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Splatoon impressions: The surprising fun of Nintendo's new shooter

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Nintendo

Splatoon is out now for Nintendo Wii U, and Nintendo’s marketing efforts have focused solely on the four vs. four multiplayer aspects of the game. This is, after all, Nintendo’s first take on the online multiplayer shooter, and it’s about as far from Call of Duty as you can get, so it takes a little explaining.

You control an Inkling — an anime-looking kid who can transform into a squid — and you shoot neon-colored paint at enemies and to coat the environment. You can then swim through your team’s colored ink, which lets you move faster and jump farther all while replenishing your ink. It’s all very bright and colorful, like 1990s-era Nickelodeon exploded on your screen—in a good way.

The first mode available is called Turf Wars, and the focus isn’t on shooting your opponents so much as trying to paint as much of the environment as possible. The team with the most area painted at the end of three minutes wins. It’s a pretty simple but extremely engaging gameplay loop, and like the best Nintendo games, everything feels just right (once you turn off the default motion controls).

But as Nintendo’s first online multiplayer shooter, there are some kinks to be worked out. Matchmaking is extremely bare bones, there’s absolutely no voice chat, and at launch there are just a handful of modes and maps available. More are promised after launch, though there’s no timeframe yet, so it’s unclear whether Splatoon will have legs (tentacles?) to keep the multiplayer community engaged.

Fortunately, there’s a single-player campaign, though it’s oddly being downplayed by Nintendo, especially considering how amazing it is. I’d actually recommend heading to the campaign before jumping into multiplayer, as it’s a great training ground to get a hang of the fundamentals, which will prove immensely helpful once you hop online.

In a lot of ways, the single-player mode feels like a spiritual successor to Super Mario Sunshine, the underrated Gamecube title where Mario used a water gun to clean up a tropical island. But instead of cleaning it up, you’re making a huge mess (which let’s face it, is a lot more fun). The game constantly introduces new mechanics and then forces you to master them, all culminating in boss battles that require you use everything you’ve learned.

Splatoon is Nintendo’s first big new property with original characters in quite some time, and as a multiplayer shooter it feels incredibly fresh and vibrant amongst a sea of browns and darker browns. But even if you aren’t interested in online multiplayer, it’s worth a shot. For a game that’s being marketed as a shooter, Splatoon secretly might be the year’s best platformer.