Splatoon has always been a sexy game.
It’s not an adjective often associated with Nintendo’s production, unless well-honed design and extreme trim levels excite you. But everything about this world, built from scratch just seven years ago and repeated twice in its current form, is overwhelmingly confident. Deconstructing the genre of a third-person shooter that replaces bullets with cephalopod ink is a testament to a team feeling confident in their decisions.
Splaton 3 makes players feel confident too, thanks to an ever-expanding wardrobe and limitless customization. You’re also blessed with a simple yet brilliant design: you won’t miss it. Even when your ammo hits the ground, you hit a target. It’s a rare example of a concession to newcomers and inexperienced players who aren’t condescending. Instead, it takes the limitation of a choice based on accessibility and inclusion and weaves that limitation into the very fabric of the experience – and the game is better for it.
But the real reason you feel good playing Splatoon is because you look good. Clothes make the (wo)man, as they say. The same goes for squid-children and octo-people. Splaton 3 builds on the street culture cool showcased in the first two games and refines it into what seems, arguably, like the true goal of the game: to unlock the coolest tweaks you can.
The focus on style extends to the designers themselves. In a recent “Ask the developersinterview, producer Hisashi Nogami and his crew members have all dramatically removed their jackets, revealing t-shirts your character can wear. Splaton 3.
Make it fashionable
In a way, it’s an industry-wide phenomenon: all I know of Fortnite over the past two years is that yes, you can now look like Deadpool and Master Chief and Alien’s Xenomorph among dozens of other skins available for a limited time. Cosmetic skins are standard operating procedure for how free games make money and keep people interested. In most games with such cosmetic treats for unrealistic prices, you have the opportunity to pay with real money. Why grind for dozens of hours when you could drop a few bucks and move on? At least Splaton 3 fully maintains its economy in the world of squid and kid. Dollars and cents? They have no place here in the Splatlands. (At least after the MSRP of $59.99, paid for by one of those weird mammals out there beyond the screen.)
The term used is instructive: “Skin” implies cover over your entire character; your Splatoon avatar just grabs a few slick jackets from the mall. This latest Splatoon game delivered on the promise of the the very first screen image of the original: A glimpse of an inkling’s fashionable apartment. Alas, it was still just an inert splash screen. Now you can finally inhabit a small patch of land in this bizarre world and make it your own.
The new Locker feature is the answer to the question “What if Animal Crossing, but limited to a tiny 2′ by 6′ box?” No one asked this question. Probably no Splatoon fan has extra sequel features, “Trophy Case with realistic physics” on their wishlist.
And yet, that’s what the players receive. Want to hang your favorite t-shirt? First you need to install a hook. Want to stack a stack of shoes? Unless the weight balance is just right, they will wobble and tip over. At first, I found the surprisingly realistic restraints a complete pain. My first attempt at decorating this miniature space ended in frustration; I couldn’t place what I wanted and barely had anything interesting to display anyway.
So I walked into the new Hotlantis store (a portmanteau of Atlantis and “Hotlanta” the term for Atlanta that nobody actually uses who lives in the city the way nobody living in Boston calls it “Beantown” ). Now I could cash in all my winnings for something exciting and representative of my unique personality, something like…a metal ladder. Or boxes. (More shades of Tom Nook; indeed, several members of the Splatoon team have also work on Animal Crossing.) Then I spy on something mildly interesting – a sci-fi magazine from the invented culture of Inkopolis – only to see that the non-interactive JPEG is 10,000 pieces. I barely had 3,000 and had been playing for hours.
(Pro tip: Play the single-player campaign and you’ll unlock plenty of statues, trinkets, and toys for your locker, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Even so, I find myself wandering over to Hotlantis to chat with a bored teenager who thinks of Harmony, check the shelves, and invariably buy a book, decal, or spray-paint graffiti patch. It’s a weird inclination, the desire to spend digital money on digital things that can only go on a very specific piece of digital real estate. But this is nothing new for Splaton 3.
A timeless trend
Nintendo seems to be leaning more into the appeal of digital duds with each successive generation. Witness to the evolution of Wii Sports. The 2006 pack-in was massive, no doubt partly due to the incredible charm of their Miis. You were finally part of it. But they weren’t the most fashionable avatars, with a choice of eight different colors for their chunky monochrome t-shirt/dress.
Sixteen years later, the purpose of Change sports isn’t local multiplayer with grandma, but to facilitate an ever-growing wardrobe of ridiculous costumes for your “Sportsmates”. Play enough matches online and you’ll unlock fancy hats, neon sportswear, stud earrings, cheek stickers, zip pajamas, and the ability to transform your body into a squirrel or a shark.
Nintendo’s desire to satisfy a gamer’s stylish inclinations goes way back. The most striking example is the animal crossing series, which debuted on the GameCube in 2001. It’s the kind of game where furniture, clothing, and wallpaper take up your inventory the same way swords and magic spells do in more RPGs. traditional. In the same order of ideas, Tomodachi’s life and his spiritual successor mitopia took the “Mii” persona and gave him the digital dollhouse he’s longed for from the Mii Maker Channel. Before that came the suite of programs called talent studio, exclusive to Japan’s infamous 64DD disc system upgrade to the Nintendo 64. There was even a Knitting machine prototyped for the NES which never came out.
Most modern games use upgrades and cosmetics like carrots, dangling from a stick to entice players to spend more money or time on a game. But Nintendo’s recent shift in focus is more like a path parallel than to a bright object on the horizon. Better clothes are more than an incentive to play more – they are the end goal for some users. For them, Turf War is not the main mode of Splaton 3but a messy nuisance needed to access softer cloths.
As I knock the rust off my tentacles and rekindle my interest in all things Splatoon, I remember something: I’m bad at this game. But I can’t help but hang out here, don’t if only to buy another holographic sticker or unlock a particularly attractive pair of flip flops.
Cult of Nintendo is a Reverse series focusing on the weird, wild, and wonderful conversations surrounding video games’ most venerable company.