Takes a company like Nintendo to make a squad-based multiplayer shooting games so much fun and intuitive. Anyone can enjoy Splatoon after just a few minutes. It shows many things I want to remember and incorporate into my own game, if I ever make one...
Splatoon has squids that can transform into people, have odd weapons like paint rollers and buckets. Instead of bullets, Splatoon has inks. The matches feel like a big water balloon fight. Player characters come back to life from poodles of ink. This cartoonish design means I don't have to worry about explaining anything that resembles real life violence and avoid playing the game when my kids are awake.
The rules are extremely simple and obvious, the team that covers larger area of the arena with their team's color wins the match. Final score is presented as a map by a cat whose tail points to the winning side.
Everything is better when there is option to customize, to make a player's character unique. In addition to selecting different weapons, Splatoon players can choose gender, equip a hat, cloth, and shoes to customize appearance. Players can also order equipment that another player wears for a price.
Each gear has upgrade slots with randomly assigned boosts as player accumulate experience points through playing. Rarity of gear is directly related to the number of available upgrade slots. So there is incentive in playing with your favorite gear as it improves various player attributes.
Reason To Compete
Every month for a year there are weekend competitions that requires players to pick a side and receive a t-shirt for their team. This gear is quite a devious design as it is the gear you'll be wearing to complete during the weekend, but it isn't upgraded when it is first given to players. So to maximize one's competitive edge you'll want to upgrade the t-shirt well before the actual competition starts.
Each competition have a theme, like Night Owls vs. Early Birds or Burger vs. Pizza. As it turned out, people will fight for any reason once they pick a side.
For a game that involves team competitions, the unique scoring criteria allows everyone to contribute. Since result is dependent on paint coverage at the end of two-minute match, you don't have to go after other players if you don't want to. Of course forcing players on the other team to respawn take away time they have to repaint the arena, so for people who are confident in their shooting skills they also have that option.
Reload and Level Design
Levels are symmetrical and vary in elevation. There are often shortcuts that players in squid form can take, encouraging constant shape-shifting.
In addition, the weapons are all ink-powered and as you shoot you can see the tank on the back of your character drain. To refill/reload you can wait, or it is usually much faster to just dive into a painted area to soak up ink. This reload mechanism works extremely well with the level design such that players who have some familiarity of the maps can plan ahead with their shots and transformation into squid to rapidly ink, move around, and refill their tanks.
On many stages, at the 1-minute mark the map will have terrain changes. For example, what used to be flooded in water (thus not accessible since these squids apparently do not swim) will now be solid floor; player characters now have more area to cover and fight over, allowing access further into enemy side closer to their respawn point
So Much Fun
Every match lasts only two minutes, so this is the perfect game to play in between whatever I need to do. It has enough depth that I feel like I am learning new tricks. All weapons have distinct personality to them and it helps that there are a lot to choose from depending on what I feel like playing. Because players cannot change gear or weapon mid-match, they choose their weapon because they feel like it. Probably the competition will be more dynamic if mid-game reconfigure is possible, but there isn't an easy way to go through so many different combinations? Not sure how Nintendo will solve this problem but the next Splatoon will definitely have a clever solution.