I was raised in the woods by first-person shooters, and those woods were just a blocky texture on invisible walls. I evolved from a mammal-mouse driving Doomed dinosaur keyboard-aimers to extinction. I've selected the greatest gun in gaming history. I played Blood back when blinking counted as attempted suicide. I've been shooting for so long I remember when Duke Nukem was a good game. And with all of my years of shooting people's faces clean off, on every platform imaginable, I can tell you that not only is the Wii U's Splatoon a great game ... it's a literal savior.
#6. It's Saving Us From Assholes
Default multiplayer voice-chat is the swollen appendix of shooters. It might once have served a function, but now it's a useless bag of pus threatening to kill everyone. Professional teams use third-party programs. People playing with friends use private parties. The only ones making noise on the default channel are:
a) using the microphone to help them swallow deep-fried oysters
b) neglected children so desperate for attention they'd take social tips from To Catch A Predator
c) those same children after 30 years of confusing kill-count for achievement
Multiplayer voice-chat should be off by default. That way you can turn it on if you want. The same way you can read YouTube comments if you want. A complete inability to speak still won't stop some people from being assholes, but Splatoon's fast matches and rapid rotation of teammates means you're never stuck with an idiot for long.
#5. It's Saving Us From Unnecessary Realism
The major shooter series are locked in a graphical Cold War, spending ever more ridiculous amounts of money and time on almost imperceptible improvements to the things that are killing their entire industry. It's Zeno's turtle falling into a shallow grave, iterating ever closer to a final destination filled with dirt and rocks. That's why most major releases look like someone blended gravel into shit to make the world's worst McFlurry.
It definitely looks "realistic," because this guy is at work and everything looks monotonous and depressing.
These graphical improvements don't just come at the expense of gameplay. They actively prevent it. Games are released beautifully broken, dashing themselves on exquisitely textured rocks while realistic fluid dynamics cascade sea spray across their E3 trailers. Then they wedge their main character halfway into those rocks and rag-doll it at 10,000 rpm. The obscene expense of making virtual worlds look boringly real also requires them to keep you on a single path. They're spending so much money to turn games into movies that they're hiring banner actors to make you think it's a good thing.
But there's no point in rendering realistic fluid dynamics and accurate explosion physics when that leaves fewer gameplay elements on the screen than a level of Pac-Man. At least he got to chase after multiple dots.
You follow the dot and are actively prevented from touching anything else on the screen.
You're playing as a cat following Activision's laser pointer.
Splatoon uses fluid physics as a gameplay mechanic. Making it more of a truly technical advance than every Gear Of Dutyfield put together. Every other shooter's processing advances provide cinematics instead of strategy. Jetting blood announcing, "Yeah, you got him just like you did in the first Modern Warfare, but now there's more dirt on his clothes!" Splatoon's fluid mechanical gameplay simply wouldn't have been possible on earlier systems.
Splatoon squads are assigned random colors every match, so you're not just stuck with red or blue. For a lifelong shooter, finally seeing some bright colors feels like someone served my retina's cone cells a gallon of daiquiris after decades in the dirt-filled deserts. And it means a "kids' game" solved the known balance issue of red's advantage over blue while generations of "professional" competitive shooters simply never bothered.
#4. It's Saving Us From Boredom
Most "realistic" shooters start like an NRA conga line. The world's most heavily armed ducklings dash from the spawn point to the first objective/middle of the map. The games use this combat-commute as an active mechanic: Getting killed means having to trudge back from the spawn all over again. It's tactical, but it means building the game's balance on boring repetition instead of actively playing. Some games let you build teleporters, but that's still basing so much of your playtime on an annoying chore that someone needs to take on to let other people skip it.
Splatoon squads don't win by splatting their opponents -- they win by painting more of the map (or key points of it in ranked matches). Painting takes ink, and your character can transform into a squid to swim quickly through that ink to reload, recharge, or hide. This means every step is important instead of just the last few near enemies. In this game, "area control" isn't just a tactical term but a fundamental force of the universe.
The "childish" colors mean you see everything in terms of tactical data, like a Terminator.
There's never a wasted step. Every movement is an active decision and natural gameplay. You're constantly calculating curves to cover the maximum area without painting yourself into time-wasting corners. Painting vertical surfaces doesn't give you points, but it lets you reach the high ground. A wide selection of different inking patterns, ranges, and rates of fire all feed into both combat and coverage to create a wide range of play-styles. You can charge and recharge as an area-drenching roller juggernaut, charge-shoot-swim to dolphin-leap your way across the map, or ink-brush over all the little gaps before springing from a painted wall to sword-slash enemies into puddles like a primary-colored samurai. And at any time you can tap a teammate on the map to teleport to their location and get on with the game.
After 10 million identical deathmatches more predictable than storing your gun vault in your cloning lab, we have a new idea. Don't get me wrong, CloneShooter 4: Modern 3: Black Ops 2: Help Us Any 1 still looks like a lot of fun. But now it's not the only kind of fun.
#3. It's Saving Us From Solo Twitch Campers
The curse of campers has afflicted shooters since they started. Obviously, being able to aim a gun is kind of important, but most shooters overspecialize until the only relevant skill is aiming at X-234 Y-754 zero point four milliseconds faster than everyone else. Which is like organizing an Olympics where every athlete in every sport also has to be a professional javelin thrower: Every other skill is crippled because everyone's going to live or die on that one specific point.
If you can't 180-degree no-scope them first, the game is about as much fun as, well, being repeatedly shot in the head. Even for those who can compete (I enjoy headshots as much as the next person, and usually more than the crater-skulled one who just tried to sniper-duel me), new games should offer more than new sniper perches. Sequel franchises like Call Of Duty don't just suffer from this -- they cater to it, arming the elite (or hacking) high-score solo players with everything from helicopter gunship support to massive ordnance air blasts that can wipe out an enemy team. They exterminate scores of players whose only entertainment is hoping to one day do the same.
Splatoon's shorter range area-of-effect weapons mean aim is still an important skill, but it's not the only one. Much more emphasis is placed on teamwork and location. The gamepad map lets players instantly see where to go without having to talk about it. If someone's wedged themselves into an unassailable perch? Leave them to it and paint the rest of the map! There's nothing sweeter than beating an obsessive sniper by coloring-in. Splatoon has created a combat mechanic where camping doesn't work. Once more casually solving a problem every other shooter has struggled with since day one.
If you snipe with a charger, I feel bad for you son. You'll have 99 splats, but my team will have won.
#2. It's Saving Us From Pointless Death
All the best shooters have multiple ways to score. Battlefield 3 rewards teamwork, spotting, and resupply with additional points, and Team Fortress 2's medics are the closest first-person shooters have come to actual saints.
And you will KNOW my class is the MEDIC when I bring my UBER HEAVY DOWN UPON YOU!
But they're still support classes for the killers. The only strategy is attack. Even when capturing a control point or returning a flag, you're usually better off going death-or-glory than ever running away. Maybe you'll bring one of them with you, balancing the score, and it's often faster to resurrect than to run away and resupply. Meaning most shooters use the same strategy as the game's fringe terrorist enemies. But in Splatoon, splatting someone just sends them back to their spawn. Its only effect on the score is how it affects your ability to paint, and it's always better to stay alive and cover more ground.
You're not just here to kill; you're here to do a job. Fighting is sometimes necessary to achieve that end, but it's not the end in itself. Running away will work and give you a more successful life. This isn't just a video game; it's the first moral lesson for kids that is actually fun.
#1. It's Saving The Industry Itself
AAA video game releases are a bubble big enough to blot out the sun. The headline-grabbing midnight launches of all the latest and iterate-est shooters are aimed squarely at the Halo-frat demographic that made billion-dollar games possible. But that aggressive niche is so noxious that games now have ratings to keep them from playing with children. That's why so many developers claim it's impossible to render a female model in games that already have dozens of models. They're not scared of the challenge. They're scared of what their own fanbase will screenshot.
In Splatoon your first choice is whether you want to play as a girl or a boy. The second is your skin color. That's exactly as hard as it ever should be.
The fact that every game doesn't offer this is terrifying. Unless racial purity is a big part of your game's narrative, in which case WHAT THE HELL? The idea that the narrative of games like Gears Of War couldn't tolerate a change of protagonist is laughable. That game would work the same if you glued a gun and a Speak & Spell to a fridge carried by a forklift.
It's also inclusive across the age gap. For a long time I almost lived in Team Fortress 2, one of the most fun and friendly shooters, and I still can't share it with my friend's family because my favorite thing is setting fire to spies and hitting them with an ax wrapped in barbed wire. Splatoon lets parents play with their kids. It's introducing the next generation to online shooters. Mario introduced almost an entire generation to video games. Now Nintendo is widening the market again. It's the perfect shooter for a post-gamer world. Because everyone games now. The people who clutch games to their chests as an entire identity are seen the same way as people who wait around train stations to take down the locomotive numbers. They can be a bit creepy, but it's OK as long as they're not attacking anyone. And we're not going to change our destination to suit their tastes.