Splatoon was grabbing attention right from its announcement. Coming as something of a surprise in Nintendo’s 2014 Digital Event, here was a new IP from the makers of Mario that looked like nothing else glimpsed at E3 that year. Looking like the bastard offspring of Jet Set Radio and Fur Fighters, Splatoon almost feels like a lost Dreamcast classic, and sees Nintendo embracing the online shooter, yet doing so on its own terms. In Nintendo EAD’s latest game, you don’t shoot bullets, you fling brightly-coloured ink; you don’t die when you lose to an opponent, you simply get splatted. Where other shooters delight in the spray of claret, Splatoon sees you painting the world with glorious glossy globs of neon-coloured ink.
Of course, everyone knows what Splatoon‘s all about by now, right? Short, sharp three-minute rounds of 4-on-4 multiplayer madness where all that counts is how much territory you’ve claimed once the time is up. You claim that territory by pasting it in the aforementioned shiny goo, the coverage changing by the second as each team tries to paint as much ground as possible. Switching to a squid form allows you to swim through your own ink at speed, which can be used to evade or get the drop on opponents, and even swim up walls to reach higher ground if those walls have been splattered first. Usefully, the much-maligned GamePad shows a live, eagle’s eye view of the map, easily enabling you to see where your attention is needed and launch yourself to a team-mate’s side. The daily two-map rotation may irk, but those quick, fun matches (and the even quicker matchmaking), combined with the regular free content updates, keep the ‘one more go’ factor going until you’ve lost hours bringing life and colour to the world.
When talking about the game, it’s generally these Turf War battles that take centre stage, but Splatoon‘s best kept secret is that it’s actually one of the year’s best platformers. Yes, Splatoon has a single player mode, and it’s really good! Set across five ‘worlds’, each with a small handful of separate levels and topped off with a fun boss fight, it’s not the longest game in the world, but it’s fantastically inventive despite its brevity, running at around five hours across its 27 levels and five boss stages.
Where multiplayer is all about inking territory to win, Splatoon‘s single player mode offers a set of platforming and combat challenges, with the odd bit of light puzzling thrown in. You’ll find yourself navigating narrow paths and making timed jumps across vertiginous platforms, often under fire from enemy octolings, and the designers delight in upping the complexity level-by-level, mixing up the formula by introducing new things to throw your ink at – like those pesky sponges that you can expand to create makeshift platforms, but will also shrink under enemy fire, often sending you plummeting to your doom.
All of this comes to a head in the boss battles. They’re of the typical ‘hit the weak spot three times’ template, but they manage to test your grasp of the mechanics introduced over the course of the preceding stages and provide a decent challenge, at least until you figure out the rhythm to them. The game’s final boss, though, certainly tests your reflexes and decision making, and it’s one of the most memorable encounters I can remember in recent years. In truth, it’s more of a boss stage, with the multi-part battle taking place across a lengthy level, throwing all manner of mayhem at you and giving you precious little time to pick a target. It is intense. Seriously, when you finally beat that last boss, your hands are going to ache (and not just from gripping the GamePad).
Looking back at that E3 2014 reveal, it’s interesting to see how Splatoon showcases a younger generation of talent at Nintendo. Its lengthy unveiling in that first Digital Event was led by the three young creators, Producer Nogami and dual Directors Amano and Sakaguchi, as they talked us through the design process behind the game. And if it feels like Splatoon has the punkish edge of a turn-of-the-millennium Dreamcast classic, it still retains all the hallmark polish and solidity that typifies the best of Nintendo.
In recent years, some have wondered whether the company’s reliance on development legend Shigeru Miyamoto may be stifling the creativity of young, up-and-coming developers, while others still have complained about the company’s reliance on well-established IP like Mario and Zelda. Splatoon seems purpose-built to dispel such worries, showcasing what Nintendo’s younger talent can do when allowed the freedom to create what they want. Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend that we’ll see continued on NX.