Nintendo's Colorful 'Splatoon' Is Edgier Than Killing Spree Game 'Hatred'

Play the shooter that chooses color over black and white, fun over angst.

by Emanuel Maiberg
Jun 1 2015, 2:30pm

I spent the last few days splitting my free time between Splatoon, Nintendo's colorful, kid-friendly multiplayer shooter for Wii U, and Hatred, a black and white mass shooter for PC in which you murder innocent people.

The latter, of course, generated a great deal of controversy, but it's Nintendo's innocent spin on one of the industry's most popular genres that's actually edgy.

There's no shortage of games where you murder people indiscriminately, but something about Hatred's respectful nod to mass shooters and their psychology has rubbed game companies, players, and critics the wrong way.

It's banned from Nintendo's, Microsoft's, and Sony's consoles by virtue of its very rare Adults Only rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the organization that rates video games in North America.

Steam, by far the biggest digital PC game delivery service, decided to carry it anyway, making it the first Adults Only game in its store.

It's satisfying in the same way it's satisfying to jump on and crunch big piles of dry leaves

After playing Hatred, it's clear that Steam handled this hot potato best. Letting people play it removes the allure of something mysterious and forbidden. Instead, it lets you see that Hatred is just a mediocre game that is more embarrassing than it is insulting.

It's a top-down, twin stick shooter, a genre as old as Robotron or Asteroids, but with a long-haired murderer in a trench coat stalking the streets with a machine gun. It's mostly black and white, except for the red smears of blood and orange explosions, which really makes them pop. Its shotgun, a staple across violent games for decades and a great way to measure any shooter, has a tight spread, and when pellets connect with a wall, it splinters wood which goes flying around the room with realistic physics. It does something similar to people's faces.

Image: Destructive Creations

There's a level in a suburban neighborhood, a city, a train station and more, but the goal is always the same. Kill some people, survive the responding police officers, execute them to regain health, and reach the end of the level.

It's satisfying in the same way it's satisfying to jump on and crunch big piles of dry leaves, but Hatred's essentially a 2015 remake of the first Postal (named after "going postal"), which stirred up the same controversy when it was released in 1997.

I understand how it's still offensive, but Hatred doesn't do anything new. Just look at this fan-made video that recreates Hatred's trailer inside of Grand Theft Auto V, a game that sold 52 million copies with relatively little controversy.

Try as it might, Hatred's about as shocking as a middle-schooler who returned from Hot Topic with a few Slipknot t-shirts, and the most offensive thing about it are system crashing bugs, which is not something you see often in 2015.

Nintendo, meanwhile, isn't known for developing shooters and has always resisted the now ubiquitous world of online gaming, but last week it somehow managed to release Splatoon, the most interesting, original online shooter I've played in years.

Instead of bullets, its childlike "inkling" characters shoot paint out of super soakers. Where the ground or walls are painted in their color, the inklings can turn into squids and swim in the paint quickly instead of walk.

Two teams of four head into an arena arranged like a paintball course or skate park, and while they can shoot paint and splatter (the equivalent of a "kill") one another, the goal is to paint the stage with your team's color. When the timer buzzes, a fat cat in a bowtie evaluates the resulting mess, and the team that painted more of the stage in its color wins.

Image: Nintendo

Why paint instead of bullets? Why squids? Why the fat cat in the bowtie?

Because it's fun, which like the best Nintendo games is Splatoon's only concern.

The paints are bright, shiny, and splat all over the place with funny farting noises. And beyond the joyful aesthetic is also brilliant, radical design choices. No matter how many guns you add to Call of Duty or how "in your face" Hatred is, at the end of the day those games boil down to your ability to set your sights on someone's head and pull the trigger.

Splatoon has that too, but the primary target is everything else. By asking players to run across the level and hold their turf by painting the walls and floor, Nintendo invented an entirely new way to play shooters.

It's too soon to say for sure, but there's also a chance that Splatoon will develop a very interesting competitive scene. Players have only begun to scratch the surface of what's possible, but they're already finding interesting strategies that are sure to evolve over time. I hope I never run into this player, for example, who splattered other players 31 times in a single match.

'Hatred' is about as shocking as a middle-schooler who returned from Hot Topic

SmashBoards, a home to the competitive scene for Nintendo's fighting game Smash Brothers, has opened SquidBoards, which aims to serve the same function.

Nintendo goes through periods where it doesn't seem like the company can keep up with the gaming industry, and the last couple of years seemed dire indeed. Wii U sales faltered, and after holding out for a long time, a few months ago the company finally did what shareholders wanted and announced it's getting into the free-to-play mobile games business.

But it just when you think Nintendo is losing touch that it proves it's still on the cutting edge. Other shooters try to outdo each other with new technology, adult subject matter, and flirting with taboos. Nintendo doesn't need to. A game like Splatoon is too much fun to hide behind long, greasy hair, a trench coat, and a shitty attitude.

Splatoon released May 28 and costs $60 in retail or through Nintendo's eShop. Hatred launched today and is available through Steam.