I’ve written a few times before about my gaming ability but to recap: I’m terrible-to-average at games generally, and even worse at games that involve playing against real people. Splatoon, first on the Wii U and now on the Switch, is ostensibly a team-based online shooter, which is so many of my least-favourite words it’s amazing I even typed them all together like that. Despite this I’ve found myself sinking hours into Splatoon without complaint, enjoying the game and willingly returning for more.
How Nintendo managed to make a team-based online shooter I enjoy is something of a marvel, and they’ve done it by removing a lot of what makes a team-based online shooter a team-based online shooter. To start with, the shooting isn’t the sort of shooting where marksmanship is important, it’s the sort of shooting you see in Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone where coverage is more important than accuracy; the goal in Splatoon isn’t to take out the opposition with your amazing John Woo-style guncraft or by sitting patiently in a sniper nest, it’s to cover the arena in paint and nobody is judging on whether you keep within the lines. You can shoot the opposition if you want, and it’s useful to do so because it slows them down, but you can also run away and find a less occupied portion of the map to express yourself in instead. Cowardice is a valid tactic in Splatoon and as one of life’s natural cowards I’m all for it.
Then there’s the team part of things, and as those who know me can testify, there’s no I in team. But, where a lot of team shooters will involve voice chat and headsets and whatnot, talking to your teammates in Splatoon is a barely-usable feature that’s so much of a hassle to get working it may as well not be there. This is fine; I try and avoid talking in general, in work and in life, so I’m never going to enjoy a game that forces me into a series of three-minute conference calls with a bunch of weirdly abusive strangers.
Online talking is an easy feature to ditch anyway, because in Splatoon you also don’t have to coordinate in any meaningful way. Everyone on the team has the same goal — just get out there and cover as much of the arena with paint as you can — and so as long as you’re working towards that, you’re contributing, even if you’re not on the frontline. There’s always a satisfying sense of having helped, even if you weren’t the best.
So it’s a team-based shooter where you can largely ignore your team and don’t really have to shoot anyone, a game where participation counts for more than how you participated. This would all make it a good fit for me even if there wasn’t also the usual Nintendo trappings of great characters, bright colours, exhaustive clothing options, and, most importantly of all, an understanding that everyone is there, first and foremost, to have fun. It’s the first online game I’ve played that didn’t immediately and demoralisingly slap me straight back down, and I look forward to returning to it.