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Splatoon Review

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Murder Ink

★★★★

While the Wii U, in sales terms, has never really taken off, it has stealthily built up a mightily impressive roster of games. Nintendo remains at the very top of its game as far as games development is concerned and Splatoon offers further proof of that in an irresistibly beguiling and innovative manner.

The best way to describe Splatoon would be as: “My first third-person shooter.” Naturally, it isn’t a shooter in any conventional sense, although it does derive much of its gameplay from the mechanism of shooting. This being a Nintendo game, though, you aren’t armed with anything that involves virtual lead, rather a state-of-the-art water-pistol that shoots jets of ink.

Hit the Game Pad’s left trigger, and you transform from a human character into a squid – which means you can swim through ink, as long as it’s ink of whatever colour you happen to be shooting at the time. Enemies, naturally, shoot ink back at you, and moving through wrong-coloured ink is like wading through treacle; the more ink is shot at you, the more damage you sustain. Several types of ink-bombs also feature, and eventually you find special weapons such as an ink-bazooka and an ink-sniper.

When Nintendo first demoed Splatoon, it was strictly an online game, with two teams of four players taking each other on across various brilliantly designed arenas. This four-versus four action still features (the lobbying system won’t let you start a game with less than – or more than -- eight players), and proves riotously good fun in the party-game style. There are two online modes: the first challenges each team to have covered a greater percentage of the arena in their paint-colour after a designated time, and the second involves the teams keeping designated areas of the arenas painted in their colour for longer periods than their competitors.

While the basics are laughably simple, clever little details add a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay. For example, you can barely jump in human mode, but if you cover a ramp with ink, you can swim up it. And you can jump from ledge to ledge in squid-mode – nailing particularly long jumps, for example, by painting vertical areas below the ledges you’re jumping to, clinging onto those and swimming up to the top. When you transform into a squid, you can swim through gratings and meshes – although if you’re standing on a grating and you transform, you’ll fall through it, sometimes to your death. Taking cover behind terrain is essential, and you aim your ink-jet using the Game Pad’s motion-tracking.

The full innovative possibilities of this deceptively simple mode of gameplay are on display in Splatoon’s single-player game, which has one of the most judiciously ramped difficulty curves we’ve ever encountered, as well as some boss-battles which are insanely surreal and psychedelic, even by Nintendo’s exalted standards. There’s a gloriously daft but hopelessly flimsy storyline – you have to help Captain Cuttlefish get the Great Zapfish back from the evil Octarians who have captured it, by getting to the ends of various levels and freeing the (lesser) Zapfish that you find there; free six Zapfish, and you get to take on the area-boss.

While negotiating the single-player levels does require shooting various enemies, the bulk of the gameplay feels more platform-like, and there are countless cleverly thought-out touches which will have you chuckling, such as ink-lines you can zoom along (and jump off at just the right point), and platforms with fans on that move as long as you keep shooting the fans. Tiny sponges expand into huge platforms when you soak them. One level consists of paths that are invisible until they’ve been sprayed with ink. Luckily, you can upgrade various aspects of your gun, bombs and ink-container.

Both the single and multiplayer sides of the game are fantastically good fun, and provide plenty of rewards. As you level up in the multiplayer, you can buy better guns and new outfits, and the single-player game gets satisfyingly hard towards the end. Plus you can battle a mate in a balloon-shooting game on a single Wii U, with one player using the Game Pad’s screen to see what is going on, while the other uses a Wii Remote and the TV screen.

If you had to criticise, though, you would say it isn’t the most substantial game ever, and you wonder whether multiplayer proceedings might become a bit samey, unless Nintendo comes up with some new modes. However, Splatoon feels quite unlike any game that has gone before, and is both irresistibly cute and utterly moreish. It may seem counter-intuitive with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One getting fully into their strides, but now, surely, is the time to invest in a Wii U if you’re a true fan of videogames. Especially since you can now pick one up for as little as £140.