I don't play online shoot-man games, as a general rule. It's not that I don't enjoy the gameplay of taking the virtual lives of my opponents, really. It's just...All the other things about the experience.
The long matches that give me no chance to break, or just do something else if I want, for an extended length of time.
The grim, gritty, muddy military aesthetic, where the best-case scenario is one where the other team look almost exactly like your own...Because the alternative is either Counter-Strike levels of comical 'terrorists', or some really uncomfortable stereotypes.
And the voice chat. Someone, anyone, save me from public voice chat.
But that brings us to Splatoon. I will say, right now, Splatoon fixes all of those. Straight up. It's a bright, colorful game that's gotten more multiplayer time out of me in the last week than every Halo, Battlefield, and Call of Duty have gotten out of me in their lifetimes.
Now, before I go on, I should also address an elephant in the room. Splatoon's been out for a few months already. That's not to say it's dead, of course. You can absolutely get into a game quite easily. It helps that there's, as far as I can tell, no regional lock on the matchmaking. Especially late at night, I'll often find myself the sole person with a name in English characters, surrounded by a sea of katakana. Not that this is a problem, because...Well, we'll get to that.
First up, I've talked a lot about what Splatoon isn't. It's not a grim milsim shooter. It's not a game of long, extended battles. It's not a game with a twelve year old calling you things I shan't repeat in polite company. Let's talk more about what Splatoon is.
The genre's pretty obvious. It's an online-focused, third-person shooter. Not exactly Nintendo's usual fare, and if(unlike myself) you haven't long since been brainwashed by a lifetime of Nintendo content fed to you on a regular basis, you might be concerned. Justifiably so, even, given Nintendo's iffy track record with online before.
The thing is, of course, is that they pull it off. Really, really well. There are a few key things Nintendo did, that make Splatoon such a joy to play. The aesthetic...Let's come back to that, actually, I want to discuss it in more detail. Let's just look at the little things, first.
First up, match length. It's short. 3 minutes for unranked "Turf War" random matches, 4 minutes(unless they go into overtime) for the more elaborate, ranked matches. You're in, you're out in these tight little maps. The whole experience actually reminds me a lot of the nature of a fighting game, with brief, intense tests of skill that encourage you to keep going in.
Second up, voice chat. Or rather, lack of voice chat. The game has none. Zero. Nothing. You instead get two buttons. In English, they're "Come on!" and "Booyah!", and either one will flash your position on your team's mini map. If you want to coordinate, those are the tools you have. The matches are straightforward enough that you don't need much more, anyways.
The above, of course, is why the worldwide gameplay works. Playing alongside a bunch of Japanese players doesn't cause any problems at all, because they have direct equivalents to the "Come on!" and the "Booyah!" they receive when I send it out. Organically forming basic plans is generally quite straightforward, helped by the clear objectives of every mode. Which are, themselves, a little different. How different, you ask?
Well, now we can get into the aesthetic. I could gush about this for hours. Splatoon's entire look is...The best way I can describe it is adolescent. But in a good way. The bright splashes of paint, the heavy focus on personal fashion as the point to all your battling(fight battles, earn cash, buy a new shirt for its sweet stats, repeat), it's all aiming to this look and feel that's completely different from the other big games on the market. Almost reminiscent of the 90s hip-hop look, but with a little twist that brings it more to the present day.
And this aesthetic, in turn, feeds into the gameplay. Because you're not just trying to shoot the other team more than they shoot you. In fact, in the normal "turf wars", you're trying to cover more ground. The core gimmick of Splatoon is that you're not shooting bullets, you're shooting paint. Whichever team has more paint of their color on the ground, at the end of the match, wins. The paint also serves a gameplay purpose, because after all, you're a squid now, and a kid now. You can swim in your team's ink, going faster than you can run and nearly invisibly, even going up walls.
It doesn't just go into that one mode, either. It affects everything. The ranked matches, for instance, come in three forms; Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Tower Control. Of the three, only Tower Control isn't heavily influenced by the paint nature of it, since you mostly just have to sit on the moving tower.
Splat Zones is kind of like king of the hill, but it's not about being in the zone, it's about covering it in paint, which makes certain tools deadly if the other team isn't paying attention. Rainmaker is kind of like 1-flag Capture the Flag, except the flag is also a rocket launcher. That explodes when you drop it, or just when you've managed to hold it for a solid minute. Tower Control, the odd duck out, is also the only one I can't immediately pin to something. There's this tower on a track that starts at the middle of the map, and whenever someone is on it, it starts putting towards the goal at the end of the other team's base, stopping when it's unoccupied or contested. Chaos, obviously, ensues.
So, all of that is a lot of words to describe the gameplay. But aside from the very beginning, I haven't talked about the actual experience of playing it much. And that experience is...Superb. That's all I can say about it. Superb.
I didn't come into Splatoon at any old time, or coincidentally. I came in when I heard of the most recent American Splatfest. (Quick aside, Splatfests are where you vote for Thing or Contrasting Thing, and that decides your match-ups for 24 hours) If you don't follow American gaming news, let me tell you just what that Splatfest was.
It was Autobots vs Decepticons. A teamup with Hasbro was enough for me to finally pull the trigger, because I wanted in on that process. For 24 solid hours, I was not just a grown man playing a squid girl, spreading ink of some random color in casual abandon.
No, I was more. I was a Decepticon. Not just any Decepticon, either. I rose through the ranks, building up points, gaining levels and learning the game. I stacked up Splatfest rank points, until I was not just playing a Decepticon Fangirl, or a Decepticon Defender. I played, and I splatted, and I warred against the Autobot regime, until I was a Decepticon Queen.
The royal life is good.
But sadly, it came to an end. 24 hours passed, and while the Autobots were of course much more popular than Decepticons, the Decepticons played harder and won more matches, enough to make up the difference. My time as Decepticon Queen was over, and I had to go back to being just an ordinary, humdrum squid girl, not even allowed to keep my shirt.
So I did what any teenage girl would do when faced with such things. I went to the corner shop and I bought a mini-gun. Also a new shirt, which I will insist to my dying Booyah is much better than my Decepticon shirt and I didn't even want to keep it. This is a lie, but it's one I will maintain.
See, the other beautiful thing about Splatoon, aside from all the things I just listed, is it hasn't been a static game. Nintendo's poured insane amounts of free content into the game since it launched back in May. The game I purchased has far more for its price than it did on launch. Between new clothes, new maps, and the aforementioned new guns, I have entire weapon classes that weren't in the game before. (As an aside, one of the deadliest tools in the right hands? The sole entry in the Slosher weapon type. ...It's a bucket.)
So there I was with my mini-gun, one of the new weapon-types they added. And it was off to the battlefields once more. I laughed, I cried, I Booyahed, and generally I made a nuisance of myself. For the other team, that is. It's a special kind of joy when you can get two or three other squid-kids to try and hunt you down, leaving the rest of your team to just do whatever they want. And of course, in turf wars, no consequence. The worst that can happen is you just get fewer points and less cash than the winning team.
Then I went into ranked. I wasn't entirely certain of my skill with the mini-gun, so I went to my stand-by from the time when I ruled over my fiefdom on Cybertron with an ink-soaked fist, the Splat Roller. Basically, I want you to imagine a paint roller, like you might use to paint your house. Now I want you to imagine it's five feet from end to end, being pushed at full running speed like a pain(t) train. When all goes according to plan, the Splat Roller is terrifying to behold. There's a reason the faster, weaker variant, the Carbon Roller, is my most used weapon with the most paint put on the ground.
And the first match went well, actually! It was Rainmaker, and Rainmaker is difficult, but the map I was on gave me plenty of avenues to splat the other team when they took the eponymous weapon and tried to make a run for our base. It was a slog, but we did it bit by bit.
Then the mode-rollover happened. Because Splatoon doesn't let you play whatever, whenever. You get two maps in Turf War, and one Ranked game type with two maps of its own, unless you want to do a private match that doesn't earn you anything. This keeps things fresh and focused, helping keep the game alive...But it also meant I went from Rainmaker, where I could play a firmly secondary role and help my team win, to Splat Zones. Where we had to be on point.
I was not on point. I was nowhere near the point. I watched myself go back down to the starting rank. I watched the meter bounce on the bottom of the rank bar, repeatedly, as match after match swallowed that first promising bit of progress. It was enough to make one despair. It was infuriating, even, in that way that games with something akin to actual stakes manage to bring out of the lizard hind-brain.
So I did what any good squid girl would do. I pouted for a while, I made a new Miiverse post, and then I bought a shiny new gun and got back in there. But not a bucket. You will not convince me to pay you 5 thousand ****ing gold for a bucket, Sheldon. (But I'll give in. I know how I work. I want everything. Even the incredibly overpriced bucket.)
The tricky thing that makes Splatoon work, at the end of all this, isn't any one little piece. It's not the fantastic aesthetic alone. It's not the tight, addictive bite-sized matches. It's not watching the bars go up. It's not unlocking new stats on my sweet new sunglasses, seriously look at these shades and tell me I don't look like the coolest damn squid to walk on into this plaza...Ahem. Right. It's not that. It's not any of these individual things, because it's the synergy of them all.
What you get, when you bring all of it together... Is a focused game with solid gameplay, that it feeds to you in fun-sized bursts, married to and enhanced by an aesthetic that's great and tragically rare. And a game that just continues to get more stuff, and continues to be worth its price, because Nintendo's not going to put out a sequel in a year. While I'm certain there will be a Splatoon 2 at some point, quite frankly, I don't expect to see it until their next console. So get in on this.
Get in on this now. And if you don't have a Wii U to play it on, just you wait. I'm gonna be looking at as much on the console as I can, and seeing how much I can make it worth to you.