In spite of Nintendo’s insistence on being just not quite right in the online multiplayer realm, Splatoon 2 pushes forward to be one of the slickest and most interesting shooters out there. Not much has changed mechanically, instead focusing on refining and adding to what is already there. And whether you’re a squid or a kid or just an average adult human being, you’ll like what you’re going to find.
That’s primarily because the lack of content was the biggest problem the original Splatoon faced. Few maps and few modes led to a fresh and inventive game feeling stale far too quickly. The fast and frantic and endearing gameplay felt repetitive for the strangely counterproductive reason that it made you want to play so much.
With the opportunity at a sequel, though, Nintendo has addressed those concerns directly. You continue to play as an Inkling with all the requisite abilities of splattering colorful globs of ink onto the floors and turning into a squid to zip up and down walls but now there is an expanded single-player campaign, a four-player horde mode, and the return of Turf War with a bunch of new maps.
To that end, it speaks volumes as to the quality of the bulk of your time as a squid kid. The game continues to move with confidence and precision you’d expect from the company that gives Mario his trademark locomotion. And as strange as it may be at first, it still makes the most sense to play with the motion controls turned on, allowing you to snap to a particular vector with the immediacy of a mouse and keyboard combo.
The key mechanic of turning into a squid, however, is once more the linchpin to the whole shebang. It ties wonderfully into the intrinsic turf control aspect since you move the fastest in your own ink, and further speedier (and marginally safer) as a squid nestled into your color. And since you refill your ink when you are in there, it creates this fascinating balance of constantly flopping down into the puddles and bopping back up with your trigger already down and spraying everything in side with both reckless abandon and laser precision.
This balance is inextricably attached to your weapon choice, too. The difference in utility between things like the stock Splattershot and the Splat Roller are drastic, one peppering foes and territory at a medium range while the other is focused on covering as much ground as possible at the sacrifice of range. New weapons further exemplify these roles such as the Splat Dualies, two rapid fire pistols that also give you the ability to dodge roll as you fire, and the Splat Brella, an umbrella that’s kind of like a shotgun up close but also a mortar at long distances but also a shield when necessary.
It ends up feeling a bit like Team Fortress 2 where you have to play your role for your team to win, except everyone’s the same Inkling. It’s an odd decision, then, to make it impossible to swap your loadout in the middle of a match and annoyingly hard to do so between matches. Compounded by the fact that you can’t preview what your teammates are bringing into a game, you could unwittingly end up in a situation where your entire team is just rollers and you are uniquely but expectedly fucked.
While you can finally join friends in ranked and unranked queues, it is rather bothersome that you can’t queue up onto a team of less than four players. And once you’re together, there’s no guarantee you’ll be on the same team. At least it’s easy to shack up with friends even if they’re in the middle of a game, but it’s definitely one of many decisions that leaves you fascinated in the same way you are fascinated when you see someone touch a stove to see if it’s on not 10 seconds after it just burned them.
But if quirks like these are what it takes to end up with eight maps finely tuned to Splatoon 2‘s oddball gameplay, then so be it. For every pain there is in trying to get online, there’s an immense pleasure in being online. Maps have a far better understanding than before in how to force players to take advantage of being a squid and a kid with pathways at multiple heights and walls spreading the field into vertical chokepoints as well.
The highlight in this realm is the Moray Towers, a map that starts off each team at far reaching corners atop their own tower. As the game begins, players have to simultaneously take immediate control of the ramps and walls surrounding their spawn point while zip-lining down to the middle to hinder the expansion of the enemy. It’s an incredible blend of the best tactical considerations that the other maps seem to singularly fixate upon.
This plays into the new modes, too. (Well, “new” insomuch that they ended up on the original Splatoon via updates.) In Tower Control, there’s a small tower that players must attempt to cover up in their own color so they can reach the top and get it moving to their end of the map like a Payload game. It’s a neat and chaotic mode that turns the entire match into a single chokepoint.
And then there’s Rainmaker, which just might be the best example of what the game can do. Teams have to first fight their way to a super weapon that creates giant but egregiously slow paint bombs. The team with the weapon has to coordinate to support the player holding the Rainmaker given its limitations and immense power and run it into their opponent’s base. The other team, forced to make innovative work of the level’s traversal possibilities, has to work together to both survive but also take down the Rainmaker. It’s a fantastically hewn concept of everything that makes up Splatoon. (Now if only you didn’t have to use the Nintendo Switch Online mobile app to voice chat.)
The single biggest and only truly new mode, however, is the Salmon Run. It’s a rather straightforward horde mode, throwing you and up to three teammates against three increasingly difficult waves of enemies. Each wave has an accompanying timer and a deluge of smaller fodder enemies as well as bosses that tend to require tremendous amounts of communication to take down and collect their eggs, which you then have to return to a collection tank.
You can choose your difficulty, and even with four seasoned veterans splatting baddies and reviving each other, the hardest setting can be stupidly punishing. It’s a nice change of pace from any of the competitive modes and the single-player campaign, focusing just on working together with your team and actually being challenged by the game’s AI foes. But it’s also a bit disappointing that there’s not much in the way of ingenuity here. If anything, it highlights the odd design decision of randomizing loadout with each Salmon Run outing.
We should also talk a bit about the campaign mode. It’s fairly lengthy at eight hours (30 or so individual levels with boss battles tucked in there for good measure), structured around the idea that you have to find the missing Callie, one half of the original game’s Squid Sisters musical act, as well as a bevy of Zapfish to bring power back to Inkopolis. The story itself is rather thin and requires very little prior knowledge from the player, but it does reward those that do care with plenty of subtle references, deepening the overall Splatoon lore to a surprising degree.
It all takes place in a giant hub world where you have to solve little platformer puzzles to unveil the grates that lead to new levels. It’s freeing not being tied to any particular line of progression, but it’s also weird when you learn a new tactic out of necessity only to then find the level that teaches it to you in explicit terms. But it is also hugely rewarding to learn these tricks anyway, putting an itch at your heels to get back into the competitive modes and try them out. And the fact that you’re learning them in hugely unique and fun maps doesn’t hurt, either.
If this overall sounds a bit familiar, then don’t worry; that’s because it is. Splatoon 2 does what a sequel should do in that it brings back everything that worked and left behind what didn’t. In this game’s case, it fixed the debilitating lack of content from the original game. And while it did unfortunately carry over some of Nintendo’s penchant for weird/offensive online design decisions, it works so hard to highlight the things that work within the gameplay that it’s hard to focus on those problems. So wrap you inky tentacles around Splatoon 2 because it’s a good one.
Final Score: 8 out of 10
Game Review: Splatoon 2
Release: July 21, 2017
Genre: Third-person shooter
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Players: Single-player, multiplayer