Back in 2015, Splatoon made a splash on the Wii U as a fresh Nintendo IP unlike anything the world had ever seen; rejuvenating a shooter genre threatening to get stale. Now, two years later, Splatoon 2 has made its grand debut on the Nintendo Switch. While Splatoon 2 won’t make quite as many waves as a totally original concept, with more content out of the gate, the graphical upgrade and portability that come with the new hardware, the same brilliant controls and mechanics, and gallons of fun to be had, Splatoon 2 exceeds the original, providing a fresh coat of paint to an already bright and brilliant vision. This is an absolute must have on the Nintendo Switch.
Splatoon 2 takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where marine life has evolved to the top of the food chain, and at the pinnacle are the Inklings, squid-kids who inhabit cities like Inkopolis, where the primary source of entertainment is arena turf wars to see who can claim the most land by inking it. That’s just the bizarre, ink-coated surface of Splatoon 2, a world rife with crazy, aquatic concepts: Octarian menaces, hordes of bipedal Salmon, squirt guns to combat them and judge cats…oddly enough. It’s the sort of surrealist, nutty, nautical nonsense that only someone like Nintendo could supply; and they supply it in spades.
For those that don’t know, Splatoon 2 is a third person shooter where the objective isn’t to shoot opponents with bullets but to coat the ground with ink as a kid which can then swim through as a squid. Ink does work as players primary ammunition for combating opponents and Octarion enemies (Inklings are at odd with Octolings, obviously), but doubles as a quick method for transportation as well. Whether warring over turf in the online multiplayer, offing Octarions who’ve stolen precious Inkopolis energy sources in the single player campaign, or blasting salmon in the new, co-operative “Salmon Run” horde mode, Splatoon 2‘s core mechanics and play feel sensational and are reefreshing for anyone looking for a break from the standard shooter.
At the center of it all is Inkopolis Square, essentially a playable menu or hub world in the shape of a city square. Here, players can do an enormous amount including head off to the multiplayer lobby, search for a cooperative match of Salmon Run, create a private lobby for friends, and ensure their Inkling has all the freshest gear and outfits, purchasable with currency earned in any multiplayer mode. In fitting with the city theme, the gear vendors are presented as different stores, the managers of which are quirky, marine characters fitting for the location. The shoe vendor is a spider crab with multiple pairs of shoes on (named Bisk!!!), the hat vendor a swaying, hippy anemone, and the shirt vendor a cool jellyfish in a fedora and bowtie. All of this helps settle the player into the nautical theme and atmosphere while absolutely oozing charm, all of which makes shopping for new styles and gear fun and engaging. In what other game can players buy experience and currency multipliers from a food truck run by a giant, Panko-coated prawn named Crusty Sean? Perhaps best of all, here in Inkopolis Square, players can see other players, what they’re wearing and what they’re thinking through a Miiverse-like drawing feature there to recreate absent community building tools the original Splatoon had access to. In the end, Inkopolis helps display Splatoon 2‘s rich and vibrant community, even if in short bursts like traveling from the hat store to the campaign in Octo Canyon. It’s a place where players can express themselves through style and art. With a fun, lively, inklusive player community like Splatoon 2‘s, who needs anemones?
While most shooters provide a shallow, single player campaign experience, Splatoon 2‘s story mode shows surprising depth. Narratively, it’s nothing new, especially for veteran Nintendo fans: missing princesses…er…pop (sea?) stars, cartoonish characters, all ages fun. Gameplay wise, the game may be all about shooting liquids, but Nintendo demonstrates that the absolute, rock solid mechanics can operate as the basis for a multiplayer shooter and a single-player platformer. The campaign is broken into five different worlds each filled with individual courses found in a central hub. The hubs are a course in and of themselves, complete with puzzles leading to the next stage, hidden treasure, and gratifying platforming. Once players have puzzled out where each and every stage is, they can then easily quick travel between stages and worlds, though gliding through ink as a squid is a constant delight.
Each and every course is an appetizing meal of its own, most with unique mechanics and features to provide a new flavor or spice for players’ enjoyment. Every stage is a series of platforms and hurdles for players to overcome, not a stone skip away from something like Super Mario Galaxy. Similarly, each and every stage features a unique combination of mechanics; one stage is oriented around tracks that launch the player, another around rails players can grind on and shoot from, and another around platforms players can bounce on. More essential, a variety of stages acquaint the player with various weapons they’ll encounter in the game’s multiplayer modes. An umbrella that doubles as a shield and shotgun, a paint roller, a bucket of paint, each piece of the game’s inventive arsenal alters range, rate of fire, and how players approach the game, providing variety, and since each stage can be tackled with different weapons after completing it for the first time, re-playability. Stages tend to be fairly straight forward but are genuinely a joy to play through. In typical Nintendo fashion, they’re made more difficult should players hunt out each stages hidden collectibles necessary to fill in the backstory or level the players arsenal up. Splatoon 2‘s campaign is more than enough justification for the sequel’s existence when, in reality, it’s just an appetizer for the main course: online multiplayer.
The multiplayer lobby is broken into three primary options: Regular Battles, Ranked Battles, and League Battles. Regular Battles feature Splatoon‘s signature mode, Turf Wars, where two teams of four war to see who can ink the most turf. These quick, three-minute matches are frantic fun all about covering the most ground with a colorful coat of ink. Unlike most shooters, Turf War isn’t about netting kills and wrecking the opposition. Instead, points are earned through how much ink a player has plastered all over the map and winning is dependent upon which team holds the most ground by the end of the round. Matches are a colorful tug-of-war between the two teams as they vie for color-control over the map. It’s a great change of pace which emphasizes objective over eliminations and where a player with literally no kills can be top of the leaderboard and kill-seeking, murder monsters can be a detriment to their team.
While Regular Battles lack variety in modes, there’s enormous variety in Splatoon 2‘s outrageous arsenal. New comers like the Splat Dualies are a thrill, giving the player control over two submachink guns that grant the player an exclusive roll ability. After executing a roll, the two gun’s ink streams merge to extra lethal effect. Returning favorites, like the Splat Roller, have new perks as well, like leaping to cast a vertical stream of ink, ideal for quick travel and climbing. New sub weapons also make their debut, like the curling bomb which can bounce off of walls, changing trajectory before an eventual inksplosion, allowing for some geometrically rad plays. Splatoon 2 also features an entirely new set of special attacks for players to unleash once they’ve built up their meter through gradually coating turf. Specials range from an ink-powered jet pack, homing “tenta-missiles,” to an inky, explosive hamster ball, all great options. Most importantly, there’s been careful retuning and rebalancing with Splatoon 2, only a small portion of which is the all new specials, so that all tools at the players disposal serve their purpose and allow players to truly play to their taste.
Once unlocked, Ranked and League Battles, where players battle to build and maintain their individual or group rank, provide variety as well. Ranked and League Battles cycle through three of Splatoon‘s other objective modes, the territory control mode, Splat Zones, the single flag, CTF mode with an inky twist, Rainmaker, and moveable, rideable payload mode, Tower Control, where players have different ranks per mode. In Ranked Battles, players strive to improve their personal grade for a given mode, while League Play is all about grouping up for an allotted time and then receiving a score based on performance during that time. At any given time, Ranked and League Battles will feature different modes, ultimately giving players a choice between three modes between all multiplayer options.
Should battling other players get stale, Splatoon 2 offers the all new, cooperative Salmon Run mode where four players fend off hordes of mutant salmon for three rounds and collect coveted golden eggs that boss “Salmonids” drop. The whole thing is presented like a sketchy part-time job on an oil rig presumably off in some toxic wasteland portion of Splatoon‘s post-apocalyptic world. Enemies roll in like the tide, threatening to swarm the players, and, at higher levels, multiple boss Salmonids strike at once, creating chaos that requires teamwork and cooperation to survive. Each round, a different weapon is randomly allotted to each player. Other variables like fog, special enemies, and even the tide ensure Salmon Run never gets boring. Overall, it’s a brilliant addition to Splatoon giving players another way to reap rewards and spray ink.
Unfortunately, the multiplayer experience is marred by some massive oversights, the kind that will cause many people to question whether Nintendo is capable of making a quality online multiplayer game. Just like the original Splatoon, game modes are limited to two maps which rotate every two hours, meaning one game mode can often get old before the maps rotate. Players can’t back out or cancel once they’ve started matchmaking. There’s no party system for regular play, and even if a friend hops into a match, there’s no guarantee they’ll even be on the same team or stay on the same team with each consecutive match. This one in particular is all the more mind-boggling since Salmon Run has an enjoyable system which allows players to group up with friends before enlisting the service of strangers, a system that would have worked marvelously in the rest of Splatoon 2‘s multiplayer. One can’t help but wonder if this is because Salmon Run was built from the ground up for the sequel and the rest of Splatoon 2‘s multiplayer lobby was essentially cut and paste from the original, but it often feels that way. Not that Salmon Run isn’t without issues, since it’s only playable during specific hours, hours that I’m not even sure are listed anywhere.
Though many of these feel like lessons Nintendo should’ve learned already, all of these wrinkles combined aren’t nearly enough to keep Splatoon 2 from being boatloads of fun. Put simply, Splatoon 2 looks, feels, and sounds great, at home or on the go. The colors, textures, and shading are much richer on the Switch than its predecessor. The soundtrack is bizarre but catchy, and the sound design is on par with other first party Nintendo titles, which is to say sensational. Both the motion controls and traditional controls are tight, and the game plays beautifully regardless of what controller the player is using. Most importantly, the core mechanics and gameplay are unrelentingly enjoyable whether playing solo, cooperatively or competitively. Splatoon 2 is an alluring, bizarre, aquatic vision that must be experienced and an excellent squidition to the Nintendo Switch library. It might not be a true evolution from the original, but Nintendo’s done well to keep Splatoon feeling fresh and off the hook.
- Tim Maison