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.