On paper, Splatoon’s release date was May 28th, 2015. Its actual launch, though? Well, that’s to be determined. Splatoon was a very solid shooter out of the gate, and I, for one, was thrilled with my $60 purchase. Many reviewers, however, fairly criticized it for an underwhelming amount of content and minimal matchmaking and multiplayer options. Nintendo made some lofty promises back at launch about free content updates throughout the summer, but I don’t think any of Splatoon’s players (or reviewers) could have anticipated the volume of support that the game has seen.

Not only did Splatoon redefine a horribly overworked genre, but it has pioneered an entirely new approach to post-release content distribution. Between weapons, maps, fresh kicks, ranked modes and Splatfest events, Splatoon today is already a drastically different game than the one that hit shelves two months ago. And that’s to say nothing of the massive update coming early next month that will raise the level cap and dramatically increase matchmaking choices, among other things. In light of all this, I wanted to take a look at this entirely new approach launching a game, and point out what I appreciate about it.

It’s all free

I won’t contest that Splatoon was light on maps, weapons and modes when I first played it. For some to suggest that it might not warrant its price, back then, was completely fair. To be an early adopter was to trust Nintendo to deliver on its promise of lots of free content for the first few months. A couple weeks went by and things were looking good: a few weapons here, a new map there… At this pace, by the end of summer we would have a fully stocked shooter.

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Here we are a month and a half later, and after close to ten updates I feel like this goal has already been met. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that the content keeps on coming. If I was content with my purchase back in May, and completely satisfied now, then anything else Nintendo throws my way going forward is just icing on the cake. The dozens of hours of enjoyment my daughters and I have gotten out of the single player campaign, online matches, outfitting our inkling and our first Splatfest have easily justified the price of admission.

And yet, August 5th will bring the game its biggest update yet, followed by continued weekly additions all the way into fall. Many games won’t let you buy this much content after launch, let alone give it to its entire player base for free.

Maintaining interest

It’s hard to keep me interested in a multiplayer shooter. Maybe it’s genre fatigue, or maybe I just get frustrated because the competition is too stiff. Either way, my routine with Call of Duty these days is to play through the campaign, spend a good dozen hours or so online, then gradually drift away to another big fall release.

With the content updates, new modes, and events like Splatfests, Splatoon has ensured that almost every time I turn it on, there’s some new experience waiting for me. I’ve spent some 40 hours online inking people across the globe, and there are still entire categories of weapons I have yet to experiment with. My inkling is currently level 17, I’m so close to max level now I can almost taste it. Oh wait… the level cap is being raised to 50 next week, case in point.

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Time to learn & enjoy the content

Most of Splatoon’s content updates so far were on the disc from the start. This made some wonder: Why not just give us access to everything from day one, and avoid the risk of lower review scores for lack of content? Well, I would have agreed with this sentiment, before I experienced the alternative. Parsing this content out in bite-size pieces has had a massive impact on the way I, and probably many others, consume it.

If you were to set a plate in front of me with 20 different, delicious appetizers on it, I would be excited. I’d find a few that look particularly tasty and chomp them down, and I would love every second of it. But by the fifth or sixth one my palate would be busy, I would start to feel full, and the rest of my options wouldn’t look nearly as appealing. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Splatoon launched with five maps and one game mode. While this probably wouldn’t keep me coming back for months and months on end, it absolutely whet my appetite for more. Also, the week or two we spent with these initial maps and modes allowed us to experiment with each weapon and learn the subtle strategy of every map. Whenever a new set of weapons, a map, or a new mode is added to the lineup, it’s like getting a new toy. I can look forward to spending some time with it and learning all of the fun things it can do.

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I won’t go so far as to say that Splatoon’s unique rollout could work for every game. When I buy Zelda, for example, I want a full adventure and massive world to explore from day one. For a multiplayer focused game, though, that asks you to come back and play it on a regular basis, this segmented release has proven to be amazingly effective. I’ve already played more Splatoon than any other online shooter in the past decade, or perhaps longer, and I’m still turning it on almost every day to see what’s new.

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Written by Brittin Shauers

Brittin literally grew up with Link, Mario and Samus. These three characters and their worlds collectively capture everything that he loves about video games.

Brittin Shauers