E3 2014: Splatoon Is Nintendo's Surprise Move Into the Shooter Space

Nintendo's new competitive online shooter lets you play as a paint-shooting squid/human hybrid. But is it any fun?

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Splatoon is exactly how you'd imagine a Nintendo-made competitive shooter would be: colorful, charming, and without any of the over-the-top violence and gore so common in other modern shooters. Splatoon is a blast (pun intended) of good natured cheer in a genre that can sometimes take itself a little too seriously, and it certainly made a positive impression on me during my brief hands-on time at this year's E3.

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Splatoon is an eight-player, four-on-four competitive shooter where two teams--both armed with paint guns--have to try to cover the playfield with as much of their own team's color (with the winning team being the one with the most coverage at the end of the match). There are no bullets or blood spray to be found here--just blobs of paint that you have to fire at the ground, obstacles, walls, and opponents. Even "killing" an enemy here is trauma-free--they merely pop like a balloon filled with paint, making this one of the most family-friendly shooters I've ever encountered.

Adding to the charm quotient is the ability to turn into a squid-like creature at any given moment. When you transform into a squid, you'll be be able to swim through any areas splashed with paint. Moving as a squid is not only faster compared to when you're in human form, but it also allows you to scale obstacles a person would be unable to. Spray paint up a steep wall, for example, and you can swim up it as a squid. Being a squid and swimming in your own paint also refills your paint canister, serving as your reload mechanism as well as a faster mode of locomotion. Not all paint treats you the same way, however. Walking through your enemies' paint color slows your movement down as both squid and human, forcing you to always be coloring your surroundings.

I played a few four-on-four matches of Splatoon, and in that short time, I had a lot of fun trying to come to grips with this unique take on the shooter. As opposed to most other games in its genre, shooting indiscriminately and without pause seems to be a requisite for success given the game's win condition, encouraging you to literally paint the town red (or teal, or pink, or whatever color your team is assigned) in order to succeed.

One concern, however, was with aiming. You can use the Wii U gamepad's right stick to turn, but looking up and down requires you to move the gamepad. Having to use the gamepad to aim while looking at the television screen felt a little strange, and even after four matches, I was still not completely comfortable with it. It's probably something that can be overcome with enough practice, but I'm hoping there's an option to switch to a more traditional console shooter control setup when Splatoon's full version is released.

What's undeniable is that Splatoon is a welcome addition to the Wii U's future lineup. Competitive shooters have been the exclusive domain of "core" gamers for decades now, so it's nice to see games like Splatoon (and, more recently, Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare) come in and try to appeal to a different section of the gaming population. After all, shooters are fun, so everybody (even Wii U owners) should get a chance to play them.

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