One of Nintendo's (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) most charming new titles at E3 was Splatoon, a third-person mulitplayer shooter starring ink-gun armed kids who can transform into squids.
Unlike most other mulitplayer shooters on the market, the object is not to shoot other players, but rather coat as much of the map with your team's ink as possible. The first team to cover more than half of the map wins. Players can swim faster through their own ink, which also refills their ink, but the opposing team's ink will slow the player down.
Although some hardcore fans of "mature" shooters like Electronic Arts' (NASDAQ:EA) Titanfall or Activision Blizzard's (NASDAQ:ATVI) Call of Duty series will likely dismiss Splatoon as "just another kids' game," there's much more here than meets the eye.
Let's take a three surprising reasons that gamers and Nintendo investors could soon fall in love with Splatoon, which is scheduled to arrive in the first half of 2015.
1. Splatoon reinvents a violent and stale genre
Last year, first-person and third-person shooters accounted for 20% of the U.S. video game market, according to NPD Group. Games like Take-Two's (NASDAQ:TTWO) GTA V, Activision's Call of Duty: Ghosts, EA's Battlefield 4, and Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Killzone: Shadow Fall dominated the charts. However, all of these games are rated M (Mature) for graphic violence.
However, the average gamer is 31 years old, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and could be faced with two things -- a longing for the more innocent games of the past, or a desire for non-violent games that they can play with their kids. Games like GTA, Call of Duty, and Killzone obviously do not fill either need.
When older gamers look at Splatoon, they'll likely think of the fun, non-violent multiplayer games that Nintendo excelled at developing in the past -- the "Battle Mode" of Super Mario Kart, the mini-games in Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. More than any other video game publisher, Nintendo has proven repeatedly that video games do not require disembowelments, profanity, and reckless misogyny to appeal to gamers of all ages.
More importantly, Splatoon gleefully tosses out the standard setup of multiplayer shooters -- deathmatches, capture the flag, and so on -- with its own set of rules.
2. Splatoon is (finally) a new IP
What's encouraging about Splatoon is that Nintendo didn't replace its squid kids, known as Inklings, with flagship characters like Mario, Yoshi, Link, or Samus.
The Inklings might not become as well-known as Nintendo's top characters, but it's refreshing to see Nintendo address one of the top complaints about its business -- its lack of new IPs. When we look at Nintendo's biggest titles for 2014 and 2015, we mostly see the latest chapters or variants of established franchises, such as Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, Mario Party 10, and The Legend of Zelda Wii U.
The problem with revisiting old IPs repeatedly is that the games have to stay true to their roots with classic gameplay and homages to the past, but also feel modern at the same time.
Splatoon shows that Nintendo is still willing to take risks with new characters and gameplay, indicating that it might still have the know-how to launch new genre-defining titles such as Wii Sports (2006) and Super Mario Bros. (1985) -- which respectively remain the number one and number two best-selling video games of all time.
3. Splatoon fully utilizes the Wii U GamePad
In my previous coverage of Nintendo's E3 announcements, I discussed Shigeru Miyamoto's demonstrations of additional uses for the Wii U GamePad.
In Splatoon, players can instantly jump in to assist a teammate by tapping their character on the GamePad's map. Just like Miyamoto's demonstrations of giant robots, tower defenses, and Star Fox, Splatoon serves as a demonstration that the GamePad should be considered much more than merely a second screen for the main game. Gyroscopic controls can also be used for aiming in Splatoon, although the thumbsticks can also be used.
This clearer utilization of the Wii U GamePad can give Nintendo an opportunity to rectify the terrible marketing mistakes that it made with the Wii U. After the Wii U's launch in November 2012, many consumers didn't even know that it was the successor to the hugely popular Wii, and assumed that the GamePad was merely an optional tablet peripheral for the original Wii.
The ink-splattered takeaway
In closing, Nintendo still has a long upward battle before it can match Sony's PS4, which has surpassed the Wii U despite launching a full year later. Nintendo has sold 6.4 million Wii Us so far, compared to Sony's 8.1 million PS4s.
But considering the momentum that Nintendo gained with Mario Kart 8, which has already sold 1.6 million units in less than a month, brighter days could be ahead with stronger first-party and third-party titles throughout the rest of 2014 and 2015. Hopefully, cheerful, original games like Splatoon will help Nintendo show the world that it can still carve out new genres in the industry that it helped create.