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Game Review

"The pen is mightier than the sword."

Way back in 1839 an English playwright by the name of Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that line. He might have been thinking at the time about a 1582 notation that credits the "dashe of a Pen" with trumping the "counterbuse of a Launce." But he most certainly was not imagining that his words would one day apply to a video game released in the near-mystical future date of 2015. OK, maybe "Ink is better than buckshot" would be the snugger fit, but Mr. Bulwer-Lytton was definitely dipping his pen in the right fountain.

Splatoon is Nintendo's first foray into the multiplayer shooter domain, a heavily pockmarked arena that's been dominated by the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield and Halo. The difference—and it's a big one—is that this trigger-puller replaces all the other games' graphic brain splashing and profane gushes of headset-connected trash talk with splats of colorful pigment and chaotic … fun.

All the action takes place in the bright and hip world of Inkopolis. It's the futuristic Mollusc Era, a time when humankind has been done in by an environmental holocaust (if you believe some secreted-away scrolls), while squids have evolved into hybrid beings called Inklings. They look human-ish (or at least lanky-teen-like) and they can shift at will between cephalopod and biped form. Oh, and these "kids" are all about decking themselves out in the latest skill-boosting sneakers and tees to help them splash ink around. Everywhere. All the time.

What's the Angle, Captain Cuddlefish?
The game is essentially divided into three sections. There's an offline Battle Dojo where color-spurting friends can match up in one-on-one contests and compete to see who can shoot down the most targets. More than anything, this mode helps get players used to the Wii U game controller and its motion-sensing tip-and-turn aiming system. (Because even though this game seems aimed squarely at the kiddie-cartoon set, its quirky controls can make it a frustrating enterprise for younger players.)

The second offline segment is a single-player campaign. It seems that Inkopolis' main source of power, the Great Zap Fish, has been snatched away by octopus-like invaders called Octarians. And through some 28 levels of Mario-ish ink-squirting jump-and-splash action, you get a sense of the many gaming moves at your disposal as you work diligently to reclaim that stolen prize.

The big whale of a good time here, though, is the online multiplayer romps. Gamers queue up and join a team of four randomly chosen Inklings from around the world who face off against other four-player teams in (at the time of this review) one of five different open area arenas. The goal is straightforward: Drench as much of that mall or warehouse in your color ink as is possible during a three-minute match. Sound simple? It's not!

Nothing Fishy Here
Inklings have a plethora of finely tuned, rapid-fire squirt guns, paint rollers, splattershot guns, inky squiffers and inkzookas to arm themselves with. And then as players attempt to splotch the scenery, they also have the task of splatting opponents with a face full of pigment pie, sending them back to their home goal to be reconstituted.

Then there's the constant need to refill your tank of fast-depleting ink. That can only be accomplished by turning into squid form and taking a dip into a pool of your own team's color for a few seconds. And while you're switching your form back and forth for recharge and stealth, coating the pathways as quickly as possible, setting up sprinklers or paint walls, eyeballing your splash-happy foes and trying to keep tabs on any nearby speed-painting pals, you suddenly realize that the original "simple" goal has become more of a crazy chaotic rush. And every strategic squirt or roll could mean the difference between dripping defeat or sloshing success.

And, quite frankly, that heated scramble of strategy and splurt is really the only "mess" families are forced to navigate here. So are all shooters still bad? Well, not if you think something like a good ol' fashioned water balloon fight in the backyard is a cool deal on a hot day. Youngsters feeling outmatched could well need a splash of early help from an older sibling or parent. But, hey, you might even find that the whole family wants to get their ink on. It's that kind of color-spewing fun. No squidding.

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