Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “June, 2015”

Splatoon for Wii U

I always wondered what it would be like if Nintendo took at crack at a shooter. As they tend to do at pretty much everything they try, they absolutely nailed it and offered something completely unique that even those who think they’ve seen it all will be surprised by. The lack of significant local multiplayer doesn’t truly let it reach this place, but Splatoon is many ways does what Mario Kart does for racers and Smash Bros. for fighting games.

The first lesson that Splatoon teaches you is that this is not a game about killing. Rather than bullets your weapons fire ink and the objective is to cover as much ground as possible before your opponents. In the main mode, two teams of four have three minutes to splatter the map, painting over each others ink and furiously combating the middle ground over percentage covered. You can kill your enemies and taking them out gives you a big advantage, but it’s not at all what this game is about. It is mechanically similar to other shooters, but the differences end there and if you try to approach Splatoon like other shooters you won’t make much headway. There are currently six maps available at the time of writing, but Nintendo seem to be adding new ones fairly regularly post-release. There’s a siginifcant amount of weapon variety to suit a variety of playstyles, from the assault rifle-esque Splattershots to the sniper rifle style Chargers to the glass cannon chaos of the melee paint roller. There’s an impressive sense of balance and, at least so far, it seems that people are simply picking a playstyle then enjoy and going with it rather than everyone being forced to play the same by a metagame. There’s a levelling system, with new weapons and gear (which give you bonuses) becoming available as you go. When you hit level 10 the ‘Ranked Battle’ mode becomes available. I don’t particularly care about the ranks themselves, but I love the new mode, which is essentially a standard ‘King of the Hill’ mode where one or two small areas are taken by each side. The first to hold for 100 seconds, or the team which has held on the longest after five minutes, wins. The combat becomes much more intense in this mode and makes a nice change from the more whimsical and less combative ‘Regular Battles.’

I haven’t even touched yet upon how good the core mechanics feel, or even how they work. There are some games where simply the act of getting from point A to point B is fun, and Splatoon is one of those games. For every bit of surface covered with ink, you can turn into a squid with a touch of the button to zip through the liquid, popping instantly back into human form when you need to cover some more turf or take out a foe. This includes climbing up walls, forcing you to re-evaluate the game space. This mechanic is a lot of fun, although part of me wishes that the potential for verticality was explored further. It’s a classic example of a simple yet joyful mechanic and one which I would love to see expanded upon in sequels.

Alongside the online multiplayer is a slightly bare bones if highly satisfying single player campaign. These see you work your way through around 25 levels, fighting octopus monsters and traversing the environments. The squid-ink powers offers probably the best platforming that I’ve ever seen in a shooter, which is an admittedly low bar, but Nintendo could have made an entire game based around the platforming in Splatoon. The bosses are a real highlight; they’re not particularly difficult, but they’re inventive and fun. I say they’re not hard, but the final boss is an absolute monster; it’s seriously intense. I actually started to get what I now call ‘The Bloodborne Sweats’ tackling that beast. There’s some other stuff too, like some amiibo functionality offering challenge maps and a forgettable local multiplayer mode, but the single player story and the online multiplayer easily offer plenty of value for money.

Before you kick into your first time playing Splatoon, the player is quickly beat round the head by the engaging and complete world that Nintendo has created for the game. The whole vibe of this game is delightful, with just enough world building to give you context but not too much to get in the way of the fun. There’s also a rather morbid backstory to this world which I rather enjoyed. The single player story itself is fairly standard; a giant electric fish which powers Inkopolis is kidnapped by an alien squid DJ and you have to get it back. Well, ok, maybe not so standard.

Splatoon looks and sounds beautiful. Right out of the gate Nintendo created a brand which deserves to be as iconic as anything else they’ve done. I can’t imagine that a focus group went anywhere near this. There’s a big influence from something I’m going to call, in my utter ignorance, Harajuku fashion. The game runs at Nintendo’s standard 60FPS, putting the other consoles to shame yet again. The music is great as well, with lots of lovely bloopy reggae jams which sounds a bit like a cross between the music of Mario Sunshine and Animal Crossing. The core mechanics of Splatoon are incredibly solid, but I don’t know if this game would have caught on nearly as much as it has if it wasn’t for its instantly charming and recognisable style.

What more can I say? People have been begging for a big new Nintendo IP for years and here it is. I can only hope that Splatoon lives a long life as Nintendo nailed it pretty much out the gate here. Splatoon-Controller-Layout

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The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

The Demon Cycle is a cool, if flawed series, with a lot of stuff going for it. The last book, The Daylight War began to feel like a middle Wheel of Time book as the focus shifted from the central narrative of humanity facing a demon horde to a series of far less engaging subplots. Some of these elements are still here, but overall The Skull Throne is a major improvement over it’s predecessor and does just what a penultimate book should; gets you rabidly hyped for the finale.

The Skull Throne follows three stories primarily. The first, most exciting and unfortunately briefest follows Arlen and Jardir following their epic battle at the conclusion of The Daylight War. We probably spend most of our time with the Kraisans as Jardir’s sons begin to vie for the Skull Throne in the power vacuum left by their father, whilst Inevera manipulates from the shadows. Finally we follow Leesha and Rojer as they journey to Angiers to forge closer ties with Duke Rhinebeck to help them fend off the Kraisans to the south and the nightly terrors of the Core.

As can often be the case with penultimate books, The Skull Throne strongly feels like it’s mostly about moving things into place for the finale, but based on where things are left off The Core is going to be a hell of a book. The pacing is much improved from the last couple of books, partially because it finally abandons the flashback structure which held back the previous novel, focusing much more on the here and now. However, it’s still sluggish in places, particularly in the Angiers storyline. The last 100 or so pages are insane however, an incredible barrage of events and game changers which actually left me a little exhausted. Some of these moments could have used a little more room to breathe, particularly considering how long the book is overall, but the ending of this book is genuinely thrilling and leaves me very confident for where the series is headed.
The Painted Man was a strong debut and Brett’s writing has improved book to book. The fight scenes were always a strength and they’ve stayed good, but in terms of general world building and dialogue things have come along immensely. Earlier books contained some general iffiness about the presentation of women, sex and race but Brett seems to have learnt from those mistakes. Gender roles, racial prejudice and sex are still prominent themes, but he’s gotten a fair bit more nuanced in how he handles them.

I hope that we get to see Arlen back in the protagonist’s chair for The Core, as we did with the similarly sidelined Rand al’Thor in the Wheel of Time series. I do understand why authors do this if going down the powerful chosen one route, but it’s become a bit played out. I liked Abban as always and Rojer develops a bit more here, coming on from his basic Mat Cauthon impression. Leesha has finally come into her own as a character, which is nice!

Books like The Skull Throne can be quite difficult to judge on their own merits without the story conclusion it is focused on establishing; I think that this is a big reason why a lot of people don’t like A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons in A Song of Ice and Fire. I can say that I enjoyed The Skull Throne and that, whilst not as strong as the first two books, it is definitely better than the third.

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