Publisher/developer Nintendo (EAD) Format Wii U Release Q1 2015
Splatoon is what occurs when Nintendo belatedly decides to move in on the most popular, lucrative and rigidly templated genre in games. Splatoon is the online multiplayer shooter redrawn on De Blob’s canvas using Super Mario Sunshine’s FLUDD; it’s a game about painting the town first and targets second. There are no perks, no unlocks, no killstreaks and no sniper rifles – just eight players with a Super Soaker each and a tank of paint.
It’s a typical sidestep of genre conventions by a company that prefers to define them. There is little to Splatoon that’s traditional, and it takes some getting used to. The right analogue stick, for instance, can only pan the camera left and right, with the gyroscope used to aim. You jump with X, whose contemporaries Call Of Duty players have spent the best part of a decade stabbing to switch weapons. And it’s not the opposition you’ll want to line up in your sights, but the space around them. Victory is not about kills or captures, but painting more of the map than the opposition. It’s easy to get distracted: when a Nintendo staffer reminds us that only paint on the ground counts, we’re too busy turning a tree pink to care.
You’ll want to paint the walls, too. A squeeze of the left trigger transforms you into a squid, plunging you beneath the painted surface, where you’re hidden from enemy forces. You move faster, and all the while you’re refilling your stock of paint. When a foe appears at the end of a corridor you can take them on, but you’re better off dipping below the surface and popping up behind them.
The single map shown at E3 centres on a square chokepoint with raised platforms, and it’s no surprise to see games descend into hectic running-and-gunning in the town square at first. Then you remember what you’re here for, and head off to the side where you’ll find a gated corridor, a flanking route to the enemy spawn point. Still thinking traditionally, we try to jump and mantle over it. We press a nonexistent action button to see if it’ll open. Eventually, the penny drops. We squirt paint through the gate and onto the floor behind, transform into a squid, and pass through to the other side. Victory beckons.
Splatoon is both resoundingly familiar and thoroughly different, a quintessential Nintendo game, but the last thing that anyone expected. Shareholders are forever suggesting Nintendo move into more lucrative genres and onto rival platforms, and while the latter still seems fanciful, it’s clear the company is listening. It’s just going to do things its way.
It’s no traditional shooter, but there’s as much value in sticking together here as in the likes of Battlefield. When you die, you can superjump straight from your base to a teammate