Splatoon is a cool video game.
Despite what often seems like its best efforts to the contrary, Nintendo’s Wii U now finds itself as one of the most appealing online gaming platforms out there through the combination of Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros., and, now, Splatoon. It’s unsurprising that Mario Kart and Smash have fared as well as they have, but Splatoon was an unknown quantity, and I’m happy that I’ve seen so many great reviews in the WordPress community. I think Splatoon may be the most important game Nintendo has released in a long time. It comes from a relatively young team that seem like they understand what people want out of gaming today but also know how to make something “Nintendo fun”. This is a huge contrast with the more established creators in the company who tend to work more on slowly evolving the games from the company’s revolutionary glory days.
Splatoon has a lot of the hooks of a modern competitive action game. It has a progression system with earned credits that can be used to buy new weapons and gear that convey various perks. It has a range of weapon types with each weapon type boasting a number of slightly different variations, and there are a number of special abilities. But for some reason, to me, Splatoon feels far more streamlined than other online shooters. I think it’s because the game is so focused. The matches take place on relatively condensed map sizes with small teams of four. The goal of each match is really simple and that’s to paint the most area of the map with your team’s color. The game is so focused on this objective that violence against the other team feels almost incidental. I don’t really feel that I’m seeking out the other team to fight, so much as conflict occurs when we cross paths trying to strategically reclaim territory on the map. It makes for a very different, more “sport-like” experience to me than the typical bombastic online shooter.
With the focus being less on head-on confrontation, I think Splatoon is a little more accessible to new players. I don’t really shy away from online shooters, but I know that I usually have to undergo a learning period before the game starts to click with me. With Splatoon, on the other hand, I found it an immediately comfortable experience. It’s relatively simple, but it manages to take its simplicity and spin it into a well-rounded and interesting competition. And that doesn’t make it a game that is always easy. I’m still at level 8, but even now, as I get paired up against more experienced players, I’m still constantly being surprised by the new tricks and tactics that are being used against me. The competitors are getting harder, but it seems more like it’s because they understand the nuances of the maps, weapons, and special abilities better, rather than just having better gear than me. When I get completely stomped by another player, I’ve found it easy to understand how they got the upper-hand, and, consequently, I’m learning new things at a fairly rapid pace.
The single-player is pretty good, although a bit on the easy side for my tastes. I’ve heard many people describe it as a Mario Galaxy kind of experience, and, to some extent, this is true. The levels are composed of platforms that are suspended in free-space, and when you clear out one set of platforms, you rocket over to the next set in a way that is reminiscent of how Mario rockets between planets. But that’s about as far as the comparison goes. The game really doesn’t have the same level of imagination or as carefully-crafted stages as Galaxy. I thought it was an alright campaign, but clearly the game’s big draw is the online component, and I’m not sure I would recommend it for those looking for just single-player. The bosses, however, were a particular highlight for me.
Nintendo, as a whole, gets a lot of criticism for relying too heavily on iterating through the same big name series each generation. I often find myself agreeing with this point. As creators, they definitely are now focused more on evolution rather than revolution. But every once in a while, they’re still inclined to unleash something completely new, and if we’re lucky, they won’t just cram it into existing brands that are namely Mario, Pokemon, or Kirby. While playing Splatoon, it pains me to admit that I had a sudden epiphany as to how tired I’ve become of Mario. He and the Mushroom Kingdom crew are in so many series that it’s just good to have a break from them. And as much as I love Mario RPGs and am excited for Paper Jam, I couldn’t help but give a futile chuckle when I saw there were going to be two Marios in the next one. As if Mario wasn’t saturated enough that we now need a game with two versions of each Mario character. Ultimately, with over a million copies already sold, I hope Splatoon makes them realize that they don’t need the old standbys to create something that is Nintendo fun, and that it can be commercially successful and reinvigorate gamers’ waning passion for Nintendo as well.