There is an easy kind of brilliance to Nintendo at its best - although I'm sure there is nothing easy at all about creating this sort of impression in the first place. Anyway, it's down to a sort of pulling together of all parts of a game's design, reeling things in until what you have in your hands in rich and coherent and easy to understand. Last week Nintendo was showing off its forthcoming single-player stuff for Splatoon 2, and the sense throughout was of that richness, that coherence, and weirdly enough, the welcome surprises it can allow for.
Coherence! You already see this sort of thing in Splatoon in the way that ink becomes territory and territory becomes safety, a speed boost, and the ability to refill ammo. Splatoon's latest offering is a suite of single-player levels called the Octo Expansion. It's based around the conceit of a trip on the underground, as far as I can tell, each new mission starting with you standing before turnstile gates and paying to pass through into...what next?
Oh man, great stuff awaits, all of it familiar, all of it surprising. Take the Baller, a stand-out power-up from the multiplayer, in which you get to spend a few glorious seconds rolling around inside a massive hamster ball before triggering it to explode in a shower of ink. The genius of the Baller in the middle of a match is not just that it's handy but it's so desirable: you want it so much, and when you get it, it's yours for a matter of seconds and then it's gone.
It's been five months since Splatoon 2 launched on the Switch but, as is increasingly the case in Nintendo's approach to its online-focussed games, work hasn't slowed in the slightest. Last week saw the launch of Clam Blitz, an all-new and extremely frenetic ranked mode which brings a football flavour to the colourful chaos of Splatoon. It's extremely strategic, and quite brilliant. We got offered the chance to fire some questions to Hisashi Nogami, Splatoon's producer, to talk about updates, music and much more.
If you had asked me at the start of this year what I thought a year spent playing multiplayer games would look like, I probably would have talked about muting people and about the frustration of being shot from halfway across the map by someone I couldn't even see. Crucially, I wouldn't have thought of Hearthstone or Diablo or any of the other multiplayer games I have always loved, because multiplayer - online multiplayer - for me still meant the unexamined cliches I had carried with me for years. Multiplayer was something I did not do, so the multiplayer games I already played all the time must be something subtly different.
It is so rare in games to go to war for something you believe in. And yet going to war is such a big part of the deal with games. You go to war against demonic entities in Doom. You go to war against space fundamentalists in Halo. Games are filled with rogue states and splinter groups, with orcs and Chaos creatures: all kinds of things that need a generalised shoeing. But these things are so numbingly removed from real life, so good-versus-evil that it's hard to feel like you have much skin in the game.
I read a wonderful thing once about ants, and it made me love them more than I did already - and I already really loved ants. This thing I read - I cannot remember the source or the specifics - talked about how ants construct their nests, how they achieve a level of intelligence together that no single ant actually possesses. The thrust of this, as I remember it, is that ants are very good at counting. As they wander off in the morning to do something useful, they count the number of ants they see doing the various things they are doing, and through this counting, the ant who is looking for something useful to be a part of builds up a sense of where they are most needed.
Splatoon 2 has more than its share of issues. Its lobby system is a mess, its map rotation system can frustrate and if you want to play alongside friends there's a ludicrous number of hurdles you have to jump over, and you'll probably end up stumbling over half of them anyway. It's far from perfect, then, but at moments like this weekend's inaugural Splatfest, you'd do well to convince me this isn't as good as gaming gets in 2017.
We're no strangers to Splatoon 2, of course. It was one of the very first Switch titles we played at Nintendo's launch event - and the chances are that if you own the hardware, you would have participated in one of its 'test fire' pre-launch beta tests. We've had the opportunity to play the final version of the game and can now address some of the burning questions fans are posing. Specifically, to what extent is the engine technology an upgrade over the debut Wii U title - and what resolution does the game deliver in its final form?
It is, if you want to look at it one way, simply more of the same. Splatoon 2's single-player doesn't offer up any big twists or surprises on the original's formula (okay, there is one delicious plot twist that I'll let you discover on your own), but that's not to say it doesn't have the ability to delight you over the course of its adventure.
We still don't have a final date for Splatoon 2 beyond a vague summer window, but we do at least have a better idea of what to expect from Nintendo's sequel to 2015's beautifully fresh online shooter. The past weekend's global testfire was, in what seems typical of Nintendo's approach to online, an eccentric and not exactly straightforward affair, with six hour-long slots spread across three days (and, if you were playing in the UK or Europe, often at ungodly times too). Still, two maps and four load-outs gave us plenty to chew over.
It's a simple fact that not enough people played Splatoon. Blame it on the Wii U's poor uptake, the game's toy town veneer putting people off or it just being a bit too slight at launch; Splatoon was a stand-out classic, but there aren't anywhere near enough people intimate with its charms.
Perhaps Splatoon 2 will change that - should the Switch prove more successful than the Wii U, which is a fairly low bar to leap - and right now it feels like a reintroduction rather than a retooling of the original. That's fine, and it's always nice to have an excuse to return to Nintendo's mercurially messy multiplayer game.
Right now, all that's being shown off is Turf War, the staple mode from the original Splatoon where players win territory by splashing it with colourful ink. There are a few additions, mind, most noteworthy of which is the Splat Dualies, a new weapon that requires a subtly different skill set to the existing arsenal.