That these games have been released within weeks of each other testifies to the entertainment industry's recognition of how lucrative the collectible toy-video game combo is. That begs the question of whether tame video games can stand on their own without collectible toys to sustain interest over the long term.
With Splatoon, Nintendo offers hope for the future of fun games that don't require add-ons. As the Japanese developer's most prominent original foray into family-friendly gaming in years, Splatoon was a gamble. Had it failed in the face of underwhelming Wii U sales, Nintendo's prospects could have looked something akin to SEGA's fortunes after the failure of the Dreamcast. Splatoon demonstrates, however, that Nintendo can appeal to the mass market without Mario, Luigi or a Starter Pack in sight.
The Inklings' guns fire ink. A lot of it. Even if you are a great shot, there is no way you can get through this game without hitting something other than the enemy. That should come as no surprise when you are handling weapons with names like the Splatling Gun and the Inkzooka. In fact, collateral damage of the splatting kind is intentionally part of the appeal, as a quick visit to the official Splatoon website (below) proves.
Splatoon succeeds because, like Nintendo's best games, it provides addictive, challenging gameplay with a strong emphasis on fun. The game's colourful, cartoonish environments are designed to feel comfortable rather than real and will seem familiar to anyone who has played Skylanders. They provide a delightful and surprisingly detailed backdrop to the cheerful humour and energetic surrealism embodied in the quirky humanoid Inklings and their cute, squid alter-egos.
The other big plus about Splatoon is that it takes full advantage of the Wii U. The GamePad's accelerometer is put to good use as you look around the 3D environment and aim. The experience makes Splatoon feel like the kind of game that the Wii U was designed for. It is a console that seems well suited to other games with broad commercial appeal, such as Disney Infinity 3.0, Skylanders SuperChargers and LEGO Dimensions. Accordingly, these are among the few major titles released for the Wii U. None exploits the Wii U's unique features as fully as Splatoon, however.
The audience these games appeal to has always been at the heart of Nintendo's marketing and development strategy. Even so, playing Splatoon proves that the Wii U could work for other genres, too, if it were not for the console's small market share.
Splatoon also has almost everything you expect of a modern video game, including solo and multiplayer modes, online battles (albeit without voice chat, which will probably please some parents), DLC updates and, yes, it has to be said, toys. There are a limited number of characters from the game available in Nintendo's amiibo collection. Yet, these are not essential to gameplay and you can enjoy Splatoon without ever having to buy a single one.
That's why Splatoon is proof positive that disc-only family-friendly games are not dead yet.
For this review, a copy of Splatoon was provided to TMR by Nintendo upon request.