WE TAKE AN EARLY LOOK AT NIN­TENDO’S SPLA­TOON

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If there was a sin­gle crit­i­cism that I would lay at Nin­tendo’s feet based on the last decade or so, it would be that it’s a com­pany that has be­come far too happy to rely on the fame of its long- es­tab­lished fran­chises.

That Nin­tendo is will­ing to put the bulk of its chips on the suc­cess of new in­stall­ments in fran­chises like The Leg­end of Zelda, Su­per Mario, Mario Kart 3D, Don­key Kong or even the more re­cent Pik­min is wholly un­der­stand­able, but it’s nice to see some new blood ev­ery now and then, and with Spla­toon the com­pany is mak­ing its first ma­jor ef­fort to ad­dress that short­com­ing. An­nounced at last year’s E3, Spla­toon is a team- ori­ented third per­son shooter with a cou­ple of twists. Firstly, your char­ac­ters have the abil­ity to turn into squid at will, jump­ing into the liq­uidy good­ness that drenches ev­ery level in or­der to take enemies by sur­prise and spring traps, both of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive. The sec­ond, and ar­guably the most im­por­tant given Nin­tendo’s fam­i­lyfriendly tag, is the fact that it’s not semi- au­to­matic weapons and ex­plo­sives you’ll be tot­ing here but rather ink, and plenty of it! Although there’s noth­ing all that new about the con­cept of a cutesy team shooter ( Elec­tronic Arts re­cently de­liv­ered a pretty ster­ling ef­fort with PopCap’s Plants vs. Zom­bies: Gar­den War­fare), it’s the fact that this is a Nin­tendo- born project that re­ally gets me ex­cited. More specif­i­cally, this is a ti­tle that comes from Nin­tendo’s EAD 2 group, which is re­spon­si­ble for some of the com­pany’s most in­no­va­tive and in­ter­est­ing ef­forts over the past ten years. With a back cat­a­logue that in­cludes An­i­mal Cross­ing: Wild World, City Folk and New Leaf, Wii Sports, Sports Re­sort and Sports Club, Wii Play and Nin­tendo Land, EAD 2 is a team that’s not afraid to think out­side the box - how­ever the group’s out­put def­i­nitely hasn’t been to ev­ery­one’s lik­ing to date, even if the sales fig­ures might sug­gest oth­er­wise. If cute and quirky are ma­jor gam­ing turn- offs for you, then it’s highly likely that Spla­toon will tick all the wrong boxes, but for ev­ery­one else, par­tic­u­larly those look­ing for the per­fect tonic to the slew of all­toose­ri­ous shoot­ers we’ve seen in re­cent times, it’s shap­ing up to be

quite a promis­ing ef­fort. De­spite the fact that Spla­toon’s cute and colour­ful look and feel cou­pled with its non- lethal ar­se­nal of weapons does a fine job of set­ting the over­all tone here, they man­age to partly ob­scure what could well turn out to be a far more in­tel­li­gent shooter than many will give the game credit for. As two teams of four “inklings” ( es­sen­tially hu­man kids with the abil­ity to turn into squids) go up against each other, it quickly be­comes ap­par­ent that this isn’t a game fo­cused on kill/ death ra­tios or streaks. In fact, dam­ag­ing your op­po­nents isn’t even the real ob­jec­tive in Spla­toon - which prob­a­bly isn’t all that great a sur­prise given the fact that it’s Nin­tendo through and through.

In­stead, the aim here

is to cover as much of the map as pos­si­ble in your team’s colour ink. The more cov­er­age you’ve got on the ground, walls, ceil­ings and wher­ever else you can reach, the eas­ier it is to get around in squid form, which is a far more ef­fi­cient way to travel than run­ning. Div­ing into the ink serves not only to get you from A to B in a hurry, but also to re­fill your own ink gun, but clever op­po­nents will im­pede your progress by cut­ting off your ink with theirs, caus­ing you dam­age and slow­ing you down to a crawl, even when you’re not a squid. Those core me­chan­ics may sound lim­it­ing, but when the game is in full swing it’s gen­uinely as­ton­ish­ing how many dif­fer­ent ways there are to ap­proach any given battle, and as play­ers get to grips with the tac­tics nec­es­sary to suc­ceed here, I’m will­ing to wa­ger we’re in for some in­cred­i­bly tense on­line bat­tles. As we’ve come to ex­pect from Nin­tendo’s own Wii U ti­tles, Spla­toon is a se­ri­ously good look­ing game, and its fo­cus on con­trast­ing inks makes for some beau­ti­ful eye candy dur­ing each round. The char­ac­ter mod­els them­selves are noth­ing to write home about, and it’s un­likely we’ll see any fu­ture Nin­tendo he­roes emerge from the ti­tle, but they’re per­fectly ser­vice­able and do ev­ery­thing they need to with min­i­mal fuss. At the time of writ­ing, how­ever, there is a pretty ma­jor is­sue with Spla­toon that I’m hop­ing will be rec­ti­fied ahead of its May launch, and that’s the core con­trol sys­tem. As you’d ex­pect, you’ll move your char­ac­ter around us­ing the GamePad con­troller’s right thumb­stick, with the right hand trig­ger do­ing its now- stan­dard thing when it comes to un­leash­ing a vol­ley upon any enemies un­lucky enough to fall un­der your cross- hairs, but

the aim­ing is a whole other story. In­stead of the tried and tested method of us­ing the left ana­log stick ex­clu­sively for your aim­ing, Nin­tendo has de­cided it would be bet­ter to use the stick for just the hor­i­zon­tal plane, and the GamePad’s gyro sen­sor for all ver­ti­cal mo­tion, mak­ing aim­ing a lot more fid­dly than it has any need to be, and re­quir­ing far too much of the silly wag­gling that I had hoped we’d seen the last of sev­eral years ago. It could well be that it’s sim­ply a sys­tem that takes a lit­tle get­ting used to be­fore reap­ing the re­wards, but for me it just feels far too sloppy, so hope­fully Nin­tendo will add in the op­tion for more tra­di­tional con­trols be­fore the game launches. That aside, Spla­toon is shap­ing up to be a great ti­tle. The thoughts of Nin­tendo re­leas­ing a third per­son on­line shooter would’ve been ridiculed a year ago, never mind one that was ac­tu­ally de­cent, but Spla­toon hit­ting Wii U next month, we’ll find out for sure sooner rather than later.

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