Splatoon preview

Well, this came as a bit of a surprise, didn’t it? During an E3 presentation where many expected Nintendo to play it safe with its usual Zeldas, Marios and (maybe) Metroids, it instead devoted a healthy chunk of time to a game about a bitter squid war. And from what we’ve played of it so far, they had every reason to.

Splatoon is a third-person shooter, the sort of thing you’d be more likely to find across the great gaming divide on other consoles. But where the Other Format offerings tend to be drab affairs where colour and charm are outlawed, Splatoon offers the opposite. So much so, in fact, that the player’s main objective is to cover the floors and walls with messy splashes of bright colours.

Click to view larger image The mode we played used a local network to recreate Splatoon’s online multiplayer, in which we competed with seven other gamers. Players are divided into two teams of four, each placed at opposite ends of a map. The teams are then given a set period (five minutes in our demo) to fulfil a simple goal: cover as much of the environment as possible with your own team’s ink.

This throws up instant tactical possibilities. Do you stick together in your group of four, slowly picking over the stage, methodically painting the town red (or pink, purple or turquoise)? Or do you split up into four lone wolves, each painting your own sections to try and cover a wider range of territory? Decisions, decisions…

There’s also the matter of a rival team trying to cover the same stage in their own hue. Do you take them on, or try to tactically work your way around them to avoid confrontation? After all, Splatoon can be unforgiving when it comes to combat, with only one or two hits allowed before you’re sent to an inky grave. Get involved in a mucky shootout, then, and it’s all but certain one (or maybe both) of you is going to peg it, respawning you all the way back at your starting point at your team’s end of the level.

Click to view larger image Even when this happens the risk/reward system remains in place. If you respawn back at the start and can’t be bothered trudging all the way back through the level to rejoin teammates – after all, time is of the essence – you can look at the map on your GamePad and tap the location of one of your fellow players. Your character is then flung up into the sky – a brilliant graphical touch that reminds us of Mario Galaxy’s soaring Launch Star jumps – and lands next to said pal, ready to get stuck in again.

It’s a cool party trick, but the risk is obvious: with your avatar literally flying through the sky there’s a good chance rivals will spot you and swarm on your landing zone. Should you get pinned down in combat you could always use the same jumping technique to escape.

Click to view larger image Of course, armed with a GamePad you’re well equipped for any face-off. Splatoon’s fairly unique control method is designed to take advantage of the controller’s idiosyncratic features. Whereas most third-person shooters use twin-sticks for movement, turning and looking, Splatoon throws gyroscopes into the mix. The left stick moves and strafes, while the right stick turns left and right. Looking and aiming, meanwhile, is controlled with the GamePad’s motion sensing capabilities similar to the Zelda mini-game in Nintendo Land.

While this takes a game or two to get used to, the benefits eventually become clear, as it allows you to spray paint around the stage with a far more fluid and accurate motion. However, a more standard twin-stick-only control method has been promised for those who prefer to stick to more traditional Gears of War-style controls.