It is with great pleasure that we no longer talk about the Wii U as Nintendo's big mistake. Instead, it is now firmly ensconced as everybody's favourite second console, even some gamers' first. And titles like Splatoon are prime examples as to why.
Conversations amongst game fans are now about the cool moments had with a Mario, Donkey Kong or other Nintendo titles rather than the battery life of the GamePad or the fact that Wii U sits between two generations of consoles, fitting in with neither.
It has been a long time since a Nintendo console was credited for having one of the best multiplayer shooters around – since the days of Goldeneye or Perfect Dark perhaps – but that's what it has in Splatoon. That and a new intellectual property that will firmly establish itself amongst the publisher's great and good for years to come.
An inky extravaganza
What's more, it does it without spilling a single drop of blood. Splatoon is all about ink, you see – shooting it, swimming in it, and all-round revelling in it.
While it is a third-person shoot-em-up with undertones of and nods to GTA multiplayer, Unreal Tournament, Halo and Call of Duty, it is also something unique and, as a Nintendo title, blooms with cuteness and humour that ensure it's wholesome fun for all the family.
That's where the ink comes in. Rather than blast bullets, pellets or any other kind of pointy projectile, your character – who is half human, half squid, something we'll come to later – wields a collection of weapons that spray, paint or crown ink. And that changes the objective from a seek-and-destroy one like many (if not all) other multiplayer shoot-em-ups.
The main objective, in Turf War, Ranked Battle and any other multiplayer modes at least, is to cover as much ground with your colour of ink as possible before a timer runs down. Of course, you still get to dispatch rivals with your arsenal, but more to ensure that they have less time to cover ground with their own hue rather than for the satisfaction of hearing them squeal.
Most multiplayer modes are four against four (although one on one is possible), and with a wide selection of weapons available to you (after they have been bought through in-game stores or unlocked using the Splatoon-earned currency) that leads to multitudes of team set-ups – sometimes with hilarious effect.
For example, once available, team members can sport ink-shooting sniper rifles, Super Soaker-style blasters, even giant paint rollers – all of which cover the ground in different ways and send foes to respawn back at their base in sometimes spectacular fashion. Having a selection of them on a level can ensure success, but you can bet you will have great fun trying them all out at times.
In addition, each weapon loadout comes with an alternative secondary device, such as an ink grenade, sticky bomb or, even, a shower unit that sprays an impenetrable wall of your team's colour that the other team get stuck behind for a short duration.
There are also special powers that players can enact once earned through covering as much ground as possible and they are awesome when unleashed. A particular favourite is the nuke-style ink cyclone that covers an enormous amount of the map and batters any rivals caught within its blast radius.
Ink isn't just used for aggressive or decorative manoeuvres, it can also be swam through – an act that is required often. Not only does it allow your character's squid form to travel more quickly when you are whipping through your own colour, but it replenishes your ink reserves as the amount you can shoot is limited.
Diving into the ink also makes you invisible to enemies, enabling some sneaky tactics to get around them – but only if there is enough of your own ink on the ground. As soon as you touch the rival colour, you pop up ready to face their wrath.
Swimming through ink is also an essential strategy within the single-player mode, although covering ground is not the main objective in this instance. Single-player is a different kettle of fish to multiplayer, and somewhat of a side-show, but it is a wonderful aside that is about as Nintendo as Nintendo gets.
Instead of map layouts that encourage splattering, single-player is laid out in platform-style levels with end bosses along the way – think Mario armed with a paint gun.
Alien enemies pop up to vanquish you, but it doesn't descend into shoot-em-up action that often, instead presenting puzzle elements throughout. Each level introduces new objects and objectives for you to figure out. It doesn't take too long to get through all of the levels though, although bosses can take several plays to figure out how to beat them.
Even getting to the single-player campaign is a strange affair – by spotting an odd character peeking out of a grate in the main plaza-style hub of the game – but it is rewarding for at least one play through and doesn't seem so much an afterthought as a training area to hone your skills.
That's because the main thrill of Splatoon very much lies in its multiplayer action and for good reason. We've so far played plenty of battles and every time we find someone doing something new and, generally, funny.
We haven't played a multiplayer game that has made us laugh so much since the original Mario Kart on the SNES and, specifically, in its battle arena mode. That is high praise indeed and a sure fire sign that Nintendo is back to its very best when it comes to game design.
Splatoon wowed us and many other industry critics back at its unveiling at the E3 gaming expo in 2014. A year on, after some refinement and expansion, this is Nintendo doing what it does best: making quirky, quality games that will keep gamers of all levels coming back for more.
It's a game that delights and rewards in equal measure, with character progression and a clever player-matching system that makes sure you only play opponents of your skill level. Single-player is a very good too, although not a particularly lengthy addition to the multi-player core.
All that leads to some of the most fulfilling online battles we've had in some time – and a game that's genuinely different to the typically blood-strewn shooters. It's another slice of Nintendo goodness that's not only an essential buy for Wii U owners, but a good reason to jump on board if you haven't already been convinced by the now strong line-up of exclusive titles already.
Well done Nintendo, you have indeed done it again. Splatoon is one ink-credible multiplayer shooter.
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