Just bringing back the incredibly fun and intuitive ink-spraying action of the first Splatoon, coupled with a new single-player campaign, was enough to get me excited about Splatoon 2, but after playing the game’s horde mode, Salmon Run, it’s becoming more obvious just how much content this sequel is packing, and I now see myself putting some serious time into what at first seemed like a mere distraction.
The stage I played at Nintendo’s booth saw four players sent to a small section of land by the sea, well on the outskirts of the inklings’ world. We were told by our labcoat-wearing rep (and fellow inker) that the goal was to survive three waves of hideous ocean spawn that would soon be laying siege to our tiny little island. Once the timer hit zero, prehistoric fish began crawling out of the surf, spreading their vile green goo and inching their way toward us. This initial wave feels like a standard horde mode for any shooter, a simple formation that covers all sides does the trick, but things quickly changed as a mini-boss-sized scaly blob emerged. We were directed to blast him to pieces, then collect the precious eggs he dropped and carry them back to a basket near the center of our territory. Only one egg can be carried by each person at a time, however, so some must protect while others collect. These eggs are necessary to progress to the next wave and add a nice sub-goal in between all the shooting.
The second wave brought more sea creatures and some different mini-bosses, each of which required different tactics to repel or destroy, but more importantly, it also saw the tide come in, reducing the amount of space our squids could swim around in. This alteration to the landscape lent some added tension to the proceedings, as suddenly our team felt real pressure while the fish army closed in. The reduction of play space was a brilliant wrench in the works for a game that accustoms its players to relying so much on joyfully free movement. In fact, our once-solid team was sent into disarray, every man and woman for themselves, and we were soon decimated. A second go-round gave us the chance to redeem ourselves, and this time prepared for the squeeze, we were able to hold together and rise to the challenge.
Finally, the third wave eased things back by receding the waters (thus giving us the original dimensions of our land back) but ratcheted them up again by introducing even more monsters and requiring an even larger number of eggs to be collected. A giant metal snake twisting its way through the level was a particular annoyance, showering green slime and wreaking havoc with one particular player. Animals can tell when you don’t like them, and I swear this thing was following me. I was able to get my revenge by sacrificing myself by dropping in behind and shooting past its defenses (each major enemy requires different tactics to defeat), however, and thanks to a handy system that allows your allies to provide assistance to a downed teammate, I was able to join in the victory celebration.
The whole battle took about 15 minutes, but I was quickly convinced at how fun and different Salmon Run felt than Splatoon 2’s regular online modes. Different wordless tactics were required, and if Nintendo has provided enough variation on the waves of enemies, I can see myself joining three other random strangers time and again for this surprisingly tense and exciting new inking experience.