Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very... Nintendo

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

"We didn't make this game with the idea that we wanted to make a simplified shooter or a dumbed-down shooter or anything like that," Tsubasa Sakaguchi, a developer at Nintendo recently told me. I wasn't expecting to be having this conversation.

I wasn't expecting to ever be talking to Nintendo about an online-focused multiplayer shooter they were making. But I was doing that, because they are.

Crazy, right?

It's called Splatoon. And it's the best answer yet to all the people asking Nintendo to step outside of their comfort zone and do something new. Conveniently and unsurprisingly, their shooter isn't like other people's shooters.


Nintendo debuted Splatoon in Los Angeles last month at E3. I played the game there on a Sunday and, a few days later, talked to Sakaguchi and another developer about it.

Splatoon is an entirely original game from Nintendo, though Sakaguchi told me that at one point it had Super Mario himself in there. Now it's got boys and girls called Inklings. The Inklings can turn into squids and shoot, spray and toss paint at each other as part of a struggle to paint the floors of their battlefield with their team's colour.

Think of it as paintball, if the real way to win paintball was to be responsible for painting the more than 50% of the floor. And if you could turn into a squid, of course.

"This game has shooting elements," Sakaguchi said through a translator, "but the main part of this game is the idea of painting that ink... The game is built around the ink and how to use it."

With apologies to Sakaguchi, Splatoon sure seems like a shooter to me. No problem there. How Nintendo came to make a shooter and just how different Nintendo's shooter is from others I've played were some E3's better surprises.

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

At E3, Nintendo presented Splatoon across sets of eight Wii U systems, all networked together. The show demo consisted of one level, a long open-air, fenced-in, slightly-crooked rectangular space. It contained a few bridges and catwalks, some hallways on the side and a pit in the middle. The level was designed for four-on-four combat, one colour-coded team of Inklings against the other, playing on a timer. The team that had painted more of the floor with their colour than the other won.

In the match results screen, each team would see themselves referred to as the "good guys," the rival team as the "bad guys." That's cute and very Nintendo.

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

The eight-console set-up simulated an eight-player online match. Each player would see the action of the game on a TV and would see an overhead view of the level layout on their Wii U GamePad controller screen. The level layout would update in real-time, showing all the paint splatter. If you were on, say, the green team and were going up against the purple team, you'd get a sense of who was winning based on which colour there seemed to be more of on the GamePad view of the level. At the end, the game would tally it up and declare the winner.

Splatoon controlled like a traditional third-person shooter with movement on one stick and aiming on the other, though Nintendo offered tilt control for aiming by default (it was fine, but I switched it off). The action was a little like what you'd get in a Call of Duty or Battlefield. You'd have a tube on your back filled with paint and would be able to run around shooting others with paint. The big difference, though, is that shooting the floor is at least as important in this game as shooting your enemy. The former counts toward a win; the latter just zaps away an enemy player until they respawn and earns you some points to activate cooler paint weapons: paint bazooka, massive paint roller, etc. You also would have paint grenades that would splatter paint everywhere.

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

The thing that the CoDs and Battlefields definitely don't have at all is the ability to turn into a squid and start swimming around in paint. That's a Splatoon exclusive, as far as I know. One button press turns your person into a squid, which submerges them into the ground. Should they submerge into ground covered in paint of their team's colour, then they can swim really fast, bounding up and down.

See here:

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

Think about the gameplay details I just went through and how they might fit together.

Sure, you can run into a match and try to disable your opponents by shooting them with paint. But you could also run around and paint the floors in areas they're ignoring. Perhaps you might get crafty and blaze a line of paint right through the heart of the level, creating a lane that your teammates can squid-swim through. Perhaps your opponents will rush in and paint over part of your line, breaking the lane.

And you can paint the walls, too, to help with your squid movement. Painted walls, however, don't count.

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

The Wii U game had started as one of several experiments cooked up by a team of about 10 Nintendo employees: programmers, artists, game designers, all tapped by one of the company's design honchos, long time Animal Crossing producer Katsuya Eguchi. Their mission? Basically "creating a new game," Splatoon producer Hisashi Nogami told me at E3 through a translator. "There were all these different prototypes." (Nogami is on the right in the image above; Sakaguchi's on the left.)

One of the experiments Eguchi's team considered was made by Shintaro Saito, a Nintendo programmer. It got people excited. "So that prototype was this game where you had four black blocks and four white blocks and they were shooting at each other and trying to control territory," Nogami recalled. "Everyone played that prototype, and we all had a great reaction to it. Everyone thought it was fun, so we decided to present it to [senior Nintendo game designer] Mr. Miyamoto, Mr. Tezuka, Mr. Eguchi and kind of had a few back and forths with them a few times before we got to the point where, 'OK, we should make this into a game."

The painting stuff was in there from the start. The squids were the addition that made things click.

That all happened about a year ago.

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

At E3 this year, Nintendo's top game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, whose first big game was 1981's Donkey Kong, referred to the Splatoon team as young. "That's being made by some very young members of the group," he told me. "They're having a lot of freedom to create the game that they want."

Youth is a relative concept, and Nogami laughed when I told him that he was being called young. "I've been here for 20 years," he said, "so I don't feel that young." He first worked as an artist at Nintendo. His first big task for the company was to draw backgrounds for 1995's Yoshi's Island. He's been working on the Animal Crossing series a lot since then. Sakaguchi is a 10-year Nintendo veteran whose first gig at Nintendo was making 3D character models for 2006's The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess. Splatoon is the first game for Nintendo that he's directed (technically he's a co-director with Yusuke Amano, who directed New Super Mario Bros. 2).

"Maybe our team might be comparatively young," Nogami said, "but there's a lot of people. A lot of ages."

Having interviewed dozens of Nintendo designers over the last decade, I'm going with Miyamoto's view of things. The Splatoon crew had to be the most youthful game designers with whom I've ever chatted. They're not of the Miyamoto/Tezuka/Eguchi generation or level in the company, and they say things that the older guys don't tend to say.

For example, when I asked Nogami and Sakaguchi about other shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, Nogami said, "We definitely play those types of games," adding "There's definitely guys on our staff who are super into shooters. We definitely play other games and other company's hardware. We do that as part of our jobs and we also do that because we're gamers and love to play games."

The team doesn't just seem young but seems a bit raw, which makes Splatoon even more interesting as a new Nintendo game. I got the sense that the dev team is still figuring a lot of things out, which makes sense given that there aren't two decades' worth of earlier iterations to build on, the luxury/curse that the Mario Kart and Zelda teams have at Nintendo.

I was nevertheless surprised how much the Splatoon team sounds like they're figuring everything out, especially for a game hatched about a year ago and slated for a release less than a year from now. To wit: their game isn't online-only; it will have a local one-on-one mode with one player using the TV and classic controller while the other player would be using the GamePad. But when I asked where the map would go, Sakaguchi said the team is "still thinking about how we're going to use the screens." He promised the one-on-one mode "will be its own thing" and won't feel like a "watered down" version of the four-on-four mode.

While multiplayer may be the game's main mode, it will have single-player. Details are scant there, too. Nogami: "One of the cores of playing the game is the idea of switching between those abilities. Single-player mode will center around that. Since we're in development it's difficult to say more than that."

They are saying that Splatoon is a full-scale retail game, meaning presumably on a disc, full price and with a heap of content. They may have had one map at E3, but the trailer for the game shows four with three weapons and more of all of that to come. They are hoping that the game is a hit online and that people will enjoy playing it that way.

Nintendo's Big New Multiplayer Shooter Is Very...Nintendo

I had a lot of fun when I played Splatoon, and I could related to Sakaguchi's observation about what made him optimistic about the game, too.

"For me, what made me realise this could really be something was when we had that prototype and had that four on four with spraying the ink," he said. "I noticed the people playing would all take a different tactic. You might have some person who would just rush to the front and try and attack the other team as much as possible. You might have someone who would hang back and try to cover as much territory as possible. So, when I saw kind of people's personalities and play styles were coming out in this game, even though it was a game built around very simple objectives, [that] made me feel like, ok, this could really be something."

The game is certainly a breath of fresh year from a "young" Nintendo development team. Normally I'd say that that's enough and that you should leave the worrying about whether it will be a sales success to Nintendo. But it really will impact everyone's enjoyment of the game if it launches without an immediately-large online player base. More so than any other game I think Nintendo has ever made, it will need that. It's just not designed to be a couch-multiplayer hit.

To leave this with some good feeling, I'd like to share Nogami's closing thoughts about the game. As with so many other things said during my chat with the Splatoon developers, his comments were very Nintendo — cheerful...and focused on things that other game designers just don't talk about.

He said this, about the Splatoon developers' priorities: "We want to make sure that action of spraying the ink around feels really really good...Just that feeling of shooting some ink and having it splash on the ground and splatter everywhere and be shiny and be bubbling up, the sound of that the graphics of that — everyone on the team is working really, really hard to make sure that feels really great when you do it."

And he said this, looking around at the white interview room where we were sitting: "If someone came into this room and had a paint can and they were like, 'You can paint this room however you want,' I think everyone kind of remembers being a kid and would be like, 'Great, I'm just going to go crazy.' I think if anyone has something like that still left in them, they will definitely be able to enjoy this game."


    So, Unreal Tournament meets De Blob then?

    Also reminds me a little of The Unfinished Swan, but in that game covering the world with paint was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

      More like tribes meets de blob, the movement system is way deeper than your typical shooter, and it intrinsically ties into the gunplay.

    Reminds me of this game:

    I've just spend the last two days with the most negative Wii U experience ever - I just bought the console, had to change my Internet security in the house as it was literally the only device in the house that couldnt connect to it, even the Wii could (this took hours to diagnose the problem), firmware updates after firmware updates (obviously the update on the MK8 disc wasnt the latest one, because the WiiU wanted to do yet another update when it finally connected to the internet), the horribly slow transfer and failure rate of moving things from Wii to WiiU (it crapped out at 21% on the WiiU, refusing to connect to the internet to continue the transfer.. of the software that is on the SD card... go figure. At least that Pikmin animation is awesome) and an overall generally un-userfriendly UI (things not labelled, instructions not clear enough - for example: can i turn off the WiiU when downloading and will it auto-resume when it powers back up?) has made it horrible first two days of owning the console. Especially coming from a PS4 which is so simple to use its almost mindblowing how Nintendo could get it so wrong.

    Then I loaded up Mario Kart 8 (and eventually the Zelda HD remake) and made me realise that all of the effort was actually worth it - superlative games

    After E3 this year, seeing this game as well as the plethora of other Big N titles, getting a WiiU (oh, and the $178 price tag too) was a no-brainer. Bring it on

    tl;dr version: Shitty experience setting up WiiU pays off due to awesome games on machine, this game looks like super sweet icing

      I'm happy you got there in the end :)

      I bought mine on launch for $400 and yeah it was apt pricing at the time, I always knew that it was worth it for the lifecycle of the console... even if it's only relevant for 3-5 years, still evens out ok.

      I'm super excited for smash bros, hyrule warriors and the new Zelda (MK8 is awesome too). Overall it'll be a decent console and worth the purchase.

        +1 on Hyrule Warriors for sure

        And I have an admission - The Zelda HD game, that was free with MK8, is the first Zelda game I have ever played, and I am having a blast

        Have you played ZombiU and Game and Wario? I think I want them both, but curious of others opinions

          I bought Zombi-U and took it back to EB... first time I've EVER done that with a game... definitely a rental. My flatmate didn't mind it but I thought it was pretty crummy for $80. If you can pick it up for $20 then it's probably not that bad a deal.

          Didn't play game and wario but played all the other warioware games and loved them. G&W got bad reviews so I didn't drop the coin on it... probably worth my time scouting out and grabbing at bargain prices.

          New Super Mario Bros-U is obviously awesome as well, get that !

          ZombiU is fantastic at its current price. It does a bunch of interesting stuff, and is the purest zombie game to come out in a long time.

          If you go in expecting an action game you will be disappointed, but it's quite the survival adventure.

          I'd avoid wario though. I'm a big fan of the series, but really didn't like the wii u version, it's just so bare.

          I bought a WiiU to play Windwaker as well! I just figured it was a great way to enter the series because it's quite simple. I just finished it 2 days ago. FANTASTIC. Moving onto Skyward Sword not, and Ocarina on 3DS.

          The WiiU is a great console. I highly recommend one, it's even cheap enough to buy as a secondary console.

          Edit: Also ZombiU has a demo, check it out.

          Last edited 04/07/14 12:01 pm

          Dunno what fenix is talking about, ZombiU is fantastic! Best of the launch titles, easily. And Target has it for $10 on clearance at the moment, WELL worth it if you can still find it around. I'd still happily pay fifty bucks for it all over again.

      I convinced a friend recently to buy a WiiU also. Had the same complaints with the setup- I'd blame my shit internet connection before a perfectly good console if I were you.

    Thanks for all the replies guys - ZombiU is $20 at EB, seems like a 'no brainer' (bad bad pun)

    I dont have much storage space on the WiiU (havent hooked up an external yet) so I wont bother with demos... $20 is a decent risk-free price

    Also, can some please explain a few things to me:
    1) what is all the stuff on my TV screen when in the main menu? It just seems seems like a confusing mess of things with hundreds off Miis hovering over portals for games? What the purpose of it?
    2) MK8 said I won a stamp - how do I look at it and others that I can earn in the game? Where are these stored?

    ugh, Nintendo I love you, but seriously this OS....!!!

    EDIT - supposed to be a reply to the guys above me....

    Last edited 04/07/14 12:30 pm

      It's just stuff to do with other games. They feed through other users' comments on it from Miiverse, and each game also has an eShop link that's supposed to help drive sales I guess. I don't really pay it much attention, whenever I switch on the machine it's just to go straight into the game.

      The MK8 stamps, you can see those at the main menu I think it is. Down the bottom, there's a counter that says X/39 or something like that, and you can click on that to view the stamps you have from memory. And then you use them when posting to Miiverse, though I think you might have to post from within the game rather than going to Miiverse via the Home menu? Not sure, I haven't done much MK8 in a while.

      Fairly sure the Wii U manual covered most of the basic usage, beyond that it's all fairly simple to use.


        I know the bit you are talking about in MK8 - on the main screen it says 29/90 and has a + button, but when i press + or touch that section on the pad it wants me to post a message

          Ah, right. Maybe it's only within that part where you can view the stamps, there should be a button alongside the input field that brings them up to select for use.

          A stamp is a preset picture you can post on miiverse, you can unlock all sorts of stamps from different games, which explains why it will ask you to post on miiverse, So you can use it!

          Last edited 04/07/14 5:06 pm

    Looks a lot like the indie game Painters Unite I've been following since 2010
    Pretty keen to try them both!

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