The big N’s been taking a lot of first steps recently –free-to-play, season passes, an online service that doesn’t behave like some tiny Skynet that hated human fun – but it’s typical of gaming’s most seasoned weirdos to make another, their first go at an online third-person shooter, something of a first step for the medium as a whole.
We already know Splatoon’s central hook: hipster squid people try to paint gaudy arenas in their team colours, making earning kills more a necessary by-product of trying to stop a rival ink being sprayed over your hard work. It turns level design into a target, the mandatory GamePad map into a scorecard and, most interestingly, guns into something far more than your expected aim ’n’ shoot blood-spillers.
Heavy weapons are now as useful for non-lethal sweeps of paint as they are bursting multiple Inklings at once, grenades perfect for those hard to reach corners, automatic fire more a technique for point-scoring Pollock painting than an efficiency measure for popping some cartoon girl’s head. And now we know how we’ll be choosing between the various ‘combat’ options.
Each of the three categories of weapon – main, secondary and special – comes bundled as class-like sets. For our money, you’ll be starting out with the Super Soaker-like rifle that fires a constant stream of paint globules, a barrier power-up and the timed, pyramid ink bomb that kills anyone in its radius and carves a circle of colour in the process. After that, however, you can go your own way. Sets can be bought with in-game cash, and in any order.
One ink roller set (there are multiple variations around the same main weapon) includes the oversized tool we’ve all seen from “that time it took dad four weeks to paint the kitchen” – which sweeps huge swathes of paint as you move, but looks cumbersome as a weapon – alongside the bazooka-like ink launcher, and a sprinkler that can be dropped to colour areas remotely. It’s a class that clearly prioritises redecorating over pain-dealing.
On the other hand, the ink gun, which seems to be the game’s sniper rifle, offers little paint coverage in exchange for bursting enemies in a single hit. It also comes with the ink tornado, a missile that summons a vortex that colourfully eviscerates everyone inside.
Alongside these choices, hats, clothing and shoes – which we’d previously thought were simple vanity items – all offer stat buffs and modifiers of their own, meaning you can aid or balance out strengths and weaknesses in your chosen style. Trust Nintendo to turn the choice between headphones and a bobble hat into the difference between life and neon death.
We’ve also gotten a brief look at Splatoon’s hub world, where all of this equipment can be purchased and agonised over. Aside from looking a tad swanky, it dynamically drops other players’ Inkling creations in, letting you examine their set-ups for tips. It’s the final interconnected cherry on Splatoon’s holistic cake: every system feeds into another, a delightful blend of art and game design. No-one else is making something like this – we suspect because no-one else could.