Splatoon is one of the oddest hits Nintendo has had. Of course, the game is about squid-people painting a map their vibrant colour and splatting the enemy as they go. But that isn’t the weirdest reason that it’s a hit. In fact, almost every Nintendo hit is incredibly quirky and strange (I mean, we got to be a big slab of meat in Super Mario Odyssey, so, there’s that . . . ). No, the reason it’s a strange hit for them is because it’s a competitive online multiplayer game. That is rare for Nintendo. So, with the recent announcement of Splatoon 3, it feels like the perfect time to look back at the franchise’s history and explore my inklings (get it?) as to the future.
Back in 2015, when the original Splatoon came out on the Wii U, it definitely made a splash. Nintendo was (and to some extent still is) a company with clear conventions: they don’t really like guns, they don’t really do competitive multiplayer, and they don’t often release new intellectual property. On its reveal, Splatoon showed Nintendo doing all three, and — in classic Nintendo fashion — breaking the mould at the same time. The vibrant creativity in this territory-based shooter shone through immediately, and even though it’s six years old, this series still feels fresh.
And this inventiveness was a hit with the players as well. Considering it was on the Wii U — a console that only sold thirteen million units in its lifetime — it did incredibly well. Splatoon debuted at number two on the UK charts, only behind The Witcher 3. Globally, it sold almost five million copies by September 18, an incredible attachment rate for such a tiny player base. It was the most successful new intellectual property in Japan since the unbeatable Wii Sports, and it was so successful that the game’s soundtrack debuted at number two on Billboard Japan’s Hot Albums chart. Nintendo had a definite success on their hands.
So, two years later, with the Nintendo Switch selling out everywhere, they released Splatoon 2. While it was a bit of a half-step, the game got the series onto Nintendo’s new big hit of a console and added enough to make it feel new. By the time the Octo Expansion came out, it really felt Nintendo had something genuinely special. With strange platforming and serious difficulty, they fleshed out what Splatoon could be.
This, alongside the excellent horde mode and the still perfect multiplayer in the base game, Splatoon 2 was one of the best games on the Switch. And, of course, this translated into mega sales, with almost twelve million copies sold by the end of last year. A new IP in a new genre from Nintendo that was taking the world by storm was one of the most exciting things to see. And, it continues to be.
One of the best things about Splatoon 2 is that Nintendo gave it so much love and attention. To this day they continue to tweak the balance of the gameplay. For a game that has been out almost four years, it is delightful to see Nintendo still caring so much for it. There’s even a new update coming this week, believe it or not. The game is clearly still incredibly popular, and this continued attention combined with the massive sales, of course, has led to a sequel as well.
A few days ago we got a hefty fifty-minute Nintendo Direct, featuring a few exciting announcements and a whole lot of other, less exciting stuff. Probably the biggest announcement was the next step for the series, introduced with a slow trailer featuring desolate regions and a cavern with the Eiffel Tower wedged in it upside down. The Splatoon 3 trailer showed-off the classic Inkling with a little fish buddy both getting on a train and heading into the city. Then the brilliant music kicked in and you could feel it, Splatoon was back. It was stylish, bold, and exciting.
So exciting, in fact, that it seemed to grab people’s attention more than the direct itself. At the time of writing the Nintendo Japan YouTube channel has almost 1.7 million views for the Direct, but a whopping 3.6 million for the Splatoon 3 trailer alone. The excitement isn’t confined to Japan, however, with 1.5 million views for the Nintendo of America version of the trailer.
Clearly, Splatoon has turned into a franchise that can do more than just turn heads — it can now be the headline announcement for one of the biggest Nintendo Directs in years. So, with all this hype for Nintendo’s quirky shooter, where can they go next?
The trailer opened with the character customisation, a little fish guy and his hairstyle, and some quiet harmonics on some barely-there guitar. It was the direct opposite to what Splatoon is known for. No big loud splashes of colour and garbled gargling voices over absurd jazzy rock jams. Instead, Splatoon 3 has the wind howling as the Inkling sets out with a new bow & arrow weapon, walking across a wasteland that looked like something out of Mad Max, but now with the added upside-down Eiffel Tower.
As many have noted this looks like an introductory area, with hints that there could be a more focused and expanded single-player element in this game. The story behind the world of Splatoon is definitely fertile ground for some wacky environments and stories. Splatoon 3 showed us a desolate post-apocalypse, with these Inklings as the new, most intelligent lifeforms on earth after a climate apocalypse wiped out the human race. Imagine big, open levels with all the amazing mechanics of Splatoon combined with an openness the game has never really had. That would be very interesting.
But, don’t worry if you’re just here for the multiplayer. We soon see our strange couple standing on a train platform. They get on the train and take a seat. There’s a slovenly fish-man and a chilled-out jellyfish in the carriage with them. Through the window in the background you can see a shiny metropolis as tinny music plays out. Then we see the city, with rumbling drums and humming vehicles. Then, finally, the music kicks in, the logo flashes on the screen, and we see our beloved multiplayer play-out.
To anyone who’s played Splatoon this multiplayer looked pretty standard. The only clearly new thing is the spawning mechanism. Here, you’re floating on some cube and shoot yourself down to the map. There was also some outlandish new weapons and a strange mechanical crab. Other than that, however, it looked like a lot more Splatoon, which is great. Still, I do wonder what tricks they’ve got up their sleeve. They will definitely surprise us, I’m sure, but I just don’t know how.
The main takeaway from this trailer is just how clearly confident Nintendo is in Splatoon as a franchise now. Of course, this all comes from sales and a continued, consistent player-base. But it results in really obvious care and attention. This trailer is almost four minutes long, and not much really happens. Nintendo is just happy to show-off the new game. If you compare this to the previous games’ trailers, it finally looks like Splatoon has a sense of space. There is an awareness of the in-game world that can be fleshed-out and played with in wonderful ways. This is such an exciting idea for the future of the franchise. It makes it all the sadder that we have to wait a whole year to get our hands on it.
Below you can check out some wonderful screenshots. They show off some of Splatoon 3, the Inklings, and their wacky weapons. And, if you’re itching for more Nintendo news, you can get a full roundup of the Direct here.