I won’t pretend to be an expert at Splatoon, but I’m sure most would agree the aesthetic and concept has won the heart of many a player. Splatoon 2 has officially ended its last Splatfest, and the developers have not yet confirmed any development of a sequel, leaving this series with nowhere to go. With this installment’s life cycle effectively over, I think it’s time to look back at this odd but beloved series.
The original Splatoon debuted on the extremely under-performing Wii U and was a game with everything Nintendo wasn’t that well known for. Pitched as an online, multiplayer, competitive shooter, Splatoon was a surprise to see emerge from Nintendo’s thinktank. Just as much of a surprise it was for me to immediately fall in love with it’s innovation before even playing it. Given Nintendo’s history with any of those aspects it should have been a red flag, but somehow became one of the most charming and original games I have played in a very long time. You are are a squid kid that dresses in street wear to fight in gladiatorial combat using ink. Instead of racking up kills or playing to a specific objective, the point of the game was to just ink up the map more than the opponent. It was an extremely accessible gameplay idea with a surprising amount of depth. Alongside its cute retro hip-hop/punk aesthetic and energetic soundtrack, this game had a lot of heart and care. Even the single player aspect of the game was rather well crafted, while a bit bare-bones, offering a handful of levels and thematic boss fights. With gameplay and platforming as innovative as the inkling, it hardly felt like an issue. and explored the surprisingly deep lore of of the city of Inkopolis. It was, in all in meanings of the word, “fresh.”
Splatoon has had all of the growing pains of a competitive online game when they are made by a studio unfamiliar with the genre. Splatoon lacked a lot quality of life features. Your abilities and equipment were pretty much RNG if not just skewed towards the player with more hours played. Your loadout was determined before you started the match, and was level locked. Matchmaking was inconsistent. You could not see match stats on your character. The list goes on.
It certainly was not the perfect game, these shortcomings may have held it back from the competitive image that Nintendo tried to push. All of these issues were features that I hoped would have been smoothed over from Splatoon 2, but alas they were not. The sequel was more of the same, but with an added cooperative survival mode with the single player continuing and advancing from the original. At this point and especially with the Octoling Expansion, I was convinced that Nintendo has dropped trying to push this image of a Nintendo-style competitive game, but instead was more in love with the concept than the actual game. The world and absurdity of the game was something to be preserved and that is what it felt like Nintendo was doing, they loved the concept and tried to make it last longer through shear personality.
With a game so innovative in concept and design, I feel as if Splatoon hardly needed to push for innovation within itself, seeking polish and and support before tampering with their needle-point balancing act of mish-mashed mechanics. Splatoon feels like an attempt to change the idea of competitive shooters the same way Super Smash Bros changed the concept of fighting games in the same way: accessibility. So if anything, I was not upset or disappointed with the lack of differences between titles, but rather relieved to see this series to get a second chance.
This seemingly impossible series, a series that sounds like a crap shoot idea was actually some of the most innovating games I have played in a while, overflowing with ideas and style. I certainly don’t have the most hours in Splatoon, but I and many others would be devastated if this adorable punk world was abandoned. Hopefully Nintendo will attempt to preserve this concept once again, its cult following may not be enough for it to harbor the attention of Super Smash Brothers, or even Fire Emblem, but its concept certainly deserves it.