Well, today marks the launch of Splatoon, a quirky third-person shooter involving young humanoid squid folk in paintball-esque combat with each other that’s quite possibly Nintendo’s biggest game of the year for now (what with the new Legend of Zelda game having been delayed until next year). And seeing as how this is their first internally-developed game in fourteen years to feature an entirely new universe and characters in a brand-new idea for a Nintendo game, and an incredibly rare new IP from the company in general, I’d say this is an even bigger deal than usual. I mean, this could be Nintendo’s trump card of 2015, and they’re gambling with an entirely new franchise. And that alone deserves our respect.
So ever since Splatoon was first revealed at E3 last year, I’ve been championing it as the type of game Nintendo should make more of based on it just simply being a new idea alone. But now actually having played the whole game (with a digital review copy provided to the press played on separate servers with other journalists and Nintendo employees, I should add as a disclaimer), I now praise Splatoon even more. This game is the kind of stuff I want from Nintendo these days (or any days), so let’s just take a look at why they need to emulate the success seen here even further…
1. It Gave Nintendo the Courage to Approach New Genres
Yes, I know Nintendo is no real stranger to shooters, what with the Metroid Prime games and everything. A game that’s primarily a team-based online arena shooter, though? Let’s face it, if you’d have told me years ago that Nintendo was going to be dabbling in the same area as the 900-pound gorilla titan that is Team Fortress 2, I would have laughed in your face. Especially since Nintendo have been playing it safe for the most part for the longest while.
But lo and behold! Even with the likes of Titanfall and Evolve fighting it out for dominance in the online shooter market right now, Nintendo still found the balls to craft an entry into this current genre, one outside their usual comfort zone. It definitely shows that Nintendo is still willing to adapt to more modern gaming styles, but also making sure they don’t sacrifice what makes any of their games special in the first place. Basically, Nintendo is taking a chance here in concept alone, and even if means possibly falling flat on their face, we should applaud them for doing so.
2. It Puts a New Twist on an Established Genre
Of course, putting out an arena shooter would mean nothing unless Nintendo were to put their own spin on it that made it stand out. So Splatoon’s main online gameplay consists of “Turf Wars,” where the goal is to splash your team’s colors in a paintball-like manner all over the entire arena, and the team with the most area covered when the clock runs out in the winner. Basically, think of a Capture the Flag mode where the entire map is the flag. So yeah, just charging in and seeking out opponents to kill is no longer the goal here (though it doesn’t hurt), so a bit more strategy is needed.
This is especially true when you have the ability to alter the playing field your advantage by simply shooting at it, since each player’s ability to switch to a squid form and swim in their own ink allows them to move faster, fill up their ink ammo, regain health, and essentially serve as additional cover. Heck, that’s not even mentioning the various weapons and special weapons, or the ability to super jump to an ally’s location using the touchscreen. It’s all a blast to play with (especially as each map gets soaked in enough neon colors to resemble an explosion at the Laffy Taffy factory), and definitely provides a unique touch that both rookies and veterans of the genre will enjoy.
3. It Gives Shooters a Kid-Friendly Alternative
As I’ve discussed here in the past, I always find the lack of diversity in video games aimed at kids these days to be disappointing. Again, it’s not that I’m necessarily against kids playing mature games, as long as they’re knowledgeable about the subject matter, but seeing ten-year-olds playing the likes of Left 4 Dead 2 without a more age-appropriate alternative is kind of depressing. And again, it’s not like Nintendo’s previously-mentioned issues with leaving their safe zone to give them more unique games hasn’t helped.
So yes, I’d say it’s really frigging refreshing that one of the biggest games so far this year is a colorful ink war with cheerful graphics and cute cartoon characters that’s absolutely one hundred percent perfect for kids and folks of all ages alike. Yes, more unique major games like this for the young’uns are always welcome…especially when it also allows you to get your revenge on little Timmy for his dog having pooped on your lawn by curb-stomping him and his friends in a ranked match.
4. It Has Nintendo Working With Fresh Settings
Have I pointed out that this was Nintendo’s first wholly original creation in fourteen years? So not only did this mean that Nintendo had to craft a unique game, but also an equally unique world for it to take place in. And in another fresh take, they decided to go with a world inspired by modern-day urban Japan for Splatoon. Specifically, Tokyo’s Shibuya district, which allows for some positive comparisons to the Jet Set Radio games. You have battles that take place in the likes of skate parks and shopping malls filled with graffiti, fashionable clothes and accessories that you can purchase with coins you win to boost your stats, and a j-pop/j-rock soundtrack to add to the feel of it all. Not to mention the character designs, which range from a pair of idol stars who announce the current battle stages to eur trash jellyfish and hip-hop shrimp acting as your vendors, all nicely designed and executed with a playful jokiness. And of course, there are the Inklings that serve as the playable characters, cute and customizable to your liking.
It might seem like it could be a bit too much for the more crotchety nerds who shake their fists at the dang kids these days and their flinglin’-flangin’ EDM and whatnot while they argue online about their favorite Micronauts, but you can’t deny that it’s definitely something different from Nintendo as opposed to their standard fantasy settings seen in the Mario and Zelda games. Even if it resembles a teenage wasteland, it’s a damn fun one that’s a breath of fresh air, by golly.
5. It Has Nintendo Still Trying To Experiment with Online Gaming
So we all know that Nintendo hasn’t exactly been the greatest at approaching the world of online gaming over the years. But just thanks to the nature of the genre alone, Splatoon has Nintendo still adventuring further to this mysterious territory…albeit not without a few missteps.
Quite noticeable right off the bat is the lack of voice chat. The official statement is that Nintendo directly wanted to avoid the rather toxic banter that your average online shooter contains, which does at least make some sense considering that again, this is a title aimed towards younger gamers and those of all ages. Unfortunately, it makes a little less sense when you’re in the middle of a match and you want to yell to your teammates “Hey, the other team sprayed their ink all over this section of the map that we already covered, shouldn’t one of us go reclaim it?” or similar words to provide some strategy.
Still, with current matches lasting only three minutes, it isn’t that much of an issue. In another case, Nintendo even improved one area of online gaming by providing what some of us have asked for: A little mini-game to play with while you wait in the lobby, here taking the form of an NES-styled arcade game displayed on the Wii U gamepad’s screen. It’s a cute little diversion that makes waiting for a match easier, but later on you’ll also find yourself wishing that the arcade game was replaced with a menu that allows you to actually change your gear and weapons in between battles. Instead, you have to leave the lobby every time you want to change what you’re playing with, and by the time you return, suddenly you find yourself having to wait for another match again instead of rejoining the current group you were playing with. There’s also the limited number of maps, although Nintendo has promised regular updates and additions from here on out, so we’ll just have to see where that goes. So yeah, Nintendo still has work to do in this area, but hey, baby steps.
6. It Still Shows the Importance of Single-Player Games
It’s no surprise that the current triple-A gaming industry keeps trying to push co-op and multiplayer gaming on us like a drug dealer in an ’80s TV show. So what a relief it is that not only does Splatoon have a single-player campaign in it, but that it’s also a similar yet wholly different experience than the multiplayer game (as opposed to, say, Titanfall and its idea of a “story”). Mind you, the single-player story is still hidden away in the central hub under a manhole cover, as if it the game didn’t want to embarrass itself in front of the cool kids, but it’s still there and still incredible.
The story is fairly simple: The evil Octarians steal all the Zapfish that power Inkopolis, and you get recruited by an elder into going out and taking all the Zapfish back. In stark contrast to the multiplayer matches, however, the single campaign takes on more of a platformer feel, mixing together elements from Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and a few drops of Ratchet and Clank in the process. It definitely feels like a more traditional Nintendo game, mixing in unique elements with each stage and providing a nice difficulty curve while providing a colorful romp. However, the ink-based combat the main multiplayer mode still revolves around is integrated perfectly into each obstacle and challenge, giving us a sweet little platformer that culminates in one impressive final boss that tests all of your skills. It might feel a bit short, but it does reward the player with new weapons and insights into the lore of the game’s world, so it still shows us that single-player games have a place in these modern times.
So while Splatoon does have some issues (I didn’t even get into the motion-controlled camera, though I got used to it and have no real beef with it now), so far it’s been one of the most fun games I’ve had the pleasure of playing all year. More importantly, though, it just definitely feels like something unique and new in terms of video game ideas and gameplay. Splatoon just feels like a return to form for Nintendo, the company that I remember taking chances and publishing games with radical new concepts and scenarios as opposed to relying on the same handful of franchises. The ideas that led to this game and the ones in it are the ideas that Nintendo needs, and that I hope to see more of those in the future from them now.
…Although we could do without their ideas for advertising.
We…we did not need a return to ’90s-era Nintendo advertising, guys. Just keep moving forward and bury these kinds of ads alongside the Virtual Boy. Some ideas are better left in the darkest corners of the mind.