There are numerous reasons as to why I let the original Splatoon pass me by when it debuted on the Wii U in 2015, but chief among them was that, in recent years, I just haven’t been enjoying online shooters like I used to. This is largely because I’m older and more anti-social now; I have less desire to talk to or even interact with strangers online while playing games, not that I’ve ever found much of what’s said in online lobbies to be worth engaging in.
Because of this, if I do ever feel the need to dabble, it tends to be in those shooters that are large in scale and with a high number of concurrent players, or at least something in which I can go lone wolf, leave the mic unplugged, but still contribute to an overall team effort. To this end, the Battlefields and Titanfalls of this world have been solid options for me, but even then, my online investment in such games has been fleeting at best.
Splatoon then, as a smaller scale, team-focused game, seemed to check all the boxes that usually turn me off and, for that, I was happy to ignore it completely.
Still, the buzz surrounding it has proven hard to ignore. It’s remained a constant in my social media feeds since release – be that through memes, banter during the regular theme-based Splatfests (where players pick an inky hill to die on and then fight for it), or just friends gushing over the matches they’ve had – and because of this, and despite my stance, I was still super-curious leading up to Splatoon 2 on Switch.
I ended up making an impulse purchase on day one (Nintendo’s ‘one big Switch game a month’ policy really helps with impulse purchasing, apparently), reasoning that its evidently solid single-player content would be the softening blow should that backfire. You know what, though? I was wrong this whole time.
Splatoon is absolutely the type of online shooter for people like me.
The short match times play a huge part in that. Its principal mode (and my favourite, FYI), Turf War, where teams of four aim to apply more paint to the map than the ‘Bad Guys’, lasts only three minutes, but the amount of action that can be packed into those three minutes is staggering. Matches are fast-paced and hectic, excitingly seeing the balance of power swing back and forth several times, no more so than in that glorious final minute, when the stupidly catchy music kicks its tempo up a notch and causes players to, unwittingly, take greater risks as they sense the clock whittling down.
Because of that, these short, focused blasts are deeply satisfying, enough so that Splatoon 2 has been perfect fodder, not only for those times where I’m between games or have only 15-30 minutes to kill, but though several loooong play sessions too. In fact, many of my intended ‘few rounds’ have led to me repeatedly lying to myself with the cliché ‘just one more go’ line, because really, what’s another three minutes when you’re having so much fun?
And while Nintendo has made a somewhat botched attempt at providing voice chat through their new mobile app, vocal communication, pleasingly (especially for me), is completely unnecessary, which is amazing considering the team-focus. Splatoon 2 has proven to be a terrific example of how intelligent design can supersede the need for chatter entirely, communicating to players exactly what they need to do at any given time, primarily, using only two contrasting colours.
Thanks to whichever two colours the game assigns to the teams’ ink reserves, a simple glance at my immediate surroundings can tell me practically everything I need to know: I can tell almost instantly which team is winning, thanks to whichever colour is most dominant. I can tell which direction I need to head in, because it’s always towards the colour that is not that of my squad’s. I can even see the pockets of the map where battles are happening, as opposing ink gets flung liberally in both directions as two or more competitors attempt to splat the other first.
With this, teamwork becomes automatic. All players will converge on areas of the map that need respraying as, simply, that’s how you win. Should you wander into the middle of an ink-fight, you’ll assist your teammate, because that’s exactly how you keep that particular area painted in your team’s colours. You don’t need to discuss tactics, you don’t need to shout for help if you’re struggling in a fight; it all happens organically and without voice chat, and unsociable me bloody well loves it for that.
I’ve played more Splatoon 2 in the weeks since it released than I’ve played most other online shooters in their entirety.
As it stands, I’ve played more Splatoon 2 in the weeks since it released than I’ve played most other online shooters in their entirety. It’s succeeded where even the likes of Overwatch (another impulse purchase, and a game I admire massively) have failed in holding my attention for longer than a few days. The fact it doesn’t demand heaps of my free time to make sessions feel worthwhile has gone a long way in making that happen – I’m more than happy to spend whatever tiny pockets of time I have invested in it – while the simple, ingenious way that it directs play means that I’m never left with moments of inaction or indecision, and I’ve never had to interact with my teammates in the ways that I’ve grown to dislike.
So, if you’ve ever held a mindset that’s similar to mine, know that if Splatoon 2 can sway the mindset of this cantankerous old gamer, and can keep him hooked on an area of gaming he thought he’d been long ready to leave behind, then it might just be the online shooter for you too.
Andy Corrigan is a freelance games journalist based in Australia. He’s gradually working his way through all the Final Fantasy games. You should read his features on the original Final Fantasy, the much-maligned Final Fantasy II and Final Fantasy III. Oh, and follow him on Twitter.