E3 2014: Nintendo Takes On Call of Duty, Battlefield With Splatoon

Nintendo is a frustrating company.  They watched the rise of PSN and Xbox Live during the seventh generation of consoles.  They watched as multiplayer shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Gears of War, and Uncharted began dominating the landscape.  For six years they were able to watch and learn the successes and mistakes of their competitors.  Then they launched the Wii U, and Nintendo proved they hadn’t learned anything over the past six years.  To this day, their biggest franchises have yet to incorporate multiplayer, and Third-Party developers are dropping support fast.  At E3 2014, Nintendo announced Splatoon, a third-person multiplayer shooter for the Wii U.  I got to go hands-on with the titles to see if Nintendo has finally learned.

Splatoon 01
Splatoon is unique in that doesn’t follow traditional third-person shooter conventions.  You aren’t running around a battlefield trying to score kills with a random assortment of weapons.  Humans and aliens are replaced by Inklings that can take both humanoid and squid appearances.  Instead of killing to rack up points, players must paint as much of the battlefield as possible.  It all leads up to an interesting multiplayer game, but one that is lacking in content.

Eight players are split into two teams of four.  They are then put on a decently sized battlefield and have three minutes to paint as much of it as possible.  Players can instantly swap between their Inklings humanoid and squid forms at the tap of a button.  The humanoid form makes the game feel very much like a Third-Person Shooter with players being able to aim and shoot.  Squid form allows players to travel quickly throughout the level, up walls, under grates, and even replenish ammo.  It’s an interesting twist on the genre, and one that is thoroughly entertaining.

Splatoon 02
One look and it’s clear that Nintendo is catering towards the more casual audience with Splatoon.  Its bright and colorful visuals are welcoming to younger players compared to the blood-soaked Call of Duty and Battlefield.  It is possible to “kill” other players, but the pitch to younger players is very apparent.  However, even younger players can tell when a game gets boring due to lack of content, and that’s what Splatoon’s problem is right now.

Nintendo was unwilling to answer any of my questions about the content within the game.  Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, and Uncharted have long shelf lives because of their feature-filled multiplayer modes.  Different guns, attachments, maps, and perks to unlock encourage people to stick with games they would have gotten rid of.  From what I can tell, and what Nintendo was willing to tell me, there are very few modes and even fewer weapon options.  This could pose a real problem for the game’s long-term aspirations, unless this is meant to be a simple downloadable game.

Splatoon 03
Despite the GamePad being a core feature of the console, Nintendo has done a very poor job of integrating it into their games, and Splatoon won’t break that trend.  The Gamepad is simply used as a mini-map that displays important information such as time, and where your allies are.  Tapping on an ally allows you to spawn right next to them, however this is hardly revolutionary since squad-spawning has been around for years.  Strangely, looking up and down is not programmed to the right stick, but to the Gamepad accelerometer.  This annoying addition can easily be turned off in the options menu, but why Nintendo would make it standard is mind-boggling.

Nintendo’s first foray into competitive multiplayer genre is not without its faults.  The charming Splatoon is full of character, but Nintendo themselves are hampering the announcement.  Their inability to answer simple questions about the content within the game is worrisome.  Splatoon has potential, but it has a lot of competition in a very crowded genre when it launches Q1 2015 on Wii U.