The year was 2015, during the dark days for Nintendo fans that defined the later parts of the Wii U's lifespan. Sales of the console were still failing to meet even the most conservative of expectations. Third-party support was already practically non-existent, and even Nintendo's efforts seemed to be winding down. Rumors of the Nintendo NX (which we all know today as the Nintendo Switch) were already permeating gamers' minds. We were all ready to move on from the humble Wii U, chalking it up as a novel concept that was never able to get off the ground. Then "Splatoon" happened.
Released on May 28th, 2015, "Splatoon" was the definition of a smash hit (well, as close as anything on Wii U can get to a smash hit). The visuals were gorgeous. The third-person shooter gameplay mixed with the unique mechanic of movement being aided by the ink you shoot was supremely innovative. And the world-building and general vibe of the game was somehow hip and fresh without coming off as cringey, which is doubly impressive coming from a company with a bit of a reputation for being too stuffy and sterile for their own good at times. For all these reasons and more, the game sports some of the most impressive metrics of any Wii U title. Reviews at the time were through the roof, with many outlets praising the game's fresh and unique concept. According to Nintendo's reporting, the game went on to garner massive amounts of positive reception from the public, selling 4.94 million copies worldwide as of March 2021. Sure, other games have moved more units, many more in fact, but when you consider that 4.94 million copies accounts for well over a third of the total number of Wii U systems ever sold, it becomes abundantly clear just how wide the reach for this game was.
As for my thoughts, “Splatoon” is by far my favorite game on Wii U, and it’s what instantly comes to mind any time I think of the console or its legacy. There are several reasons for this, chief among them being the core gameplay. “Splatoon” quite literally changed my mind on the shooter genre, even leading me to become more interested in trying more traditional shooters like “Call of Duty” and “Overwatch” after previously not getting the appeal of those games. However, I still think “Splatoon’s” gameplay stands out from those titles in many ways. For instance, “Splatoon” supplements the main shooting action with tons of minor stats and RPG elements sprinkled into the mix at various points, which works wonders for the more numbers-oriented “Pokémon” fan in me. Additionally, while there is no health indicator on screen (other than an inky border around the edge growing as you take more damage), every player has 100 health points internally. Once you know this, you can then begin using the game’s training mode to see how much damage each of the game’s cavalcade of weapons inflicts with each hit. This allows you to experiment with different abilities, sub-weapons, and playstyles to nail down the most effective and quickest ways to deal 100 damage and splat your foes.
That being said, if you aren’t a numbers geek like I am, you may want to learn through experience and get out on the front lines ASAP. Luckily, Nintendo thought of this, and they have infused tons of thoughtful and helpful game design into the core loop of “Splatoon.” Rather than including pages upon pages of strategy guides and tutorials on each weapon or map in the game, “Splatoon” instead sets up a system where almost everything a player does is a learning experience, whether you realize it or not. Every time you score a KO, you will likely remember how you out-maneuvered your enemy to set up for the shot. Every time you get KO’d, you will likely remember what not to do next time. Every time your team wins a match, you will probably be able to pick out how you were best able to contribute. “Splatoon” is unique in that it is insanely challenging for your time spent within the game not to be beneficial to both you as a player and your team as a whole. Are you off on your own simply covering ground with your paint, laying traps and avoiding combat? Congratulations, you’re contributing. Are you getting down and dirty on the front lines kicking butt and taking names? Congratulations, you’re contributing. “Splatoon’s” reward cycle is unlike any other shooter I can think of, and I believe this addictive and satisfying set up is precisely what kept me and many other fans coming back for more.
Of course, the game’s success was not all because of the gameplay. It was supplemented by fantastic visuals, a killer soundtrack, an absolute boatload of unlockable gear, a diverse weapon lineup and even a rockin’ single-player campaign. “Splatoon” really was the complete package, and Nintendo quickly realized that they had something exceptional on their hands. The franchise went on to have a wildly successful follow-up released on Nintendo Switch in 2017. What’s more, Nintendo is currently gearing up for the “Splatoon 3” release in 2022, which looks set to have a massively increased scope over the first two titles. “Splatoon” is now a household name for Nintendo, right up with the likes of “Mario,” “Zelda” and “Pokémon.” It’s for a good reason, too, as every single aspect of “Splatoon” is so tightly woven and satisfying, making the title stand out as a fantastic example of subtle yet effective game design. “Splatoon 2” on Nintendo Switch is great, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone curious about the franchise. But if you have access to a Wii U, I would encourage you to try the first one out, as there is still something magical about the original game that I wish more people got to experience.