The first completely new first-party property by Nintendo in an obscene amount of years, Splatoon is one of those tiny miracles that Nintendo EAD seems to pull off time and time again with flooring ease. It is lightning captured in a bottle, only it has been made by a development studio that has seemingly found a mysterious centuries-old recipe to encase the fury of the Gods who live above the clouds without fail. If Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. were a heavenly form of multiplayer gameplay that only came up a few occasions during a lifetime, Splatoon is a delightful rare phenomenon that has just happened to occur a few years after its most recent showing. In other words, somehow, Nintendo has done it again.
Splatoon finds the impossibly tight intersection where the three mighty axis of the universally engaging multiplayer experience meet: accessibility, depth, and competitiveness. It is the shiny Eldorado every company attempts to strike, but that Nintendo – like a lucky, or highly competent, explorer that has come to posses a map that shows the position of whatever it is he wants the most – stumbles upon it all the time while competitors are sailing the other way across the Atlantic towards shores populated by hungry cannibals.
The game is accessible for its concept (two opposing teams of four players trying to paint as much ground as possible within three minutes while killing one another with ink) and mechanics, which are ridiculously easy to pick up. As players turn on the game, they are introduced to all moves in their character’s arsenal within five minutes as they travel towards the shiny Inkopolis, where all the action takes place. However, that simplicity gains depth because although the actions performed by Inklings are quickly mastered and effectively triggered with a few button presses, their fully efficient usage only comes once their great tactic capabilities are learned, which takes dedication, skill, and time.
Moreover, the vast arsenal composed of varying sets of main weapons, secondary weapons, and special powers – each with their own strategic value, multiplied by the unique characteristics of all available stage equals a huge cartesian product of combinations that must be tried, studied, and evaluated according to the way each player feels more comfortable spraying paint all over the map while dealing with enemies vying for the same turf.
However, the game’s greatest victory unquestionably comes through the third axis: competitiveness. As two untouchable and almost peerless members of the multiplayer Nirvana, Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. arguably achieve their competitive balance by cheating. At any given time, to varying degrees, each franchise awards struggling players with items wrapped in ribbons that read “Automatic Obliteration of the Competition”, which artificially boost one’s chances to excel during a match and, in turn, create the havoc and chaos we all love. Splatoon never uses such tricks.
The lack of a “Win Now” button naturally means that, here, pure skills sip the nectar of victory with a very considerable frequency, which should please players who are tired of being hit by Blue Shells as they approach the finish line. Yet, Splatoon is so insanely straightforward and its battles often hang in such a delicate balance that everyone always feels they have a chance to win. Painting the ground is an action done so frequently and with so much ease that the sense of satisfaction is constant even to those who are on the receiving side of a massive beat-down.
Additionally, as teams begin to meet over turf that is being disputed, “splatting” (the game’s term for “killing”) a foe – which sends that player back to the team’s respawning point after a few seconds – can open up the gate to advances into territory covered by the rival’s colors. Hence, with a few direct combats going one way or another, the winning and losing sides can change quickly.
Although definitely not as polished and sparkling perfect as the other Nintendo multiplayer giants, who have had the benefit of multiple installments to sharpen their prowesses, Splatoon is undoubtedly smarter, for it finds balance and competitiveness in a far more elegant way. Its multiplayer battles are shifting works of art where mad painters work their magic with guns, paint rollers, brushes, bombs, sonars, force fields of paint, sonic weapons of ink, sprinklers, mines, bazookas, missiles, krakens, and other forms of colorful destruction. As if all of that was not enough, a fun and action-pakced single-player mode rounds up the package with style.