New intellectual properties are a rarity in gaming and one company that’s often criticized for sticking to established franchises is Nintendo. The Japanese gaming giant may not be known for cranking out new franchises all too often, but it set a very different tone during E3 2014 when it announced two new games coming to its systems. While one new property, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., looks to be a mix of XCOM and Gears of War on the 3DS, the major focus for the Big N during its Nintendo Digital Event was none other than a third-person shooter called Splatoon.
Splatoon had a major presence at the Nintendo booth during E3 2014, and we were fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the title. For those looking for the next big franchise from the Big N, it’s far too soon to make any definitive calls on whether or not Splatoon can be that, but there’s a lot of promise that the game showcased during my time with it.
First and foremost, Splatoon isn’t trying to be a competitive shooter that rivals the likes of Call of Duty — although that much is obvious for anyone who witnessed the game’s unveiling. It instead takes the third-person shooter genre and turns it on its head by implementing weapons that are filled to bursting with colored ink. Orange, pink, green, blue are just some of the colors waiting to be inserted into a super soaker-esque weapon and layered across each stage.
The demo I played through had two main ways of dispatching foes and coating the landscape with my brand of ink: the basic ink gun and an ink grenade. These proved to be deadly for those crossing my path, but more importantly they aided in my quest to claim as much territory as possible. Soaking enemy players caused them to explode and splatter the surrounding area with even more of my colored ink, but the main focus of the game isn’t on raking up kills.
Splatoon changes up the traditional mechanics of a shooter by requiring players to coat as much as the level as possible. While this may sound like a simple premise, the opposing team of four players will make doing so a very challenging ordeal. As players douse the battleground with their 4-person team’s hue of choice, the enemy faction will be attempting to do the same. This can lead to some hostile encounters.
While the ink-spouting weapons themselves proved unique, it was Splatoon‘s means of traversal that really garnered the most attention. Each human player has the ability to transform into a squid. This mechanic is done to allow players to traverse the environment at a much quicker pace, but it drastically slows maneuverability when users find themselves stumbling across ink left behind by opposing players — the same can be said for those in human form as well. Players can transform to restock their ink supply or lay in wait for enemies as well, so there’s a lot more strategy to the game than may initially meet the eye.
One outstanding feature in this game is a map that’s displayed on the Wii U GamePad. Aside from giving gamers a peek at the layout for the level they find themselves on, it also acts as a real-time read of just how much of the map has been covered by each team. This gives players the ability to see where they need to go to dish out their brand of inky justice, but it also allows them to fast travel by clicking on an ally’s marker on the map. After touching a friendly player’s marker, I found myself turned into a squid and rocketing through the air to my teammate’s locale. This kept my character in the action at all times and there’s a lot of fun in knowing that conflict is only a mere tap away.
While the game itself is fun, there is a slight learning curve to the controls as a result of the GamePad’s gyroscopic capabilities. The initial control layout required me to tilt the GamePad in order to aim, which worked rather well once I got the hang of it. I was also able to switch to the more standard joystick method of control which made playing it a much easier ordeal, but neither configuration proved to be as precise as shooters found on other platforms — at least initially.
Splatoon stands out as something wholly original, and while the game’s reveal trailer hints at more content to come, it looks to be on the right path. It’s hard to be completely sold on the title after only playing a handful of multiplayer matches, but it managed to gain my attention in a sea of other third-person shooters during E3 2014 as a result of its unique mechanics and colorful aesthetic.
Splatoon will arrive exclusively on the Nintendo Wii U in 2015.
Follow Riley on Twitter @TheRileyLittle.