People often like to slate Nintendo for not following modern gaming trends.
They’ve all but pulled out of the FPS genre after effectively helping to define it with Goldeneye. They’re only just beginning to fully implement open world concepts into big hitters such as Zelda. The only sports games they make have Mario characters pouring out of the disc drive. Yet this all stems from a desire for the company to not follow what their rivals are doing; to take what has gone before and place their own spin on it. When they put their minds to this task we end up with games like Splatoon.
This is a third person perspective arena shooter at its heart, and we saw a lot of those last generation -but none quite like this. Not only is this perhaps the most colourful and vibrant shooter we’ve seen released in many a year, but it’s unique in that taking out the opposing team with well-placed shots or hand grenades of justice doesn’t provide you with ultimate victory (though it certainly helps).
The key gameplay component revolves around your ink guns, and in covering the arena with as much of your ink as possible. Other games toy with the concept of taking territory, but not like this. You are literally leaving your ink stained mark on as much of the battlefield as you can physically splat. The team that covers the most territory by the end of the game is the winner. Sounds simple right?
Well Nintendo have devised some intriguing tweaks to the formula. Your wee little Inkling can turn into a tiny squid at will, and use their new found aquatic form to dive across the colourful pools you leave around. Doing so not only refills your ink supply, but increases your travelling speed and hides you from your foes, unless you’re hiding in your opponents ink splats, whereby your speed will plummet and you’ll stand out like an inky dandelion stained red by the ink of your enemies.
But your squid related antics don’t stop there. You can traverse any surface covered by your ink when in squid form. Be it on walls or underneath fences, nothing can stop you as long as you can swim through it. This can lead to you gaining some pretty nifty vantage points, creating some crafty shortcuts and springing some devious traps on your opponents.
Don’t worry those of you who primarily enjoy shooting stuff, because you’ll still get the chance to splat your enemies using not only the basic weapon but bazookas, grenades, sniper rifles and paint rollers, all of which can be used to defeat the enemy so they explode in a vibrant splash of your colour. Should you end up getting blasted, the game makes use of the Wii U Gamepad to allow you to tap on the location of an ally and immediately leap to their location, saving you a lot of backtracking.
Indeed this is a game which makes great use of the gamepad. Not only does it display your progress on a handy map, but it also is used to help you aim your weapon. At first this is finicky and takes some getting used to, but once you’ve acclimatised it’s a fast way of switching your view in a game where pinpoint accuracy isn’t always essential. For the times when precise splat to the head is needed you can use the right stick to steady your aim, giving people the best of both worlds.
Games last three minutes each, but that’s enough time for not only a winner to be decided, but for the tides of battle to change repeatedly. Because your victory is measured in how much territory you can claim it leads to some interesting scenarios. You can press deep into enemy territory as a team and lay your inky marker down, only to not notice that a rogue enemy has silently snuck past your lines and has been doing the same to your territory. It leads to tactics and scenarios which rapidly change. One minute you’ll be defending for your lives before you’ll suddenly be on the offensive again. Often there’s no way of knowing who’s won until the final result; the always increasingly colourful map in your hands only allows you to speculate until the winner is ultimately revealed. And there is no worse feeling then losing by 0.1%.
The demo proved to be a lively, fast paced and enjoyable affair, and a concept as memorable as it was fun. We’ll have to see what kind of additional modes, weapons or arenas Nintendo might have in store for us, because we can imagine the base game might grow stale after a while. But no doubt there’s plenty left to reveal before it releases next year. And if the rest of the game proves as fun, and indeed mad, as the demo then Splatoon, alongside Mario Kart and Smash Bros, will be keeping Nintendo fans fond of a solid multiplayer experience entertained for a good long while