It wasn’t until the end of E3’s first day that I heard about “Nintendo’s new third-person shooter.” I was running back to meet Spencer for a tour of Nintendo’s booth when one of my good friends from Redmond stopped me to say hi.
“Did you get to try out Splatoon?”
I had never heard of it. “Definitely check it out. You fire ink from a gun and then transform into a squid to travel through it. The team that covers the most of the map with their color ink wins the game.”
“I’ll definitely check it out,” I said, as we exchanged goodbyes. I had no idea what the game was going to look like, since I’d missed the Nintendo Digital Event that morning. The scenario reminded me a bit of Jet Set Radio Future, but instead of using spray paint to tag various parts of the map, you use colored ink… and you were fighting against a rival group. I couldn’t even begin to piece together how the squid transformation played into that.
Eventually, after playing a few rounds of Smash with Spencer and some Nintendo reps, we were invited to play Splatoon with some of its developers. Needless to say, we got destroyed—but even with such a brief hands-on experience, I enjoyed every minute of it.
Before that, let’s get down to the basics: Splatoon pits two teams of four players bearing ink-firing guns against each other on a twisty, multi-level corridor-style map. The objective is to cover as much of the playfield with your respective team’s ink as possible—walls, stairs, ramps, everything. When you inevitably run out of ink to shoot, you can hold X to travel through your own ink and replenish your armament. This lets you move faster and move stealthily about your own territory.
Although Spencer preferred navigating and vandalizing the map using the GamePad’s two analog sticks, I preferred the gyroscope control scheme. The GamePad displayed a map of the playing field, detailing how much had been covered in whose ink as well as the locations of your teammates. While using the GamePad made it easier for me to aim, it also took away my ability use the map to my advantage since I was simultaneously moving it and watching the T.V. screen.
There is an art to shooting ink. It seems to leave the ink-soaker (I feel this is more fitting than “gun”) in an arch—meaning that you have to adjust your aim accordingly when firing at enemies. Aiming straight at the ground seems to leave less ink than firing at an angle, too, though I never had the chance to ask whether or not that was just an optical illusion.
Spencer and I tried to cover our whole base first, and move as two separate units.
That didn’t work at all.
The other team was much more aggressive, firing paths of ink and then using them to move through the map quickly; they reached the center of the map before we even marked the gate to ours. I tried hiding in my own ink, but wound up being drenched in theirs—not just slowing my movement but causing me to burst like water balloon, covering even more of the area in the opposing team’s ink. By our last game, an opponent hid in a streak of ink on the wall to his base, and jumped me as I started to vandalize it. Tricky, tricky.
Naturally, with such charming visuals and off-kilter premise, there is virtually no sense of violence to Splatoon. Instead of soldiers playing with guns, it’s more like kids playing with Super Soakers full of paint. There’s something incredibly addicting about the game. One match simply doesn’t feel like enough, and even at three, I was learning new tricks to aid me in my colorful conquest. Splatoon gives players simple objective and simple mechanics, but gives them the freedom to devise creative strategies that can make the game more complex.
The game also featured some powerful tools (I feel this is more appropriate than “weapons”) like giant paint rollers and ink-tornado firing bazookas, but they didn’t seem as effective as I’d like and took a bit of mastery to control properly, despite landing one-hit pops (I felt this to be more appropriate than “kills”) if they came into contact with an opponent.
There were some definite splotches in the gameplay, and it could use some polishing, but I had fun playing Splatoon at E3.