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The most frequently stated criticism of Nintendo is that they never do anything original — that they stick too closely to what’s worked before. This isn’t entirely fair, as there are plenty of fresh mechanics and ideas found in most new Mario and Zelda games for example, but it’s true that Nintendo doesn’t create new characters or explore new genres often. With Splatoon, they’re doing both.
Splatoon is an online multiplayer-focused shooter in which strange, half-squid, half-human creatures blast each other and the scenery with colorful ink. Splatoon is unlike anything Nintendo (or any other company) has ever done before, but originality alone doesn’t make a game worthwhile. Is Splatoon the next classic Nintendo franchise, or does the game miss its mark?
Splatoon (Wii U)
Like most Nintendo games, Splatoon isn’t laden with excessive amounts of storytelling. You’re an Inkling, a sort of human-squid hybrid, and you live in a society where everybody’s obsessed with blasting each other with Super Soakers full of colorful ink. Oh, and there’s also a race of octopus people who are, naturally, mortal enemies of the squid people. That’s about all you strictly need to know. You can collect bits of backstory about the Splatoon universe, and it’s clear that a fair amount of effort has been sunk into creating this new world, but it never quite connected for me. I wanted to love this world, but it never endeared itself to me like, say, the Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule. I know Nintendo is all about quick accessibility, but perhaps if they’d given us a little more story, just a bit of a set-up, these wacky squid people would have stuck with me better.
One of Splatoon’s many quirky, yet underdeveloped characters.
Splatoon isn’t exactly a visual marvel. Aside from being in HD and running at a smooth 60fps, everything here looks fairly dated. The multiplayer maps look like something you might have seen in a Tony Hawk game on the PS2, and the single player campaign is basically a slightly grubby Mario Galaxy. The game does feature some fun, inspired character designs, and the globs of neon-colored paint you spray across the scenery is visually stimulating in a simple sort of way. That said, even by the Wii U’s slightly limited standards, Splatoon doesn’t really impress. Nintendo has pushed the Wii U further visually with games like Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World and Pikmin 3.
Splatoon may not look fantastic, but its thoroughly modern, electronic soundtrack is suitably memorable. More than once, I found myself getting inked to death by a rival player when I got distracted grooving to the music. Maybe that’s not a good thing, but whatever. Distractingly good music is a “flaw” I’ll always welcome.
Splatoon may be a new IP, but it’s as distinctly Nintendo as it gets. The goal of both single and multiplayer is to spray the scenery with whatever eye-searing shade of ink happens to be in your gun. Once you’ve made your mark, you can transform into a squid and swim quickly and fluidly through the ink. Watch out though — other colors of ink sprayed by enemies or rival players will slow you down, and can even kill you if you spend too much time in them. It’s a novel concept to be sure, and one you’re unlikely to see many other games copying, even if Splatoon turns out to be a big success.
The game also features a lot of stuff that may be a bit old hat to the gaming industry as a whole, but are new territory for Nintendo. This is Nintendo’s first in-house developed shooter. It’s their first major game that primarily focuses on online multiplayer. It’s the first Nintendo game where you can buy shoes from a giant prawn. Well, OK, that one isn’t just a Nintendo milestone. You certainly can’t accuse Nintendo of playing it safe with this one.
Yes, that’s a Super Soaker sniper rifle. Nintendo’s trying some interesting stuff with this one.