Despite what many media outlets hastily declared upon the game’s release, Splatoon is not Nintendo’s first original IP since 2001’s Pikmin. It’s also not their first internally-developed original IP since then (unless you ignore two of the best-selling games of the last generation, Wii Sports and Nintendogs), nor is it their first character-based, internally-developed IP since then (is a generic Inkling really any more or less a character than a Mii avatar or the Wii Fit Trainer?). By the time we’re done adding modifiers to the original statement, we’re ignoring a significant number of original Nintendo IP.
Nonetheless, what is true is that Nintendo was being incredibly ambitious to shove Splatoon into the spotlight as a new major franchise that could stand toe-to-toe with the likes of Mario, Zelda and Pokémon. Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime even boldly touted that Splatoon would be to online shooters what Mario Kart was to racing games. Those are some high expectations for a game in a genre that Nintendo had no previous experience in – online arena-shooters – and with no established brand recognition. Not to mention it was not created by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto or any of the other old guard, but by a newer, younger team of Nintendo designers. Could this new generation really continue the legacy of the classic Nintendo magic?
Oh, yes. Yes, they can.
Not being a shooter fan myself, I was only moderately curious about the game before release. My biggest concern, in fact, was weather or not the game would make me motion-sick (one of the reasons I’m not big on shooters of this type). Fortunately, the two free “Global Testfires” Nintendo held in May before the game’s release eased my worries about that, as I surprisingly had no problems. Not only that, but I enjoyed the game more than I expected to, enough to convince me to pick up it up at launch. And that was the beginning of a summer full of near-daily turf wars.
Perhaps it says something that Splatoon appeals to players like me who don’t typically play shooters. Certainly Call of Duty, Halo and any number of other shooters have the genre covered for fans of that type of game. But Nintendo has brought something new, different, and dare I say, “fresh,” to the table. Splatoon doesn’t adhere to the typical tropes often seen in online shooters. It’s not militaristic, but a sport. It’s not serious, just kids having fun. It has its own style, play mechanics and strategies that keep it from being just another shooter with brighter colors. In true Nintendo fashion, its appeal stretches beyond the normal demographic. Splatoon is a shooter for the rest of us.
Nintendo also did an amazing job of building a unique and compelling world around the Inklings and their Tokyo-inspired civilization. The Inklings, themselves, while not specific “characters” per se, are wonderfully designed, being a perfect combination of cute and cool, and they’re quite easy to get attached to. It’s no wonder players have been asking for more customization options (specifically a “pants/skirt” shop), and some even going so far as wanting to have their own homes to decorate or pets to raise. It’s like some players want the game to be Animal Crossing with a shooting minigame. But it’s perfectly understandable, as the world of Splatoon is bursting with potential, and we’re all eager to see how Nintendo will explore it in the future.
But beyond the design, the game constantly feels “alive.” Nintendo has frequently updated the game with new maps, weapons, gear, and game modes, always making it feel new and interesting. Periodic “Splatfest” events give the game a festive mood while increasing the competition. Even simply seeing other players’ Inklings wandering around Inkopolis Plaza and being able to read their Miiverse postings brings a strong illusion of MMO qualities to the game. It feels like there’s always something happening, and it keeps the game from ever really feeling old.
Nintendo can be criticized for relying too much on 30-year-old franchises. While it does seem like many of their most recognizable games came from the 20th century, Splatoon proves that they still have the potential to not only come up with something completely fresh, but bat it clear out of the ballpark. If Splatoon is a glimpse at the future of Nintendo, then it’s a bright future indeed.