Splatoon has always been a sexy game.
That’s not an adjective often associated with Nintendo production, unless you’re a fan of well-honed design and extreme levels of polish. But everything that surrounds this world, built from scratch just seven years ago and repeated twice to its current form, is extremely safe. The deconstruction of the third-person shooter genre that replaces bullets with cephalopod ink is evidence of a team that feels confident in its decisions.
Splatoon 3 makes players feel safe, too, thanks to an ever-expanding wardrobe and unlimited customization. It’s also empowered by a simple yet brilliant design concept – it doesn’t fail. Even when your ammo hits the ground, you’re hitting the target. It’s a rare example of a concession to newcomers and inexperienced players that it doesn’t sponsor. Instead, it takes the limitation of a choice based on accessibility and inclusivity and builds 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 a (woman) man, as they say. The same applies to squid-children and octopuses. Splatoon 3 it builds on the street culture awesomeness showcased in the first two games and refines it into what feels, possibly, like the true purpose of the game: unlocking the coolest settings you can.
The emphasis on style extends to the creators themselves. In a recent “Ask the Developers” interview, producer Hisashi Nogami and members of his crew dramatically removed their jackets, revealing shirts your character can wear. Splatoon 3.
make it fashionable
In a way, this is an industry-wide phenomenon: all I know of Fortnite for the past two years is yes, now you can look like Deadpool and Master Chief and Xenomorph from Alien amidst 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 extensive cosmetic tidbits at unrealistic prices, you have the opportunity to pay with real-world money. Why work for dozens of hours when you could just drop a few bucks and move on? At least Splatoon 3 it maintains its economy fully within the world of squids and kids. Dollars and cents? They have no place here in Splatlands. (At least after the $59.99 MSRP, paid for by one of those weird mammals beyond the screen.)
The term used is instructive: “Skin” implies a covering over your entire character; your Splatoon avatar just bought some fancy jackets from the mall. This latest Splatoon game has delivered on the promise of the original’s first on-screen image: a glimpse of the fashionable apartment at a glance. Unfortunately, this was always just an inert splash screen. Now you can finally inhabit a small plot of land in this strange world and make it your own.
The new Locker feature is the answer to the question, “What if Animal Crossing, but limited to a small 2′ by 6′ box?” Nobody asked that question. It’s likely that no Splatoon fan has put the sequel’s bonus features, “Trophy Case with realistic physics,” on their wish list.
And yet, that’s what players are given. Do you want to hang up your favorite t-shirt? First you need to install a hook. Do you want to stack a stack of shoes? Unless the weight balance is perfect, they will wobble and fall over. At first I found the surprisingly realistic limitations a total pain. My initial attempt at decorating this miniature space ended in frustration; I couldn’t fit anything I wanted and had hardly anything interesting to show anyway.
So I walked into the new Hotlantis store (a portmanteau of Atlantis and “Hotlanta,” the term for Atlanta that no one who lives in the city actually uses in the same way that no one who lives 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 cardboard boxes. (More shades of Tom Nook; in fact, several of the Splatoon team have also worked on Animal Crossing.) Then, I see something a little interesting, a science fiction magazine selected from the invented culture of Inkopolis, just to see what non-JPEG interactive is 10,000 coins. He barely had 3,000 and had been playing for hours.
(Pro tip: Play the campaign solo and you’ll unlock plenty of statues, decorations, and toys for your locker, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
Still, I find myself wandering around Hotlantis to chat with Harmony, a suspiciously bored teenager, browse the shelves, and invariably buy a book, sticker, or spray-on graffiti patch. It’s a strange inclination, the desire to spend digital money on digital things that can only go into a very specific piece of digital real estate. But this is not new to Splatoon 3.
A timeless trend
Nintendo seems to lean more into the allure of digital duds with each successive generation. Witness the evolution of Wii Sports. The 2006 pack was massive, no doubt in part due to the incredible charm of its Miis. You were finally in the game. But they weren’t the most fashionable avatars, with a choice of eight different colors for their thick, monochromatic shirt/dress.
Sixteen years later, the Reason to be of switch sports it’s not local multiplayer with granny, but to facilitate an ever-growing wardrobe of ridiculous costumes for her racket-swinging “sports buddies.” Play enough matches online and you’ll unlock fancy hats, neon sportswear, earrings, cheek stickers, zippered pajamas, and the ability to transmogrify your body into a squirrel or shark.
Nintendo’s desire to cater to a gamer’s style leanings goes back a long way. The most prominent example is the Animal Crossing series, which debuted on the GameCube in 2001. It’s the kind of game where furniture, clothing, and wallpaper occupy your inventory the same way swords and magic spells do. in more traditional role-playing games. In a similar sense, tomodachi life and his spiritual successor Myotopia took the “Mii” character and gave her the digital dollhouse she craved 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 prototype Knitting Machine for the NES that never came out.
Most modern games employ 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 emphasis feels more like a parallel path than a bright object on the horizon. The best clothing is more than an incentive to play more: it is the ultimate goal of certain users. For them, Turf War is not the main mode of Splatoon 3but it takes a messy hassle to access sweeter duds.
As I brush the rust off my tentacles and reignite my interest in all things Splatoon, I remember something: I’m bad at this game. But I can’t stop spending time here, if only to buy another holographic sticker or unlock a pair of particularly hot flip-flops.
Cult of Nintendo is a Reverse series that focuses on the weird, wild and wonderful conversations surrounding video games’ most venerable company.