your mind to repeatedly reverse impending failure.

So far I have just been describing the online multiplayer mode, which is really the best part of the game. The story mode, in which players are a valiant “Inkling” (humanoid squid) preventing a takeover by the “Octolings” (humanoid you-can-guess-whats), is more of an amusing distraction than anything else. The levels are more about breaking stuff and killing things than the team co-ordination that makes the competitive mode so much more fun.

The local multiplayer is also fun, but only two people can play at a time. This is the worst thing about many shooters today, and I don’t understand it; if GoldenEye for N64 was still fun split into four screens on a puny television, why is four-player split-screen at all an issue in an era of giant screens and projectors? This kind of arbitrary limit is unusual for Nintendo, whose games’ online services are typically junk compared to their local multiplayer modes.

Maybe this will change, though. The game is constantly updating with more modes and weapons, and apparently a “major update” is coming in August. The benefit of the constant updates is that it allows for the game to improve. Splatoon can only get better from here.

Ultimately, few games welcome a broad audience this well. Strategy games like Starcraft, for example, allow players to exercise their intelligence, but are hard to get into and repel younger gamers. Simpler games like Angry Birds are addictive, but numbingly unrewarding. Splatoon is the best of both worlds: neither gruelling nor mindless, and fun in the face of whatever motion sickness it might trigger.

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