OF all the names you would suspect could reinvent the shooter, Nintendo would be last on the list. Having carefully cultivated a family-friendly image over the years, Satoru Iwata and co stayed well clear of the vicious arena of online multiplayer shooters – with its constant cussing, inherent violence and dog-eat-dog mentality.
But Splatoon rethinks the genre, turning a cynical cycle of kill or be killed into a riot of colour, personality and fun. Even if you never nail a single opponent, you can contribute to your team’s victory, thereby upending the kill-obsessed league tables that reward only the most skilful marksmen.
Gratifyingly, too, Nintendo hasn’t just grafted iconic figures such as Mario or Kirby onto the framework of a shooter, preferring to create a new IP based on characters who can morph at will from a kid to a squid. These guys form a team of four-on-four doing battle in tight, multi-level arenas.
The huge twist here is that instead of spraying bullets, you’re fighting with paint guns and victory goes to the team who cover the most territory with their colour. It’s fast and furious, yes, but Splatoon lends itself to new strategies, encouraging some team members to concentrate on painting the ground while others attack the opposition to disrupt their efforts. Notably, the switch to squid form enables a player to submerge into the paint and traverse the ground at much higher speed – so long as it’s in your own colour.
An engaging single-player mode teaches you the basics but multiplayer is where Splatoon’s heart lies. Unfortunately, Nintendo provides just five maps – and even those are in a strict rotation every few hours. More are promised in August but it’s a curious decision.
More egregiously, multiplayer consists of just a single mode (if you don’t count ranked battles, which are just more of the same but at least they filter for skill level). Presumably, other options are inbound and this overarching mode nonetheless proves hugely entertaining, buoyed by some stellar map design and the sheer novelty of the gameplay.
But such singlemindedness casts doubt on Splatoon’s longevity, unless Nintendo moves quickly to bolster the variety of set-ups.
Odd too is the omission of voice-chat to coordinate teamwork but that’s aimed squarely at cutting down on the notorious verbal abuse that bedevils online gaming.
Splatoon may not yet be the finished article but it’s a hugely encouraging start in a stale genre.