Inkopolis Square, the social hub for Nintendo’s paint shooter Splatoon 2, is a space filled with memes. Players are able to post art and messages, and there’s nearly always some kind of in-joke happening. Yesterday I saw a drawing of a clown along with the line “Who wants chaos? I do!” Another showed in-game pop star Marie dressed as a judge saying “There will be order on my turf.” My favorite simply said “Good luck to both teams!”
The messages are all in reference to Splatoon 2’s “splatfest,” an event where players have to pick a side for a particular question — this time, it’s whether you prefer order or chaos — and then fight for their team in the game. It’s always a fun diversion that gets the community excited, but this splatfest is a particularly momentous one: it will be the last in-game event in Splatoon 2. After this weekend, the game will continue to function, but it won’t receive any new content. Things kicked off this morning, and the game has a vibe that’s both festive and mournful. It marks the end of an era for one of the weirdest, and successful Nintendo games in recent memory.
The original Splatoon seemed to come out of nowhere. It combined two things Nintendo wasn’t exactly known for — shooters and online games — but did so in a way that felt intrinsically Nintendo. Instead of a realistic battlefield, Splatoon transported players to a bizarre, colorful post-apocalyptic world populated by human-squid hybrids. It had a skate punk aesthetic, and was decidedly non-violent; instead of shooting bullets, players hit each other with splashes of ink. And the goal wasn’t to kill your opponents but to cover the level in as much of your team’s ink color as possible.
It was strange, sure, but it was also a game that felt like it was aimed at a new segment of the market, one that no other competitive shooter had managed to reach out to. I have terrible aim, but I love the idea of being on a team in a competitive environment. Splatoon felt instantly right for me. I didn’t need to be an amazing shot — I was able to contribute in other ways, finding the spaces in the level that were being ignored to forge new territory for my squad. It helped that Splatoon had an eclectic array of weapons, from paint guns to giant rollers, that were all a lot of fun to play with.
The biggest problem with the original game had to do with the platform. It was released on the ill-fated Wii U and its audience seemed to dwindle fairly quickly, as did new content updates. But the franchise received a huge boost with Splatoon 2, which launched in July 2017 just a few months after the Switch’s explosive debut. It improved on the original in almost every way. While the core gameplay remained the same, there was a greater range of weapons and abilities, a more robust single-player campaign, and the ability to play it anywhere.
One of the things that always kept me coming back to Splatoon was its style. The squid-punk characters had a huge array of clothes to choose from, and I would often check in on the game daily just to see what new outfits were available in the in-game stores. This took on a new level in Splatoon 2, with regular updates that provided even more options. Some days I would spend a few minutes browsing the shops and never actually play a game. Not only did the gear look cool, there was also an incredible amount of thought behind it. There were shoes in Splatoon 2 that were new models of ones from the original game, and the first major update in holiday 2017 included a winter-themed clothing collection.
“My approach is not just to create art, but to try and sense what a game’s content and function demand from the art, and create art that’s in line with the game’s particular needs,” Hisashi Nogami, Splatoon’s producer, told me last year. This gave the game a very holistic feel, where every element — whether it was the clothing, the music, or the level design — felt like it had a purpose and a place in the world.
Today, most online games feature things like daily challenges, which is what keeps me coming back to something like Fortnite every day. Splatoon 2 didn’t have any, which was refreshing, but may also have contributed to its decline. I still play the game, but not as much as I used to, and the games that have filled that space are ones where there’s always a shiny new thing to check out.
It’s important to note that Splatoon 2 isn’t over. Nintendo isn’t shutting down the servers after this weekend’s battle between order and chaos. But this moment does mark the beginning of the end; once new content and events disappear, eventually so too will the playerbase. If you’ve fallen off, now’s a good time to hop back in and remember how good Splatoon is. Just be prepared for some surprisingly emotional moments. Right now Inkopolis has a darker vibe than usual, and teams order and chaos wield silver and gold ink in battle.
During the game’s opening segment, Off the Hook, where hosts Pearl and Marina explain what’s new, Marina now has a long speech about what Splatoon means to her and how being on the show gave her hope “during a dark time in my life.” Her co-host tells her “No need to get all dramatic. You have way more going for you than just Off the Hook.” The same is true of the game itself. There might not be any new content coming to Splatoon 2 — but there’s more to it than that.
The final splatfest starts today and runs through to July 21st.