Most Anticipated 2015: Splatoon Preview

I have a confession to make: I’m addicted to shooters. There’s something about the immediate gratification of painting your target with the cursor and pulling the trigger at the pixel-perfect moment that delivers heaps of dopamine with every round. It’s the genre that first broke me out of my unwavering (yet surprisingly limited) Nintendo fanboyism after never getting that horrendous Mario first-person shooter that I obsessively fantasized about. So whenever an interesting new title is introduced to the genre, my cravings begin to swell.

As we look forward in 2015, this year certainly has its fair share of high profile titles from the genre, including Turtle Rock’s long awaited Evolve, 343’s promising return with Halo 5, and a yet-to-be announced title that’s currently being worked on by the immensely talented multiplayer level design studio, Certain Affinity. But even among the promise and pedigree of these upcoming releases, and even looking at this year’s big name installments such as Uncharted 4, Batman: Arkham Knight, and the new Legend of Zelda, Splatoon comfortably sits as my most anticipated game of 2015.

That’s because Splatoon is a special kind of game that defies all expectations, yet makes perfect sense for a game that’s coming from Nintendo.

First and foremost, it’s a multiplayer-focused shooter developed by Nintendo. Think about that for a second. While there are games like Star Fox: Assault and Metroid Prime Hunters (and no, Geist doesn’t quite count), Nintendo has never fully committed to the genre in a way that’s both modern and integral. If I were to categorize Nintendo in the most rudimentary and sophomoric way possible, they have always been regarded as the ‘platformer/party games’ company, never shooters; though Splatoon seems to have a little bit of both as well.

Secondly, it’s a new console IP, and that is significant for various reasons.

Unlike their handhelds, where Nintendo has felt comfortable experimenting with new properties in new genres such as Steel Diver, Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, and the upcoming Code Name: S.T E.A.M., the home console side of things has seen much more controlled innovation with different types of games under the Mario and Nintendo mascot label. Releasing titles such as Hyrule Warriors and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker has been Nintendo’s way of diversifying their portfolio while relying heavily on the familiarity of its well-known characters.

Splatoon features few of Nintendo’s hallmarks, not only by being born as a completely new IP with its own distinct style, but also because it lacks a central mascot as well. Even Pikmin, which many regard as Nintendo’s last big new property, can be characterized by a handful of Pikmin marching behind Olimar. Splatoon leans more towards Nintendo’s Mii philosophy with customizable characters that are more representative of the player.

As a fresh genre being led by a completely new property, Splatoon isn’t another Mario, and it’s not another party title. It’s kids with guns (cue Gorillaz). But what’s even more intriguing is how Splatoon retains what makes Nintendo games so appealing while modernizing the company in ways we’ve never seen before.

If you’ve read this far and happen to not have any idea what Splatoon is, here’s your chance to catch up. Splatoon is a multiplayer-focused four versus four third-person shooter that has players control adorable swaying brats called Inklings. The goal here is not to shoot each other, but to instead paint the battlefield in their own ink. The monikor of Inkling partially refers to their ability to turn into googly-eyed squids that allows them to dive under said ink and increase their speed around each stage.

What looks to make Splatoon a ‘Nintendo designed’ title is the potential for the game to accommodate different skill levels. At its core, the goal of painting as much of the map in your own team’s ink as possible shouldn’t take much aptitude to pull off. All one has to do is point in a direction and shoot, and they’ll instantly be contributing to the overall team’s score. Of course, as a competitive shooter, there are enormous possibilities for high-level play.

Though the main objective of Splatoon’s multiplayer is territorial, pumping ink into your enemies will be a significant factor in tipping the scale in your team’s favor. Use of the ink and the squid abilities have also been said to open up plenty of options for tactical play both offensively and defensively. We’ve seen ways in which ink can be used to gate off and entrap opposing players, and also how the squid ability can be used to spring ambushes on opponents while hidden in ink on the floor or splattered on the walls, Titanfall style.

As Splatoon tries to catch a wide variation of player skill, none of it will work without a cohesive set of team-based systems. Most multiplayer shooters on the market exist in two extremes: they either require high level communication between teammates, or boil down to straightforward wars of attrition. Few games in the genre achieve a happy medium where its systems are explicit enough to the point that voice chat isn’t quite as essential for objective-based modes, but Splatoon might just strike that very sweet spot.

Setting aside the optional use of the Gamepad’s gyroscope, the screen displays a useful map presenting how much of the level’s real estate is covered by both teams along with showing player movement in real time. In addition, players can tap their teammates’ icons on the screen to automatically jump to their location. Both of these features, along with the [currently announced] central goal to claim as much territory as possible, seem to be so intuitive that they may excuse Nintendo for not supporting native voice chat. As an aside, they also set up Splatoon to be one of the few games where the Gamepad is the preferred control method over any other controller option on the system.

Nintendo surprised us even further with their most recent trailer at last month’s Direct by revealing some of the modern trends that will be included in Splatoon. The game will initially open up by introducing players to a central hub, a plaza that looks strikingly similar to Destiny’s Tower. It is there where players will have access to shops, other players, and different game modes including the Splatoon’s single player. Shops offer outfits and weapons, of course, but attire is particularly important because they alter your character’s various stats along with their fashion statements. Players can also have a look at each other’s loadouts in the plaza, very much like you can view other decked out soldiers in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s virtual lobby. This integration of a social hub and player customization might be common practice among other developers, but this is largely uncharted territory for Nintendo.

Everything about Splatoon – from the very fact that it’s a shooter, to the heavy focus on online play, to the number of inspirations it takes from modern gaming – is surprising, bizarre, and exciting. With Splatoon, Nintendo seem to be taking the most dramatic step out of their wheel house that we’ve seen in over a decade. And yet still, it strives to retain all the hallmarks of a Nintendo title: offering accessibility, a platform for high level play, and a unique spin on a densely populated genre. As promising as Splatoon may be, I’ll just have to wait until May of this year to see if Nintendo can truly deliver something profound to the thick multiplayer shooter space.