Someone once said that games are about cleaning, about finding the right tools to get rid of enemies. And in a lot of cases, those tools are guns. With shooters, you usually see the same concepts reused, like gritty realism, a focus on enemy destruction, violence, and the oft-used descriptor "military shooter." As fun as these games and shooting is, as satisfying as it is to pop another player from across the map, we begin to fall into a rut sometimes. A lot of shooters are pulled from the Modern Warfare mold. That was eight years ago.
I don't see any reason to doubt Miyamoto when he said he could have made Halo, but with the focus on making a game people didn't know they want. This has been Nintendo's M.O. for years, and even those most vocal about being tired of their games often talk about those little Nintendo touches, the polish that really sets them apart. Miyamoto's spirit of innovation, of not just making the game everyone else is making, has been something they've tried to permeate through the company, and their latest franchise launch, Splatoon, tries to take the shooter and do something new with it.
Splatoon's concept isn't new for games, but it's definitely new to shooters. Instead of killing the other team, you'll all work together to spread your team's ink everywhere to control more territory in three minute rounds. Splatting other players is an option, and does explode them into your color, but it's not the point, and if you follow another player around to splat them you'll wind up doing too little to help the team. Even one more shot can change the balance!
The way you and your weapons work towards the goal isn't based on hit scans and invisible bullets, but actual modeled ink shots which really changes the feel of the game. There aren't cross-level kills from an unseen foe. Fights are up close and personal as all weapons are have a relatively short range. Battles to gain inches and push the enemy back in contested areas can be vicious, and the game's smart inclusion of an ability to immediately jump to any of your allies gets you right back into battle when you get splatted or follow the action. It keeps the pace fast, all players involved, and makes it so easy to get back into the thick of things.
As your weapons shoot ink instead of bullets, it allows for a lot more unique weapons with interesting properties. Take the blaster, which shoots a ball of ink forward a few feet before exploding its color everywhere; the ink roller, which has very little range and is more about spreading a trail of ink behind you in wide swaths. There are multiple iterations on machine gun styles. Amongst all weapons are varying stats for range, power, and speed of shots.
What impressed me is that the weapons all have their use. Weapons I would shrug off and consider useless would rock me in the hands of someone else. "Maybe I was wrong about the blaster" I would say, trying it out again. Nope, still sucks for me. Still kills me when I find it again. I especially expected the paint roller to fall out of play, because it's so easy to see people running at you with it and take them out, but instead, it's just gotten scarier. People will pop in, and be gone before you even knew they were there, all that remains is the ink spatter where you'd been hit.
Perhaps the best feeling about the main mode of Splatoon is the ease of contributing something to the team. If you see something that's not your color, all you have to do is hit it. Aim is not the most important, since you're trying to cover the level and not zooming down for headshots or something. The ease of contribution, though, makes it so that everyone on your team is important. If for some reason a team member is missing from your four-person team, you will lose, guaranteed. There's no way to recover from it. It makes your teammates ultra important, and when they're not there, it falls apart. This did seem to happen every 10 or so rounds - not sure if it's netcode issues or people disconnecting but it is a little common.
Being in on the ground floor for this game was interesting as well because it let you really see the way the game evolved as more was unlocked. At the start everyone had Splattershots and the same specials, but as people leveled, you'll see the game change with the inclusion of new specials and weapons. I freaked out at the first Kraken that came after me, and people's understanding of how to use the Ink Strike will change the push and pull of the game.
I'm not going to talk about voice chat, either, except to say it really doesn't matter. People are smart enough to go "This area is a different color, I BETTER GO THERE".
The game is also excellent to look at as well. I know it's cliché to talk about how so many games are lacking color, but more than that, the color in Splatoon just pops. Beautiful, vivid colors look awesome as they splat all over everything. The ink itself also has a great texture to it, the small trails left behind and changes to texture as it reacts are really cool.
It's also worth mentioning how excellent Nintendo's been at adding things to the game. New levels, multiple new weapons, and even 2 new modes have been added to the game since launch. They even put on a special event, the Splatfest, a metagame where people fight for certain overarching teams - not just blue vs orange, but Team Dog vs Team Cat. It doesn't change the dynamics of the game, but it's fun to see the Miiverse posts throwing shade, join with people of a common interest, and fight for supremacy. Nintendo has promised more support to come, and I find their efforts refreshing since it has all been free of charge.
Along with that, it's worth mentioning a lot of the additions were already on the disc beforehand. I don't mind this, though I know some will, but in the end, here's what it does: gives you a reason to come back. Batman comes out and you leave Splatoon but then you wonder, did they release anything new...? You go back and there are new levels, guns and a new event coming up--it makes it feel exciting and new, and it doesn't matter to me that it was already on the disc and just not available, it makes the game feel alive and evolving, especially as we watched a game like Titanfall come out and just fizzle quickly. It provides a good model: if you put out an online-focused shooter, maybe a steady trickle is better than a flood two months later. Plus it never splits the userbase into the haves and have-nots. Everyone has the maps, everyone can play together.
It feels like Nintendo was able to figure things out pretty well with their first foray into the world of online shooters, even if there are still things others might see as not making sense. Why only have 2 maps available per mode? I argue that it's to let you customize a perfect loadout specifically for those maps, but it's easy to be baffled by it when others just have the full map list in rotation. Why can't you change loadouts between battles? Why do you have to hit a specific level in order to even start buying new weapons for yourself?
The one thing we shouldn't be baffled by, though, is the fact that Nintendo has delivered an excellent, unique game for everyone with a WiiU. It's a game that feels great from the moment you pick it up and just gets bigger, larger, and more involved as you continue on, full of charm and personality and character. The fact that we can look forward to still more from the game is exciting, with a promise of a big update in August to add even more, just makes the prospect even more exciting. From a block of tofu to squid kids, Nintendo put their best foot forward in developing their new franchise.