No sooner had Nintendo announced both a new console and plans to extend its own gaming franchises to mobile devices than everybody was queuing to write off the Wii U again. However, recent hardware sales figures and critical acclaim for the titles that have appeared over the last 12 months have each proved that the innovative machine still has plenty of life in it yet.

It has gradually found its feet after a shaky start and is now more than just a guilty pleasure - it's a credible machine that has perhaps a greater array of triple-A titles you'd like to own than both Xbox One and PS4 combined.

Another of those will undoubtedly be Splatoon when it is released in May. It is a multiplayer third-person shooter with first-person mentalities that owes as much to Call of Duty as Mario Kart does to Gran Turismo. But like its kart racer stablemate redefines a genre in a way only Nintendo can.

Pocket-lint was invited to play the game for three to four hours, coincidentally on the same day as the Project NX console was announced, and even though we've not seen everything yet and the build we played was incomplete, we feel it is safe to say that Ninty has a sure fire hit on its hands.

For a start, we got to play all three of the main game modes. We played a bit of Turf War on the Nintendo stand at E3 last year, straight after the game's unveiling, but we had much more time with it this time around, including new maps. Then there was some play with the Ranked Battle mode we'd not seen before, featuring a new type of gameplay and some cunning player progression. And we played some levels of single-player, which adds all new elements to the game mechanics.

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All of the modes start from the same premise, which is as Nintendo and bonkers as it gets. You are a human that can turn into a squid or vice versa and ink is your weapon - indeed, the most important resource in the game. At its heart it is sort-of a Qix for the modern age in that you mostly have to cover as much ground with brightly coloured, shiny ink shot from a variety of weapons. In multiplayer games, you are with three other like-minded souls, competing against four on the opposite team, whose objective is identical. The winning team is the one that covers the most ground before the countdown clock ends.

Of course, it's not that simple. You can re-ink (we almost said "paint" there, but Nintendo is keen to stress that while it looks distinctly like gloss paint, it is in fact ink - you are a squid after all) over the top of your opponent's colour. And shooting enemies with the ink will harm them. Plus, when in squid form you can travel stealthily and speedily through your own colour, replenishing your ink supply at the same time.

This might all sound a little confusing but it immediately makes sense the moment you pick up the Wii U GamePad - like with all great Nintendo titles. Indeed, even the GamePad makes complete sense as it is used to enhance the game dramatically, through motion for aiming and a displayed map that can send you to the heart of battle after respawning with a tap of the touchscreen.

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Ranked Battles are similar although the gameplay changes from having to cover the entire level in ink to just a centrally located rectangle of ground. If your team has the upper hand in that zone a clock ticks down, if your opponents seize control, theirs does likewise. The team who hit zero first wins.

Both multiplayer modes (of which we played four versus four each time - although we were informed there will be a one versus one mode come launch) have additional benefits to players when not actually in competition. Turf War earns experience which can be used in shops in the Inkopolis Plaza to buy clothing, accessories and weapons - all of which having an in-game effect on your character. And the Ranked Battle mode gives you increased ranks, matching you against similar ranked players and offering other rewards.

And you'll certainly want to play and earn as much as possible as unlocking the weapons is not just a key to your success but one of the game's undoubted highlights. There are some amazing blasters and weapons to choose from in Splatoon.

Because of the ink-spraying mechanic there has been great licence to come up with some hilarious weapons of squid destruction. Highlights are the wide radius Blaster, the Super Soaker-style Splattershot and the Splat Roller, which is a wide paint roller that covers plenty of ground but slows down the player.

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In our play tests, where we tried all weapons, it soon became apparent that team strategy is required. You certainly can't have a team where everybody has the roller, for example, and a mix of weapons is best. There are also pro-style weapons that require more skill, and each gun comes with a secondary weapon, from grenade style ink sprayers to limpet mines. Finally, there is a special effect for every player that is unlocked in a battle when you have covered enough ground. Set that off and all hell breaks loose.

Single-player is different to the multiplayer modes as it is more a platform/puzzle game. You have to get to the end of each level in order to collect a Zapp Fish and restore power to Inkopolis. The evil Octolings have stolen them and it's up to you to foil their plans.

Of course, as octopus creatures, the Octolings have roughly the same abilities as you and one of the levels we played was effectively a single-player version of the multiplayer modes, swapping other gamers for the fishy foes. But single-player doesn't seem to be an afterthought at all, with some interesting skills and puzzles to conquer to get from zone to zone.

For example, one level has tiny sponges scattered around between platforms and you soon realise that your ink makes them expand, helping you to get to otherwise unreachable areas. Enemies can contract the sponges however, and thus strategy is needed.

We have to admit, single-player wasn't quite as exhilarating an experience as multiplayer, but you can bet we'll want to complete it as soon as the full game arrives.


And that can't come soon enough. Three to four hours of preview time is a lot these days, especially around two months before the finished game is due for release, but even that seemed woefully short. Not because we needed additional time to explore more of the game, but because Splatoon was one of the most accessible, funny and downright fun multiplayer experiences we've had since we first discovered the Mario Kart battle stages on the SNES. And we didn't want to stop playing.

If this early build is anything to go by, Nintendo has done it again. Ink-redible!