Hands-on With Nintendo’s New Shooter ‘Splatoon’

By May 9, 2015

Going into last year’s E3 expo, many in the gaming press that had predicted doom for Nintendo had a series of unsolicited recommendations for the company on how they could “turn things around.” In addition to suggestions like releasing new games based on long-dormant franchises like Metroid, one suggestion that most were expecting to go unheeded revolved around the Kyoto-based video game developer creating a new IP, or intellectual property, to show off at their digital event. To the surprise of all but the Nintendo faithful, their presentation at E3 last year was one of the best of the entire expo, with one major forthcoming entry sticking out even amongst powerhouse franchises like Super Smash Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

Why? It was the introduction of a new IP, and teased a type of game that most weren’t expecting to see from Nintendo at all: a shooter. Unlike most shooters, though, the object isn’t to kill enemies. Instead, you’re supposed to deploy into an area as an anthropomorphic, transfiguring squid, and shoot up the map with the color of your team’s “ink.” The game is called Splatoon, and this weekend, I got a chance to play it.

Announcing a special timed demo of the game in a Nintendo Direct presentation focused solely on Splatoon, the game’s “Global Testfire” allowed Wii U owners the first chance to play as a morphing squid and take on enemies online in one of the new game’s frenzied play modes. On its face, Splatoon is very much inspired by many more conventional shooters in the sense that the classes and weapons are all familiar, based on the type of weapon you choose.

Just one brief glimpse of a f-on-4 "turf war," Splatoon looks like it has the potential to be a redefinition of what a shooter game can be by being all-ages accessible, while retaining the frenetic pace of more well-known shooter game franchises.

Just one brief glimpse of a 4-on-4 “turf war,” Splatoon looks like it has the potential to be a redefinition of what a shooter game can be by being all-ages accessible, while retaining the frenetic pace of more well-known shooter game franchises.

The first part of the special demo is, unsurprisingly, a tutorial. It teaches the basics behind movement, the use of your ability as a squid to quickly move within friendly ink, and the overall object of covering up the map in your team’s color. From there, you choose between one of four weapon classes. The primary weapons on each of the preset classes were the Splattershot (a mid-range ink machine gun), the Splattershot Jr. (a short range ink machine gun), the Splatterscope (a chargeable sniper rifle), and the Splat Roller (a paint roller that allows you to cover large amounts of an area in your ink, trading off offensive capability). While the full game will have more weapon options and other elements of customizability, the pre-set classes for this demo included varying “sub-weapons” and perks that you can use in addition t your primary weapon.

The game mode that we got to play was called “turf war,” and had a simple objective: cover the map in your ink. Each game is 3-minutes long, with four players on each side. Gameplay is hectic, fast-paced, and immensely fun. One of the refreshing things about Splatoon, in addition to the amount of fun that’s easy to be had during one of the quick games, is that it’s a shooter game that anyone can pick up. Unlike a Call of Duty or a Halo, where you might have to be concerned about kids being around, Splatoon brings the tropes of shooter gameplay and tweaks them in a direction that makes this game extremely accessible to a very broad player base. The focus of the game isn’t on kills: it’s about covering as much of the map as you can.

As a shooter game, it definitely rings true of the overall quality that most Nintendo games have, because it’s pretty simple and intuitive to learn while also being difficult to master. The frenetic pace is right up there with a shooter like Battlefield or Titanfall, but the energy of the game comes in a very different guise than is typical with this genre, and that makes this one of my personally most anticipated game releases of the year.

Splatoon will be released exclusively for Wii U on May 29th. Be sure to check out our full review of the finished game in early June! Check out the game’s latest commercial below.

Chris Clow
As a former comics retailer at a store in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Clow is an enormous sci-fi, comics, and film geek. He is a freelance contributor, reviewer, podcaster, and overall geek to GeekNation, Batman-On-Film.com, The Huffington Post, and Movies.com. He also hosts the monthly Comics on Consoles broadcast and podcast. Check out his blog, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.