Don’t Get Cooked!
Splatoon is truly the little engine that could. One of Nintendo’s newer franchises, debuting in 2015 on the Wii U, this third-person ink shooter took the world by storm. Though I wasn’t keen on the original game at first glance, it’s easy to see why it became a hit, especially in Japan: hip and colorful characters, regular free updates, and a focus on splatting turf instead of merely shooting others. Only two years later, Splatoon 2 brings the squid kids back to shore. As with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it plays very closely to the original but brands itself as a sequel. There are a few enjoyable new bells and whistles, but some baffling decisions keep this sequel from being more than a modest upgrade.
Check out the fresh Video Version here!
Splatoon 2’s main multiplayer mode, Turf War, provides largely the same experience as its predecessor. You’re matched into a team of four Inkling kids armed with ink shooters, rollers, brushes, and other weapons, all sharing one goal: paint the town. In each three minute round, you must cover more ground with your ink color than your opponents. I’m not a fan of shooters at all, but the notion of using weapons to claim turf instead of solely blasting others, has made me an unlikely fan. Adding to the uniqueness of this unorthodox paintball game, you can transform into a squid to swiftly swim in your own ink and perform super jumps across the map to assist your teammates. The loss of the Wii U GamePad’s second screen inevitably means that checking the map and super jumping will obstruct your view. But it’s worth it for the opportunity to use the more refined gyro control of the compact Switch controllers for precision aiming.
Turf War’s gameplay is as fun as ever, even if it doesn’t feel fresh. An assortment of new stages and weapons keeps the game from feeling like a total retread. Some stage layouts are a bit dull and blend together, with the exception of the curvy Humpback Pump Track and the returning vertical Moray Towers. The new Splat Dualies, which let you dual-wield shooters and roll around the battlefield, are fun to use. More importantly, join a large stable of weapon types, complementing different playstyles. Subweapons and game-changing special attacks that are paired to each unique weapon substantially differentiate the firearms.
I rarely had any issues with the online. The game ran inky smooth at a constant 60fps with barely any lag. You’ll likely be disappointed to know that there is once again no voice chat in-game, which is unfortunate, given the reliance on teamwork. There’s something resembling a solution thanks to the Switch Online App for phones, which allows for voice chat in a specific private friend lounge. It’s a very restrictive option, though.
The issues surrounding the online lobbies are more problematic. You essentially have to choose whether you want to play with a group of friends or play regular online mode for bonuses at the sacrifice of matchmaking control. Private lobbies let you experience the former, letting you choose anything from gameplay mode to teams. But since you don’t earn the experience points and coins that are necessary to earn ability-granting gear and nifty weapons, you’ll likely mostly play regular online battles. You can join a friend currently playing, but you can’t choose teams, so you’re still likely to get paired with three random players against your friend. To make matters worse, you can’t switch weapons in the lobby, so you’d have to leave and rejoin. I’d love if we could play in teams with friends to face random opponents. The team-oriented League Battle is the closest to that vision, but it’s also locked behind ranking high in Ranked Mode.
Speaking of which, Ranked Mode is home to three wildly different and more exciting 4v4 battle styles. Splat Zones is a more localized version of Turf War, making it more intensive. Tower Control is a “tug-of-war” game where you must ride a tower safely back to your base. This version adds checkpoints, in which the tower is forced to a temporary stop to help the other team catch up – a welcome addition. Rainmaker, a variation on “capture the flag” and my favorite of the bunch, pits your team in a race to get the titular powerful weapon and bring it to the opposing team’s base. I enjoyed the madcap back-and-forth and the tense rushes to the finish while blasting foes with the Rainmaker. These modes weren’t in the launch version of the first Splatoon, so having them on day one boosts the overall starting package.
As great as these ranked playstyles are, the windows to play each mode are restricted. The game rotates which of the three games you can play every two hours, during which time you cannot play the other styles. Though the schedules are a slight improvement over the original game’s four hour rotation, it’s disappointing for players who simply want to enjoy a specific mode. These limitations also apply to the stages; you can only play the same two stages every two hours, which has the adverse effect of making matches feel repetitive. At least in Splatoon 2, you aren’t constantly interrupted anytime maps and modes are updated, though you are still kicked out into the main hub no matter where you are.
Most of what I’ve mentioned thus far were all eventually part of the first Splatoon, albeit with minor changes. The one truly original game mode is Salmon Run, and it’s a blast. Unlike everything else, it’s a challenge between your four-man group and wave after wave of Salmonids, creepy fishlike creatures that rush after you as in a horror flick. Your ultimate objective is to amass a quota of golden eggs by defeating a set of bosses, all with their own unique attack patterns and weak spots. Taking down one gigantic steel fish who throws explosive ink bombs may be doable, but facing that alongside a huge steel eel dripping toxic ink is an absolute rush. There were numerous times when my group couldn’t make it past the final wave of Boss Salmonids. But when we reigned supreme, I couldn’t help but fist pump out of pure thrill from our excellent comradery.
Salmon Run is my new favorite experience for the series, but it comes with one of the worst limitations. The mode is only playable at very specific times that are up to Nintendo’s discretion. It’s a pointless restriction that holds the game back; it’s the only original mode, and yet there are entire days when I can’t play it. I hope this limitation eventually gets resolved, because I’d love to freely enjoy it. Note that you can play Salmon Run and all other multiplayer modes in local play at all times, but only if everyone supplies their own game and console. Yeah…
Last but certainly not least, Splatoon 2’s single-player is solid as ever, essentially taking the multiplayer gameplay and creating a solo action platformer. This new set of nearly 30 levels acts as a Super Mario Galaxy 2-esque expansion pack, trading novelty for tighter design. I’m not making a haphazard comparison to Galaxy either; it may not be as magical as Mario’s Wii masterpieces, but it features inspired linear platforming and stage elements, like its absorbent expanding sponges and ink rails. The overall campaign is longer too, sitting at about six to eight hours, with the challenge ramping up immensely for the final few worlds and bosses. I’ve always found Splatoon’s story mode underrated, and I’m ecstatic that Nintendo put in the time to make another fully-featured story mode.
Splatoon 2 oozes with charm, literally; I can almost feel the ink splashing off the screen. The inklings are as adorable as ever, and the new Squid Sister replacements are already notoriously popular. The game is just as bright and sharp on the Switch handheld, even with a lower resolution compared to docked mode. The blend between hip rock and squeaky vocals continue to give the game its cool identity.
If you were a fan of the original Splatoon and want more out of it, there’s no question that the sequel is for you. It’s more fully-featured off the bat than the first game was at launch, and the new modes help prevent the experience from getting old too quickly. My main gripes revolve around the limitations Nintendo has placed around friend matchmaking and mode availability. Why can’t I form teams with friends against randoms? Why can’t I play Salmon Run online anytime? These are big questions that have no satisfying answers, and I hope that the free updates resolve some of these issues. And perhaps the free DLC and worldwide Splatfest competitions can provide much needed doses of novelty. Still, if you’re like many that missed this experience on Wii U, then the addictive ink-splatting action more than outweighs the game’s limitations. Splatoon 2 may not have stayed fresh, but it’s still off the hook!
Version 1.0 of Splatoon 2 was used for this review.