Imagine Call of Duty except cartoon squids at a Nickelodeon game show. Okay bye I just sold you Splatoon have a nice day.
Still not convinced? Splatoon is Nintendo’s best new series since Animal Crossing, and you’re probably going to fall in love with it in ways you don’t expect, even if action-y shooters aren’t typically your bag.
I still like traditional shooters, and I’m one of the several million reasons Activision pumps out Call of Duty games every year. While I’m the first to acknowledge the series’ lack of evolution, the core is so strong that I still enjoy the ever-so-slight annual tweaks and improvements.
After seeing the first footage of Splatoon, I shrugged it off as a lame attempt at Nintendo stepping into a realm in which they had no ability to compete. This feeling lasted until the moment I had my hands on the controller. Splatoon may not play anything like that seminal shooter series, but it’s the first in years to keep me hooked in that same way.
In Splatoon, you’re a kid (then a squid then a kid then a squid) with a bunch of paint/ink, and you splat it all over the ground and walls while seven other people sprint around and do the same thing. At the end of three minutes, a talking cat judges which team of four players splatted more of the map, and then you do it ad nauseam until you can’t handle the bright colors screaming off the screen anymore. That’s it. You run around with a team and spray paint all over the place, sometimes on other people, and then you stop. And it’s revolutionary.
Roughly 99.99999999% of shooters are focused around killing other players. Splatoon is one of the few exceptions, and sometimes is hard to even classify strictly as a shooter. I play Splatoon by exclusively rolling a giant paint-roller along the ground. I roll around and color everything a beautiful hue, and then splat anyone who comes close enough to be a burden to me rolling more paint. I don’t use a gun and I’m not out for blood; I’m playing a game of paint-the-world-pretty-colors. Then sometimes I turn into a squid and dash around in the paint my teammates and I have laid, on the lookout for more turf to control.
The movement in Splatoon is phenomenal, with every step feeling intentional, and your speedy squid able to turn on a dime. The (optional) gyroscope controls are tough to grasp at first, but soon feel like an extension of a mouse on a standard game controller, adding more precision than I thought possible. When simply moving in a game feels this good, something has been done very, very right.
This excellent feel is even more noticeable in the exceptional solo campaign, which plays like an extremely fast-paced mix of Mario Galaxy and Ratchet and Clank. Yes, that sounds incredulous, but it’s much more than just a throwaway add-on to distract from the multiplayer. You’ll bounce around platforms and fight a variety of enemies as you collect items and power ups in the several-hour long campaign, complete with flashy puzzle-platforming boss battles. Nintendo somehow managed to make playing Splatoon by yourself a totally valid option, while hardly mentioning that the game even had a single-player mode at all. The biggest knock against this mode is that the environments are quite drab, but it’s so fun to speed through that it takes a bit to even notice that you’re moving through similar templates again and again. Regardless of the backdrops, the paint effects are so beautiful and have such an oddly realistic wetness to them that it’s hard to put your eyes on anything else.
Even the slight world-building that Splatoon attempts pays off. The main plaza is a small hub with dozens of tiny details to suss out. It feels like walking around a little slice of Japan, with other player’s Inkling’s (of that player’s chosen gender and race!) walking around and shouting incredible Miiverse posts for all to see. This plaza is reminiscent of The World Ends With You, with moody locals and stores dead-set on spiffing you up with the latest fashions for your Inkling. What could have been a barebones menu (ahem, Titanfall) has been fleshed out into something worth spending time in. If you look closely around the plaza, you can see a Ferris wheel off in the distance and planes flying overhead at regular intervals, and the little touches go beyond that if you’re checking every corner.
Splatoon is Nintendo at its best, and with the latest Mario, Zelda, and Animal Crossing games, along with this year’s BoxBoy, I’m hoping this stride keeps on going. Splatoon is being updated regularly, and new weapons and maps are planned to keep hitting for months to come, so your worries about them forgetting it exists should be subsided for now. If somehow the laundry list of exclusives on the Wii U hadn’t sold you by now, Splatoon might be just what you need to finally take that dive.