This article was a collaboration between Ryan C. and Mike D.
For years, Nintendo has found itself in twin extremes. They are simultaneously industry titans of influence, as well as gaming iconoclasts. For every staple of 2D level design or innovation of modern 3D gaming — Z-targeting, analog movement, etc. — copied by others, they find themselves hardheadedly opposed to what has become the new gaming orthodoxy. Look no further than the very recent past: while the rest of the industry firmly grabbed onto new technology and online gaming, Nintendo stubbornly stuck to their own path.
However, once in a while, the mad scientists in Kyoto peek their heads out to see what the rest of the industry is up to. If they like what they see, they put their own spin on templates established by other great minds. This is how Mario Kart flourished in the age of Formula One Gran Prix and Virtua Racing, and how Super Smash Bros. became a phenomenon alongside Tekken, Street Fighter, and Soul Caliber. In both cases, Nintendo brought something its competitors lacked: whimsy.
Now, it seems like they’ve decided the shooter genre needs a similar injection of playful humor.
Splatoon may do for third-person shooters what Mario Kart did for racing or what Super Smash Bros. did for 2D fighting. Namely, it could bring something the TPS genre has long needed: effervescent, exuberant, tongue-in-cheek fun. Playing like a mix of corridor shooter and tower defense, there was nothing else at E3 2014 quite like it. It takes away the hurly-burly Gears of War-like pretensions of the dudebro shooter set, but keeps a deeply strategic brand of “core” gameplay. Splatoon looks like an innocent game of paintball, but beneath that exterior is a turf war that can be played from quite a few angles.
And that’s before you turn into a squid.
It’s a mechanic in which your character becomes a semi-translucent cephalopod, allowing you to quickly slide through the ink of your squad. This is a tactic that has a passing resemblance to the slide mechanic of Shinji Mikami’s Vanquish — just taken to a surreal, absurd bent. That is to say, it’s a gameplay mechanic that has gone to the Mushroom Kingdom and come back all sugared up.
Our hands-on preview determined that, while the controls were solid and mechanics were neat, what will ultimately end up proving Splatoon as a shooter with longevity is the gameplay modes itself. The E3 demo only had one such mode on display: Turf War. Players endlessly spray the ground and walls with their team’s colour and whoever ends up with the highest percentage is declared the victor. While a neat idea, Splatoon needs some more offerings if it wants to be the next best thing from Nintendo.
That’s where we come in. Looking at multiplayer modes from other popular shooters, we came up with ways that this paint-and-ink mechanic could inject some life into them, making for a truly unique experience. Likewise, we also came up with a few novel ideas that hasn’t been done that would put emphasis on this particular gameplay element.
King of the Hill: That is a multiplayer mode that’s been around for ages. Essentially, players fight for control of a specific area on the map. The team who has players in it will get points until the area randomly moves to another location or the opposing team takes over. It’s not hard to imagine how this could be done in Splatoon: one team would have to spray ink in a zone to get control and the area would either change locations or be taken over by the other team’s ink colour.
Domination: Similar in nature to King of the Hill, but instead of one randomly moving zone, two or three would exist. If one team has one zone, they would get, for example, ten points every twenty seconds. If two zones, twenty, and three areas would equal thirty. First team to say, 200 points, would win. Of course, claiming all three points would be difficult, as the enemy team would be fighting to gain control while defending their own.
Search and Destroy: Call of Duty has a lot of variants on this particular game type, but Search and Destroy in practice is a simple game of “attack and defend.” For Splatoon, it could be done in a way that one team already has an area in control, so the red team would already have their base covered in red. The opposing team would have a set time limit to take over the red team’s base. After they succeed by taking control or lose by the time limit expiring, the roles will reverse. The reversing of attacking or defending will go on until one team gets so many victories, such as best three out of five.
Multi-Team Turf War: This would play out almost identical to that of the E3 demo; teams would splatter paint on the ground to cover as much of the playing field as possible. The change up here is instead of 4 vs 4, it would be 2 vs 2 vs 2 vs 2. With only one partner to play with, teamwork becomes much more essential. Splatoon offers players the choice of selecting a teammate and being able to transport to them immediately and with only one partner, it would make for a much more tense and intimate match, especially if both of you die and you have to start over from square one together.
Race: This would be a little fun distraction, but we can see this becoming a neat mode. Nintendo made sure the audience knew about the squid mechanic and what better way to show off your skills than racing to a goal. Players would have to know when to shoot ink and when to race away by becoming a squid. Another thing that could make this so interesting is the promise of maps that emphasize vertical space.
Capture the Flag: Admittedly, this doesn’t need to be all that different from the classic game mode. Each team has a base that they need to return a flag to. There isn’t much you can do with the core of it, but Splatoon can offer a unique little twist. For starters, perhaps the person carrying the flag can’t turn into a squid, so it’s up to the other team members to protect them and spray ink around them to avoid the opposing forces to pop up. Other than that, Capture the Flag has mostly remained unchanged since its inception, but is nevertheless a fun mode that every shooter should have.
Team Deathmatch: What? Yes, you read that correctly. We concede that this is the least likely mode to appear in Splatoon — and honestly, we’d love to play a shooter that isn’t focused on kill-death ratio — but the game’s mechanics offer some truly tantalizing possibilities. Whereas Turf War is about painting the scene, TDM could come with pre-painted sections — 50-50 for each team that are broken up around the map. This would allow for squid-morphing in small doses and creates a risk/reward system: every time you try to traverse across the map, you’ll have to expose yourself here and there. “But this will encourage camping,” you say. Easily solved with a squid timer (more than 10 seconds as a squid = automatic respawn).
None of this is to say that Turf War itself isn’t going to have a good deal of potential. While it may seem a touch facile at first, the same could be said of TDM and yet somehow, year after year, many Call of Duty gamers spend hundreds of hours in that particular mode. Once we have a good chunk of time to spend on Turf War, perhaps it will turn out to be just as durable as ye olde frag fests. There’s only one way to find out and frankly, we can’t wait to do so. It’s been a long time since Nintendo decided to redefine a genre for itself. Hopefully, Splatoon will be worth the wait.