The Splatoon 2 Global Testfire occurred last weekend across six different one-hour sessions. Early adopters of the Nintendo Switch were treated to an early preview of the game while simultaneously acting as beta testers for the online multiplayer. Though many who took part in the Testfire voiced their enjoyment of it, there was also a vocal segment of players who deemed the game wasn’t enough of a deviation from the original to be called a sequel.
The mentality that Splatoon 2 isn’t a true sequel has been in the mindshare of gamers since the first wave of Switch rumors started surfacing. One of these rumors was that the Switch would receive “enhanced ports” of Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon. As a result, when Splatoon 2 was first shown at the Nintendo Switch Presentation in January, many viewers were pleasantly surprised when a “2” appeared at the end of the game’s name. But that surprise soon turned to cynicism as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe was confirmed and many gamers remembered the rumors. Did Nintendo deceitfully decide to name the game Splatoon 2 when it actually should’ve joined MK8 as a “Deluxe” edition?
This thought process continued as reports and footage started coming out of the numerous Nintendo Switch press events. What seemed like the majority of gaming outlets reporting on the events said almost the same thing about Splatoon 2: it was, well, just more Splatoon. Enjoyable, but with the content on show almost identical to the original save for the new weapons, sub-weapons, special weapons, and maps. The footage captured at these events seemingly corroborated this with no significant graphical differences in sight. This became the most damning part of the argument against Splatoon 2 being a true sequel–no major graphical upgrade from the original.
All of this came into play when the Testfire happened last weekend. The response was generally positive, but there was also a good mix of players and onlookers who either complained about the game looking the same or about the game feeling the same as the 2015 version. Thus, the “Splatoon 1.5” talk surfaced once again.
What deems a game a proper sequel? This is a question that seemingly has a different answer for every genre. The major sports installments (FIFA, NBA 2K, etc.) get yearly sequels that iterate ever so slightly on the games prior. New rosters, tweaked gameplay, smoother animations, more realistic character models, a new or refined game mode and new music come together to serve as enough incentive for millions of gamers to buy yearly sequels that, at face value, look and play extremely similar to last year’s version. This expectation differs wildly from sequels to platformers, for example. Direct sequels such as Super Mario Galaxy 2 needed to introduce a load of completely new levels, improved mechanics and gameplay variation to justify that number 2.
This plays out even more drastically in more story-based genres. Fans of series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest generally look for a strong original story over any major gameplay changes. Some gameplay elements are always changed in new iterations, and if they improve on the last game it’s a definite plus, but it’s not what most fans would cite as being why the game is/isn’t a full sequel. Story-driven action-adventure games like the Uncharted series also fall into this category. Naughty Dog has (arguably) always improved on the core gameplay with each new iteration of Uncharted, but what primarily makes 2, 3 and 4 sequels is the story progression.
When it comes to shooters, it begins to get confusing as to why Splatoon 2 is being so heavily criticized. The two most popular shooters in history, Call of Duty and Halo, have (exempting the latest iterations) generally followed a set formula when it comes to sequels: have a new campaign, new weapons, new maps and modes for multiplayer, change the interface a bit, and make the game prettier. Now, of course, Splatoon isn’t an FPS, but it’s still a shooter; what makes its sequel standards so different from those of the industry leaders?
It’s been confirmed that Splatoon 2 will have new weapons, sub weapons, specials, maps, modes, events (i.e. Splatfests), and a new single-player campaign. There will be a new central hub with different shops and characters to interact with. There’re gameplay tweaks that’ll significantly affect the competitive meta. The interface has received a facelift. There’s brand new music, a major deal for a game that was able to spawn sold-out live concerts off the strength of its OST. There are even expanded cosmetic options in the form of hair and pant player customization. So, is the only real issue here the lack of a significant graphical upgrade?
There’s also the matter of Splatoon 2’s gameplay—it’s almost identical to the first. And, well, that’s kinda to be expected. Fan bases typically don’t react well to drastic gameplay or aesthetic changes in new iterations of their favorite games (i.e. Infinite Warfare). Once an FPS or third-person shooter finds its sweet spot, there’s rarely much reason to alter the core game beyond the odd tweak here and there; it’s more so about building new content around that core experience. Also, seeing as Nintendo is investing in Splatoon as a major eSports contender, it’d be suicide for them to immediately alienate the hardcore Splatoon players who’ve already spent 100s of hours mastering the first game. Are they playing it safe with the gameplay alterations? For sure. But that’s already par for the course in this genre.
Splatoon 2 fits the sequel moniker compared to its shooter brethren. Fans of the first might’ve been hoping for more of a deviation, but instead, they’re getting a new game’s worth of fresh content. If you got tired of playing Splatoon on the Wii U, you might not want to pick up Splatoon 2. If you craved more, you’re getting it. The development team obviously took a gamble with this one and, personally, I think they made the right choice. Appease the fans who wanted more, appeal to the majority who never owned the original, and stick to the formula that made the game so great in the first place. It’s tough to condemn them for doing what’s worked so well for everyone else.