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The curious case of Splatoon, Wii U's dollop of squidly joy

Splatoon is a game out of time. Steering its funky kid combatants around brightly lit arenas, spraying down thick smears of hot pink and olive green paint out of what looks like Super Soaker 50s, recalls the neon cartoon style of early-'90s cartoons. "Up next on Snick we've got the kids from Splatoon!" yell Keenan and Kel between commercial breaks.

That each pony-tailed gunner turns into a squid that can sink into paint smeared on any surface, refilling their ink stockpile for more shooting and speedily sneaking around the grounds avoiding fire, gives Splatoon a surrealistic Nintendo flair but even its cephalopodic nature has a whiff of the Double Dare about it. Even if it feels a bit like a cultural relic, it's a vibrant and vivacious entry in the Wii U library, bright and pleasing to hand and eye in the same charismatic way as Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World. My time with the game was encouraging, but I sincerely worry about Splatoon finding its audience on Wii U.

Splatoon demos on the E3 showfloor pit two teams of four against one another, "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys." No explanation as to why who's who, but we good guys fired the hot pink ink while the bad guys shot a Prince album-ready purple. The goal of the game is not to shoot the competition with your ink, though you can to rack up extra points. Victory in Splatoon comes from covering as much of the map as possible with your color, by either shooting or tossing bombs. In two rounds, it was easy to get a feel for the action, even using motion control aiming with the Wii U GamePad (which can, thankfully, be turned off). Turning into a squid by holding the left trigger, squidding around in the paint filling up your supply, then tossing a bomb into a choke point captured the messy pleasure of a killer squirt gun fight. Winning, our victory confirmed by a morbidly obese cat declaring which team took the largest percentage of paint coverage, was a hoot.

Great for Splatoon! And great for Miyamoto's junior team who spearheaded the project back in Japan. The only question now: Who will play? Splatoon will live or die based on the population of people playing online and unless the multiplayer community on Wii U grows by leaps and bounds in the near future, the inky good times might be lacking in players. With Mario Kart 8 getting folks playing now and Super Smash Bros. Wii U promising to bolster those ranks even more in the fall, that community stands a good chance of growing up, but it's by no means guaranteed.

For everyone clambering endlessly for new series and characters from Nintendo's internal studios, here it is. Splatoon is the game you've been shouting for. Just make sure you actually play it.