Nintendo's Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

By Patricia Hernandez on at

Splatoon came out in May. It is now August. I am still talking about Splatoon with my friends. I am still delightfully tweeting pictures of outfits and hilarious Miiverse posts, even the ones with bad meme jokes. And along with all of that, I’m still playing.

Not only is Splatoon is one of my most played games of the year, it’s also selling pretty well for Nintendo, too.

This is a pretty incredible achievement for Splatoon, a game that had the odds stacked against it from the start. Nevermind the unusual ink mechanics, or the fact it’s an exclusive on a console that isn’t doing so hot. Content™-wise, Splatoon was hurting at launch. The single-player could be completed in a few hours, and the multiplayer only had five maps. Worse, Splatoon does this peculiar thing where it limits the maps you can play on, depending on the time of day. Five maps really meant two maps on rotation, which you had to play over and over again until the game decided to change them. The starting maps were pretty good, but it was pretty easy to get sick of them.

This is where Nintendo’s content support plan came in. Splatoon’s launch came with the promise of future content: ranked mode was locked until a certain number of people reached level 10. Nintendo also promised more clear-cut regular updates as well, which would range from maps, gear, and even special events. These updates were set to drop every few weeks. Sounds like a reasonable way to try to keep a game alive, yeah?

Here’s the kicker. All of the DLC that Nintendo was promising? It was already on the disc. You could go on YouTube and see hackers playing with all sorts of unreleased toys. Meaning: Nintendo was deliberately launching a sparse game. This decision baffled much of the game’s community. Why would Nintendo do something like this? Why can’t people simply play what they paid for?

It’s an argument we see often when it comes to downloadable content; people are often worried about what’s on the disc versus what they can actually play. Fortunately, Nintendo has had the good sense not to charge for any of the new stuff they’ve released thus far. It also helped that, as time went on, Nintendo started releasing new goodies ahead of the schedule they initially set. It made Splatoon feel like an advent calendar; a game that constantly had something new to look forward to—and you never knew when it might drop. It’s the strangest DLC strategy I’ve ever seen...but it’s working.

As of this writing, Splatoon has released a handful of new maps, each of which bring something new to the table. I’m particularly fond of Camp Triggerfish, a map that resembles a wooden fort and features a number of dangerous rope paths. Splatoon has also received a ton of awesome weapons, including the paintbrush, the gatling gun, and the bucket. I like these DLC weapons better than the ones that the game launched with—not only are they unique, they’re a damn joy to use. Nintendo has created some of the best weapons in a shooter in recent memory, period.

The biggest update to Splatoon, however, has been the much-hyped August update. Nintendo has been talking about it since launch; it was set to be the update that would fix many of Splatoon’s problems. Notably, the update came with the ability to squad up with your teammates—something which, bafflingly, wasn’t possible when the game launched. The update also included a number of stylish new outfits, accessories, and weapons.

It all sounds good on paper, but it’s still come with a number of very... “Nintendo” decisions. Forming squads is only possible in ranked mode, a game-type that is too hardcore for casual play with friends. Isn’t Splatoon supposed to be about having fun with friends? The design here makes no sense. What makes it particularly heartbreaking, though, is that squad battles let you change your weapons in-between battles—something which, amazingly, wasn’t possible before the update. Swapping weapons mid-match or between skirmishes is such basic functionality for a shooter, and it’s galling that Splatoon still doesn’t allow it in every game mode.

Despite this, the August update has been a worthy addition to Splatoon. That’s not because of the maps, or the excellent new weapons, or the fact that private battles let you create wacky new mini-games. It’s because of the clothes. Look at this.

Nintendo's Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

Nintendo's Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

I want to wear that stuff. I want to make my squid look as cool as possible. I want Splatoon to go all out with the fashion stuff, because it’s a large part of what gives the game such a unique flair. I care far less about how many maps Splatoon has than I do about how to make my squid look cuter (without sacrificing utility) in battle. The first thing I did after the big August update was roam around my plaza, looking for squids with new clothes—I wanted to put in as many orders as I could for gear not available in my own game. Maybe I’m an outlier in that area. Regardless, I am ecstatic that Nintendo is putting as much care into the aesthetics of Splatoon as they are the mechanics and modes.

Splatoon’s DLC push has almost bordered on overwhelming, particularly when it comes to weapons. There are so many of them! I can’t help but wonder if Nintendo created the drip-feed for precisely that reason, to try to ease players into learning the ins and outs of a shooter that works very differently from what they may be used to. The new post-release maps and weapons are more complex than what the game initially offered, and Splatoon is, best as I can tell, Nintendo’s attempt to make the most accessible shooter ever. Given Nintendo’s insistence on trying to be your mum—recall how many Nintendo games gently tell you that maybe it’s time to stop playing?—the theory that they purposefully staggered the release of Splatoon’s already complete content for the benefit of the players doesn’t seem outrageous, anyway.

The best thing about Nintendo’s DLC strategy with Splatoon is that they’re not actually done yet. Later tonight, a new mode drops. Splatoon hackers have found that there’s a chance that the game will let us play as an entirely different race called Octolings soon, something which Splatoon’s social media accounts also seem to be hinting at pretty strongly. I have a feeling that I’m going to be playing Splatoon for a long while yet.

Aside from DLC, one of the things that have kept the game buzzing are Splatfests. Splatfest is monthly event that happens in the game, and each Splatfest centres around a certain theme. The game gives you a choice between two options—”Dogs and Cats,” for example. You can cast a vote for your favourite thing, and in doing so, you join that team. Once you join a team, you become the other team’s mortal enemy for a weekend. All battles waged during Splatfest are between the two teams, and the more you win, the more points you score for your team. At the end of the event, votes for the teams and win percentages of matches are tallied up to decide an overall Splatfest winner.

Nintendo's Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

Splatoon’s Animal Crossing influence shines brightest during Splatfest. I have fond memories of ducking out of a Christmas party once so I could play Animal Crossing—I wanted to celebrate a rare holiday event with my town. It only happens once a year, after all! Splatfest takes a similar concept to heart, and creates regular capital-E Events that make other games’ “double XP weekend” look like uninspired garbage. The only thing that comes close is Destiny’s Iron Banner event, though the Iron Banner has never let players duke it out as Team Dog vs. Team Cat.

During Splatfest, the entire game changes. It becomes night time, and the maps have new music. The main plaza lights up, and Marie and Callie—Splatoon’s fictional pop stars—come out to regale Inklings with their musical melodies. It’s hype as fuck. I get pumped just thinking about it. It feels like Nintendo’s take on how Japanese cities come alive at night, and it’s wonderful. My only complaint is that it puts you in the mood to dance, but Splatoon doesn’t actually have any dancing emotes. Get on that, Nintendo.

People get really heated about Splatfest, too! The Miiverse drawings that hover about Inkling’s heads all become about the different Splatfest teams. Players vie for the best joke or jab at the enemy, or try to convince you why their side is the best.

Nintendo's Big Splatoon Gamble Has Paid Off

A couple of months ago, I said Splatoon was the most exciting shooter I’ve played in years. The big unknown was whether or not a strange Nintendo shooter starring squids could find lasting traction in a sea full of other shooters. Could Splatoon win people’s hearts? Would people still care about Splatoon in a few months?

Here we are a few months later, and so far the answer to both of those questions has been “yes.” More than anything else, Splatoon has been defined by a feeling of community. Even when you’re reading about why your Splatfest team sucks, there is a strong sense of camaraderie in Splatoon. Our wars are waged with ink, and together we make a giant mess. The chaos would not be possible without all of us pitching in. Let’s have a good time, yeah?