Platform: Wii U
Developer / Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: Out now
Nintendo making an online multiplayer shooter may not sound right, but it absolutely feels right in action. They are often criticised for being too old school, too afraid of new ideas - and yet with Splatoon Nintendo have taken on a modern genre, given it a brilliant twist, and produced their most creatively successful new IP since 2001's Animal Crossing.
How they've subverted the typically blood-soaked shooter genre is delightfully simple: instead of shooting other players, the object is to shoot everything else.
Your squid/kid (called in Inkling) carries a tank full of ink and a weapon to dish it out, which they must use to coat as much of any given map as possible. Areas glazed with your ink can be used to travel faster using the characters' squid form, which also replenishes ink and can be used to sneak up on opponents. The team which covers the most surface area by the end of the round wins.
Shooting opposing players does kill splat them, creating a small burst of your ink and sending them back to their respawn point – so there are classic shooter tropes still – but the emphasis on the environment makes Splatoon unique, fresh and perfect for a younger audience.
Controls default to the motion control of the Wii U's Gamepad, used for aiming in conjunction with the analogue sticks for movement. It's a little troublesome to start but gets easier and certainly has its champions. For those who wish to avoid motion control, they can switch it off immediately after the initial tutorial.
Once that tutorial is complete players are dropped into Inkopolis, the game's hub area, where everything in the game is accessed. There's the online lobby, local 1-on-1 multiplayer Battle Dojo, single player story mode, and four shops where players can buy new weapons and clothing.
Headwear, shoes and shirts can be mixed and matched to make the most of the various perks they come with, but unfortunately cannot be saved as load-out options for quick changes. Frustratingly there isn't even the ability to switch weapons between games in the lobby. Players must return to the hub to do so.
While it only takes a matter of seconds to walk from the multiplayer lobby to the stores or single player, each can also be tapped on the gamepad to instantly load – streamlining the experience should you want. Players will however want to go up to the characters who occupy Inkopolis to see some of the impressive and bizarre Miiverse artwork on show.
Multiplayer is the key component of Splatoon of course, and where players will spend most of their time. Rounds in the standard 4-on-4 Turf War mode are three minutes long: a seemingly short but perfect amount of time for what the game is. Each match is frantic and chaotic, but the aims of the player are always clear despite the lack of voice chat which many have criticised.
Voice chat among friends would be a nice addition, but the game does not suffer for a lack of communication. The gamepad's map fills with the brightly coloured inks of the opposing teams and shows where your teammates are, marking areas in need of attacking or defending clear.
In ranked mode (unlocked after players reach level 10) is a different game mode which focuses the action on specific contestable areas. Fill the zone or zones up with your ink and your team will control it, which in turn ticks down a counter to victory.
Aptly, given it's for players of a higher level, Splat Zones is tougher than Turf War and a good sign that the game's mechanics can be applied to more inventive modes to come in free updates over the summer.
These levels will seemingly occupy a third slot in the map rotation, which switches a set of two in regular and ranked play every two hours. It's a good indication that a fair few maps are on their way to expand the game's content.
Hopefully the levels yet to come will add to the current set of rather basic levels (in terms of features, not layouts) and utilise some of the elements of Splatoon's surprisingly robust single player. Sponge platforms that inflate with ink and shrink with enemy ink and some of the tougher obstacles would make great additions.
It's a credit to the single player that the absence of such features in multiplayer is felt. The fact the story mode can be easily likened to Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy should also be a clear indicator of the quality on offer. Utilising the classic Mario formula, each level takes a single concept and tests the player with it, combining the features later on to increase the challenge.
The story takes place in an open, Mario-style over-world called Octo Valley, comprised of five zones that each climax with a boss encounter. These bosses are enormous fun, putting the core mechanics of the game to a better test than in the multiplayer and duly proving just how wonderfully refined they are.
The final boss in particular is a real treat nearly worth the price of admission alone. It's one of the finest video game boss battles for many years, calling to mind both classic Nintendo and even the soaring excitement of Platinum games.
Each boss is also - like the game itself - delightfully insane from top to bottom. The idea of kids who turn into squids spraying ink at each other with super-charged super-soakers is relatively tame compared to the octopus DJ boss, or other characters like the flag-toting fat cat orchestrating matches and the furry shrimp who sells shoes.
Considering this is Nintendo's first foray into a very busy genre, Splatoon is a great achievement. There are some technical irritations that mire the experience a little however. Matchmaking isn't rock solid and joining friends often means not playing on the same side, and infrequently, not joining them at all.
Despite those niggles the game around which everything spins proves to be a rock-solid coming together of great concepts that intertwine seamlessly to create the most interesting third person shooter since Spec Ops: The Line (and for very different reasons).