Nintendo's first proper online multiplayer shooter, Splatoon, is certainly something... new.
A lot of people criticize Nintendo for just pumping out variations of the same core franchises over, and over. Indeed, at first glance at the front of Nintendo's PAX Aus 2014 booth would have reinforced that sterotype, with Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 dominating most of the space. However, just around the corner, there was this massive 8-console setup for a little game called Splatoon. It started off a bit slow, but by the end of the show, the line for Splatoon was just as long (if not longer) than the line for Smash Bros..
When we last checked out Splatoon, it was at E3 2014, where Sarah had an absolute blast. I managed to get my hands on it in a couple of full, 4v4 matches, and came to a similar conclusion. Splatoon is a really fun, competitive game, that's fast, simple, and a departure from what we're used to. However, it is not without its flaws.
In Splatoon, you control a "squid-kid" who shoots ink from a super-soaker, and can transform into a squid to swim through said ink. The point of the game isn't to kill the enemy team (though it is possible, and it does help) but to cover as much of the level with your team's ink as possible.
First up, I wanna say that I loved this mechanic for a multitude of reasons. It makes it super easy to tell if you are winning or losing - a quick glance at the mini-map will make it obvious who has covered the most ground. It also gives every kind of player something to do. If you're the sneaky type, you can try and sneak deep into enemy territory and paint out their level from behind them. If you wanna battle the enemy team, you can sit right on the front line and try to push them back. Or, if you're a more passive gamer, you can hang back inside friendly territory and make sure as much of it is painted with your ink as possible.
The level itself seemed designed with all of these playstyles in mind, with secret passages only accessible in squid form allowing you access to flanking points, and central, open, "battle zones" for teams to fight it out in, and a large "home base" in which you start in.
Variations on your offensive capabilities, such as ink grenades and "super weapons" (like a ink rocket launcher) which are unlocked after painting a certain portion of the map without dying, help keep the game interesting and add a further element of strategy to it.
The fast-paced nature of the game really adds a lot to these styles of gameplay, as respawn timers are only around four seconds, and players can perform a "super jump" to instantly jump from the spawn location to any ally's location.
That said, while I enjoyed the mechanics of the game, the controls were a bit... iffy. I really disliked the fact that you had to aim by physically moving the Wii U gamepad, instead of just being able to use the right thumbstick like in every other multiplayer shooter. Moving around the map in squid mode was also quite difficult for me and didn't seem too intuitive, but I could tell that this was more due to the fact that it's designed to be difficult to master, to add a learning curve to the game.
But in the end, the most impressive thing about Splatoon was seeing those eight consoles all hooked up. This was such unfamiliar territory for Nintendo, to make a game that can only really be enjoyed online against other human players. It's a gamble for the company, but one that I really hope pays off, because at its core, Splatoon is a great game.
Splatoon is due out for the Wii U in 2015. In the meantime, be sure to check out the rest of our PAX Aus 2014 coverage!