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Nintendo brought their A-game to rAge this year, and by far the star of the show has to be the dedicated set-up for Splatoon, their upcoming third-person squad-based ink-em-up. I got the opportunity to play a couple of matches over the course of the first day, curious as to how well the Wii U’s controls might translate when dealing with the precision required for a competitive team shooter.

You play an Inkling, a weird child-like… thing which can transform between a human- and squid-form. This transformation allows you to hide and quickly traverse the map through the ink you lay down (mounting obstacles and walls that would otherwise be impossible), and generally be a sneaky little blighter. Die from a well-aimed ink-shot or bomb, and it’s back to the spawn point.

Splatoon sees two teams of four battle it out across an initially pristine terrain, with the goal being to coat as much of the surface area with your team’s ink as possible. This ink is crucial not only to victory, but your ability to traverse the map at record speeds, launch yourself over barricades and hide yourself from the enemy while you recharge your ammo. Similarly, it acts as a barrier for the enemy, slowing their walking speed and preventing them from swimming through.

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First off: It’s a ton of fun. There is something immensely satisfying with watching the map, as visible on the Wii U controller’s screen, slowly be immersed in your own team’s hue. Shifting between the Inkling’s squid and human form also allowed for a degree of sneakiness that I found delightful. The game starts in earnest right from the word go, with a balance required between engaging the enemy team and working on spreading your wet dominance over the map.

The game’s cute style also belies a deeper core; switching between your different forms deftly enough to maintain momentum on the map, your ammo meter filled (it replenishes slowly over time but more quickly while swimming within ink) and pressure on your opponents promises some great plays for dedicated teams. While death can be rare (I think in part because everyone was getting used to the controls), it’s a major setback when your opponents are on the offensive, especially if they’re close to your side of the map.

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That being said, the controls aren’t exactly conducive to this end. Nintendo in their wisdom decided to eschew the wisdom learnt from a decades worth of dual-stick shooter control schemes and instead have you aim with the pads motion sensors, tilting around the pad as best you can. This is initially befuddling, and takes some getting used to since the right-analogue stick is also used to aim your camera somewhat. It’s an odd choice, but by the third match I was becoming accustomed to it (though the camera would occasionally swing widely as I drowned under enemy fire).

Using the tablet did allow for some snap-shots I wouldn’t normally be able to perform on traditional console shooter without adjusting the sensitivity dramatically, so perhaps Nintendo is onto something.

When Splatoon was shown at E3, it stole the show, and now having played it I can definitely see what all the excitement was about. If they can tweak the controls, Splatoon represents an exciting new direction for Nintendo. If you come through, do yourself a favour and give it a go.

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