THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE WAVES IN THE MOST OVERSUBSCRIBED GENRE IN GAMING
squid, you need to do more with the ink.’ So we started thinking you can hide in it, and when you’re moving inside it, you can swim faster. Then we thought of the feature where if you step on enemy ink, it traps your feet and you take damage. At the start, you couldn’t paint the walls, but we thought, ‘How about we can paint the walls? It will give more of the wet, visceral feeling.’ We put that in, but then we realised, ‘Wait, you can paint it, but you can’t do anything with it, so that’s no good.’ So we added the ability to climb up the walls when they’re inked.”
Everything has come back to ink. It’s the binding agent between the game’s distinct personalities. It is ammunition and it is win condition. It is movement medium, hiding place and trap. A lot of love has gone into the ink, and in its shimmering surface we see a world of possibilities for creative play. Expanded movesets are a clear trend in modern FPSes, but the interplay between squid and ink pulls map and character closer together than in any shooter we’ve played. One moment is etched in our mind: we’re holding the central tower in the skatepark arena, a charge-shot sniper rifle in hand. Popping one unfortunate as the team rushes our position lets another approach the base of the structure unchecked. It won’t be long before he springs up and annihilates us. Operating on sheer reflex, we assume squid form and leap over his head, dropping seamlessly into a puddle of our ink on the tower’s side, then instantly squirt up the building to emerge behind our would-be attacker. It’s enough to push him off our perch, and seconds later he’s a puddle. Ink is certainly far more than a gimmick to excuse a bright splash of colour on the box art.
In hindsight, it seems so obvious, but this is how you make waves in the most oversubscribed genre in gaming. Splatoon’s Turf Wars still feel like they belong in the same pool as Battlefield, Call Of Duty and their peers, but which of those games allows you to still contribute with every shot you miss, cares as much about your weapon’s splatter pattern as its hitting power, or makes reading the ground akin to reading the flow of battle?
It’s intended to be friendly in a genre that’s often anything but. Partially, that’s born of Amano’s own experiences online. “I like shooting games and I would invite friends to come play with me,” he says. “But they’d start playing and they’d be like, ‘Oh, but it’s complicated; the controls are not very easy,’ and I found that I would soon be on my own again... I didn’t have fun all the time online either, and when I’d choose certain matchmaking setups, I wouldn’t find anyone to play with. From time to time, I encountered these frustrating moments, so I wanted to come up with something new, a different genre, even though it’s similar to an existing shooter… We wanted to make a shooter that was different and could allow people who aren’t so used to the traditional types of shooters to come in.”
It seems very like Nintendo to make an arena shooter that’s not primarily about shooting men, where aiming skill is important (and it is: slain enemies are not only not covering ground while they respawn, but pop and spray ink of your colour where they once stood) and yet the greenest beginner can pitch in. It won’t be for the Arma crowd, but the greatest compliment we can pay Splatoon is that has nailed that Nintendo feel. We’re reminded of the vibe of local Mario Kart tussles as the staffer next to us swears periodically under their breath whenever they get splattered, dimly aware of their bosses watching from halfway across the world, but not enough to be able to fully overcome the emotion of the moment.
Super jumping is a risky way to join the fray. To avoid a quick death, you can start firing just before you touch down
Why test an online game internally? “Just take this as a jokey response, but we didn’t want anyone stronger to appear before the game was released,” Amano laughs