When you think of Nintendo, heroic Italian plumbers and cartoon dinosaurs come to mind. Maybe you think of an angry gorilla, or an elvish boy with a sword and a penchant for saving a certain princess.
You wouldn’t think of a first-person shooter starring children that morph into squids. Nintendo’s hoping that, soon, you will.
This is “Splatoon,” the best new game franchise Nintendo’s created in years.
“Splatoon” is colourful, full of character (and characters), and immensely fun to play. It’s wildly different from other games Nintendo makes. It’s also the first Nintendo game with brand new characters, in a brand new franchise, in the past… decade? There’ve been a few exceptions for Nintendo’s handheld consoles, but, in general, this is the first Nintendo-produced new game franchise in many, many years.
But what makes it so good?
The madness you see above is just part of the reason. Though it’s ostensibly a game about shooting paint in an attempt to cover as much surface as possible before an opposing team can, “Splatoon” hangs with the likes of Super Mario and Donkey Kong by creating a unique world. You’re not just playing a new game — you’re stepping into a fully realised universe, hand-crafted by some of the finest game developers in the world.
This is the main hub of “Splatoon”:
It looks like a lost corner of Tokyo’s Akihabara district, and that’s assuredly intentional. It’s from this hub that you access the game’s single-player story mode, as well as the game’s focus: online multiplayer. This is where you load into every time the game starts, and it feels alive. There are other players walking around — characters created by other actual human beings — who you can interact with.
There’s an amazing update video that plays every time the game launches, hosted by two ladies known as the Squid Sisters. They fill you in on any updates to the game since you last played, as well as informing you of the two current multiplayer maps being played (the maps swap out every day). They sign off each video with this adorable statement:
That’s not all, of course — the shops in the hub area are all open for your perusal. “Splatoon” is as much about shooting paint as it is about dressing up your character for battle. As the Squid Sisters put it, it’s about looking “fresh.”
Go ahead and try to call these player-created characters anything less than super fresh:
By playing “Splatoon” online, you earn currency that can be exchanged for fresh new kicks, or a sweet hat, or new weapons. Not only does clothing make your character look distinct, but each conveys a subtle gameplay advantage.
The good news is that playing “Splatoon” is even more fun than dressing up your character.
“Splatoon” is about shooting paint to cover ground. Once you’ve covered the ground (and walls) in paint, you’re able to swim through the paint as a squid. That’s basically it — like many great Nintendo games, “Splatoon” is very simple.
But “simple” doesn’t mean shallow; what makes “Splatoon” great is that it’s easy to learn and difficult to master. In the most basic sense, the goal in “Splatoon” is to cover a larger percentage of a closed battle area before the three-minute match ends. Those battles play out across six different areas, each with its own feel, and each player is built slightly differently.
In one match, I might dress up my character in clothing that makes him run faster and equip him with a weapon that works well at close range. In the next, perhaps I dress him in clothing that makes his attack stronger and his weapon more suited to long-distance battles.
Like the best of Nintendo’s lineup, “Splatoon” is memorable. It’s distinct. “Splatoon” is the kind of game that makes people love Nintendo, and you shouldn’t miss it.
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