I saw this post one time that told a weird truth about game demographics. We think of adults playing Call of Duty while little kids play Pokemon, but it’s usually the other way around. We think we have it all figured out, but the kinds of people who play certain games are usually different than we think. These days the silliest, most self-aware games have the most thought put into them. Let’s talk about Splatoon.
My love for shooters mostly stopped with the Star Wars Battlefront games (not the new EA trash, the old ones). I think my problem was that the industry fell into a pattern of what shooters “should” be. Shooters are straightforward, and once you have a formula, they’re relatively easy to crank out. Why do you suppose there are so many Battlefields and Call of Duty games? Throw in team or free-for-all deathmatch mode and you have a guaranteed base of happy customers.
Only a few shooters have changed up the formula, and a lot of them are on PC. Games like Overwatch and its spiritual predecessor Team Fortress 2 were daring. They shift the entire focus of the gameplay to teamwork and achieving a set objective. It’s no surprise that these games get the highest praise across the board. Now, you might wonder why I bring these up when I’m supposed to be talking about Splatoon. But in order to get what I say about Splatoon you need to understand why these other shooters are popular.
So what is it about Overwatch or TF2 that makes them interesting? Well on the surface you can say they have lots of personality. They have great dev teams, and unique casts of characters that all play differently. But on a deeper level, they also have learning curves and objective-based play. This has two important implications:
1) Players who want to focus on getting kills and mastering their character have plenty of room to improve. This is important for appealing to that hardcore, thrill-seeking player base.
2) Players who just want to have a good time can still contribute. Having robust objective-based play means that you don’t have to have amazing twitch-timing to contribute to your team.
Thanks to these two things, these team shooters offer something for everybody. I’d say this is why they have so much appeal.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear me say that I love Splatoon and Splatoon 2 because they tick both of these boxes. You can find your niche and become a monster with any weapon, given enough strategy and practice. But if you’re new or you just wanna goof around, you can be MVP on your team just by covering enemy ink. That’s not easy to do by itself. But Splatoon takes it to a whole new level.
Splatoon 2 has over a dozen stages, and get this: they’re all symmetrical. I never realized this until I saw LambHoot’s video about it, but in every match of Splatoon, the two teams are placed on a completely even playing field. Each map has so much uneven terrain, different vantage points, and options for cover that I never even noticed. If you lose, you can’t use the excuse that you got the worse side of the map.
Surely there must be OP weapons, though, right? Yeah, some of them are a bit user-friendly, but any team is beatable on paper. There are no “tiers” of weapons, only different types and different loadouts. For example, two rollers might be the same, but have different sub weapons and special weapons. This is just meant to encourage experimentation (compare this to EA’s method of randomly giving players equipment they don’t want). Victory all comes down to adaptation, player skill, and a little bit of luck.
What sets Splatoon apart more than anything else is how the front of battle is created completely by the players. Moving over ground is really only useful for strafing in combat. You want to always be swimming through your own color of ink, but so much as touching the other color will hold you up. Getting splatted can happen so quickly, and Splatoon is such a game of seconds that one player losing a firefight can completely turn the tide of a match.
And so each player always has to make the decision to either hold down their own line, or try to sneak behind enemy lines to create a distraction. But behind enemy lines, you have to deal with enemy players and being stranded in enemy ink. If you pull it off, though, you can completely change the battleground. It’s this push-and-pull of every fight that makes Splatoon so much fun to me. One player can make the difference in a match, but without teamwork, the odds get steep. That’s the essence of an awesome team shooter.
And man, let me tell you, this game makes me so angry and so happy.
When I lose in Splatoon, it’s the most angry I ever get at a video game. But winning feels so ding-dang rewarding. It’s funny how I can get pummeled by a skilled player in one match, then they end up on my team and suddenly we’re steamrolling the other team together. That’s the kind of thing that’s rare in other shooters, and it’s something that small teams and skill-based play allow for.
So much effort goes into piling content into shooters nowadays. Microtransactions, pre-order bonuses, and generally useless nonsense really do look like kid stuff compared to games like Splatoon. You wanna talk about Call of Duty: WW2 and its advanced weapon tokens as pre-order bonuses? Splatoon don’t give a damn. You don’t get to buy gear with money. You want weapons, you gotta get your hands dirty, level up, and earn your money from matches. If you suck, you gotta put the work in.
Splatoon oozes quirky personality, hip-hop vibes, and love for its home country of Japan. I spend half my time playing and the other half buying coordinated clothes and meming with in-game posts. These are what I always tell people about, but I keep coming back to Splatoon because it’s a fundamentally solid game. It looks and acts silly as hell, but it won’t treat you that way. That’s why it’s my favorite shooter.