Released in the Summer of 2015, Splatoon has become somewhat of a phenomenon once it hit store shelves. Unlike other Nintendo games in this day and age, Nintendo opted to make this game a brand new IP built from the ground-up with brand new characters. This game is largely stagnant of other Nintendo properties (minus the occasional easter egg) and takes its own approach to game design. Something Nintendo hasn’t done with a major property in years on home consoles. The question is though, why did Nintendo opt to take this approach instead of using one of their own existing IPs?
Well, in order to figure that out, we need to dive into the history of the platform that started it all…
Wait? I thought Splatoon was a Nintendo exclusive?!?
Released in 2012, the Wii U is a very unique console in Nintendo’s history. While praised by many for its huge library of exclusives, the system faltered in the market compared to rivals Sony and Microsoft. Nintendo sold as much as 13 million units worldwide which made it the worst selling Nintendo console of all time. Despite the console’s lower sales numbers compared to the competition and its predecessors, the Wii U still constantly received exclusive first-party support up until the release of Paper Mario: Color Splash (which released on October 7th, 2016).
Due to these low sales, Nintendo seemed to change its mentality when it comes to how they produce software. Back in the Wii era, Nintendo seemed more conservative with their IP mainly because they were the ones gaining the most profit. Companies that tend to be “in the lead” are very careful on how they approach things since they don’t want to lose out on the profits they are constantly getting in. When the Wii U released, they seemed to still have this mentality judging by the games that were released at the time. Games like New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Wii Fit U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, etc. were shown to have extreme similarities to their predecessors giving off a “safe approach” if you will. It wasn’t until late 2013 – early 2014 that you started to see a change in the direction on how they were making these games.
In a Nintendo Direct that aired during December 2013, Nintendo announced a shocking title. They announced that they were going to give the Zelda IP to Koei Tecmo and allow them to do a Dynasty Warriors spin-off starring Zelda characters known as Hyrule Warriors (while Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE was announced prior to Hyrule Warriors, most of us were highly unsure about the direction it was going to go until footage was revealed nearly 1 & ½ years later, which is why Hyrule Warriors seemed like a more major turning point since we had an idea of what it was going to be). This information shocked the community. Not only were they letting another company take control of their IP and integrating it into another franchise, but it was one of Nintendo’s biggest IPs that they were handling. Suffice to say, this was the start of a new broader version of Nintendo with Hyrule Warriors just being the start of it.
After Hyrule Warrior’s announcement, you started seeing even more games outside of Nintendo’s original scope. Games such as Pokkén Tournament, Super Mario Maker, Star Fox Zero (& Star Fox Guard), and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE showed that Nintendo was heading in a new direction.
Although, Nintendo has done this before…
Out of all these titles, Splatoon was the only one that stood above the rest and quickly became a newly found juggernaut in Nintendo’s own IP catalog. It took the Wii U install base by storm to the point where by February 2016, the game had already sold 4.3 million copies. That made it the 6th best selling Wii U game of all time in a span of merely 8 months (although it probably ranks a lot higher on the list at this point and time). For a new Nintendo IP, it is absolutely stunning that it was this successful compared to mainline IPs such as Mario and Zelda with the only thing holding it back being the Wii U’s install base.
With Splatoon and other games, Nintendo opted to take a vastly different approach in producing these unique games within the Wii U’s catalog mainly because they were desperate in finding any software they could. This is something that game companies have been doing for ages at this point and it is not that surprising Nintendo had a change of mindset when producing software. A prime example we’ve been seeing these past two generations is actually Sony. They increased their software output for the PS3 when it wasn’t doing so well in its early lifespan and didn’t really produce software for the PS4 since their console was doing well.
Interestingly, Nintendo did consider adding Mario as the mascot for this game, but denied it as they wanted to create a “play structure from scratch.” This shows additional evidence for their directional change and how they allowed their younger teams more creative freedom for the sake of making new ideas.
Think about it. Super Mario Sunshine… but with guns.
As a fresh and exciting new IP from Nintendo, Splatoon has gained a very loyal following and with a possible port coming to the Nintendo Switch, the franchise will most likely not be going away anytime soon.