Splatoon has quickly become one of Nintendo's biggest franchises, selling nearly 10 million copies across two games since 2015. Naturally, this has put the game's Inklings in the spotlight, making them instant fan-favorites. However, this wasn't always the plan. Long before Nintendo decided on squids and kids, they considered numerous options for Splatoon protagonists, and the job almost went to Yoshi.
In the early days of Splatoon's development, the playable characters were simply represented as blocks of tofu. Eventually the team shifted to rabbit characters, but when they realized they had no good explanation for why rabbits would be shooting ink, they began to consider using an existing Nintendo IP instead. At this point, Yoshi entered the picture.
GameSpot: During your presentation, you showed an image of Yoshi, and it looked like he was in the game. With the rabbits and with the tofu, that was obviously a prototype; but the Yoshi felt like much further along. How far did you get with putting Nintendo characters and other characters that we're familiar with in the game?
Hisashi Nogami: I think that option we were considering of whether or not to use pre-existing characters or IP came right around the time that we started to have doubts about our rabbit characters. We thought, "Okay, if not rabbits, then maybe we can consider these other characters."
Of course, as Nintendo developers we're aware of this stable of pre-existing characters we have and their appeal with players. It's not that if we had found a character that was perfectly matched to the type of gameplay we were trying to create that we would not have considered going with it. For Yoshi, he can come in many colors, change his color; he was in this case more appealing and a better fit than Mario.
But then when you get that far and think, "Well, okay, Yoshi can change his color, that makes him suitable," you run into the same questions. Why would Yoshi shoot ink or dive into ink? Is it okay that he wouldn't shoot his tongue out or throw eggs like he typically does?
GameSpot: In that prototype, did Yoshi hold a gun or was he shooting the ink out of his mouth?
Hisashi Nogami: Well, at the stage we were considering putting pre-existing IP into the game, including Yoshi, we had already decided that this was a game where we wanted to have a large variety of weapons and tools for you to use in order to shoot ink in different ways. We were already pretty far along with that idea, so rather than just give Yoshi the ability to shoot ink out of his mouth in one particular way, we had him hold these weapons that we had already started to design.
I quite enjoy the idea of an army of Yoshis battling it out with ink guns, but Nintendo's choice of creating all-new characters has clearly paid off in a big way. You can check out some of the Splatoon character prototype images by clicking the gallery below.