It’s always been Nintendo’s modus operandi: zig when its competitors zag. It’s the ‘withering technology’ thing: create something new and bewildering by taking what already exists and filtering it through a new lens.
So from that perspective we shouldn’t necessarily be surprised by Splatoon; by what Splatoon is.
But how could you not be?
Splatoon’s ingenious core concept: take the base of what makes all shooters tick and subvert it. Unlike most shooters, in Splatoon shooting your opponent in the face is a subsidiary goal, one that pales in importance to the main target, spraying the ground you walk on in a glorious single shade of paint. Simple, easily understood. You win the game by shooting the environment, not by ‘killing’. It’s one of those ‘why didn’t I think of this’ ideas.
And it’s perfectly Nintendo on a number of levels. The first of which is this: Splatoon removes the violence from the inherently violent act of firing guns. Sure, you can shoot the opposing team, but you don’t kill them. They’re ‘splatted’. You’re not rupturing the internal organs of the opposing team; you are covering them with paint. Splatoon is probably the only ‘shooter’ I’ve comfortably played whilst my two-year-old son is around.
The way Splatoon’s concept feeds into the art, into the mechanics: that’s also very ‘Nintendo’ but it’s really just seamless design. You are a ‘Squid’ (or a kid). You fire ink. If the ink hits the floor you can use that ink to travel faster, to hide. But you can’t shoot if you’re zipping around as a Squid, you have to transform back to your slower self, which makes you vulnerable at the same time. It’s risk/reward and it’s brilliant, something that’s clearly been tweaked and balanced and thought about.
Splatoon is hardly a game that makes others look old-fashioned, but there is a sense that you’re playing something new – something hasn’t been done before. That’s not necessarily a feeling you’re getting with, say, Star Wars Battlefront or Halo 5: Guardians but the beautiful thing about Splatoon is that even though it subverts the shooter genre in interesting ways, it doesn’t devalue its rivals. In fact, I have a hard time thinking about Splatoon as a rival to other shooters – to the point where it’s simply a video game that exists in its own strange universe.
Splatoon was easily Nintendo’s best game of 2015. A game that thrives on the details: how it feels to fire weapons, how it feels to move, to glide through the maps. Splatoon was Nintendo’s best game of the year, but it was also Nintendo’s most Nintendo game of the year.
But at Splatoon’s core is the urge to subvert and it wouldn’t make sense if it didn’t subvert at least one Nintendo trope. I’d say it subverts many. Primarily it’s not a game about mascots. Nintendo could have easily made Splatoon ‘Mario Splat’. It could have easily starred Mario and the gang and no-one would have blinked an eyelid.
But no, Nintendo avoided that completely and did something completely ‘un-Nintendo’ – they made Splatoon cool. Splatoon is cool as fuck. When is the last time Nintendo made a ‘cool’ game? Have they ever made a cool video game?
The music, the character design, by god the fashion. I couldn’t possibly imagine that Nintendo would be capable of making a game that was maybe actually-probably-kinda-cool in this way. But they did. And they somehow managed to do it in the most Nintendo way possible. That might be Splatoon’s crowning achievement.
This week I’m going to be writing about my five favourite games of 2015 in no particular order!