Nintendo has a few AAA series… franchises that usually have fantastic attach rates and are thought of as “system sellers.” The Super Mario and Pokemon games are obvious examples, as are Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. The next tier of system sellers is no less important, consisting of titles such as The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, Kirby, and arguably Metroid. Oh yeah, and Splatoon. While it’s hard to argue that Splatoon is at the level of a “Zelda,” the series is definitely on the rise. The first, and until recently only, entry into the series managed to sell over four and a half million units on the less than successful Wii U. It proved to resonate especially well in Japan, where merchandise and even live concerts based on the series occurred. It is no surprise, then, that the game saw a sequel released so soon into the Switch’s lifespan. Still, is this game merely Splatoon 2.5, or is it the fresh offering fans of the series have been waiting for?
So what’s this about?
You’re a squid now. You’re a kid now. That’s was a marketing tag of the first Splatoon, and it holds true with the sequel. You play as an Inkling, a humanoid squid that can morph between Squid and Kid form with the press of a button. The main theme that unites all of the games various modes is paint/ink. Splatoon 2, like its prequel, is a third person shooter in which you have a team color and can spray an area with ink using a wide variety of weapons. Your ink can also harm enemies and can be used to increase travel speed by transforming into squid mode and “swimming” from point to point.
Splatoon 2 is structured much like the first game. You have a central hub area, Inkopolis Square, that allows you to access various multiplayer modes, a fun but short single player experience, and a variety of shops to purchase more weapons, clothing, and even food buffs. Accessorizing with gear is a cornerstone of the game, both for progression and aesthetic customization. Splatoon is a game about expressing yourself with fun, cool designs. It’s as much about wacky character design, awesome energetic music, and fully customizable avatars as it is about actual gameplay after all. So yes, new gear does come with new buffs and stats, but it, more importantly, allows you to make your Squid Kid as fresh as you want them to be.
The plot of the game (as far as single player goes) is light but fun. The great Zap Fish that provides power to the Inkling’s home has been stolen and it’s up to you to get it back from the evil Octarian forces. While missions were handled by Cap’n Cuttlefish in the original game, Marie, originally one of the idol like Squid Sisters from the first game, handles sending you out on missions this go around. The multiplayer modes consist of different sorts of turf wars or objective based combat in ranked modes, because that’s just what Inklings do I suppose.
What does it do right?
This game is great multiplayer fun. Those of you that didn’t play the Wii U version are in for a treat. One of the things I always enjoyed about Splatoon is that it is a very accessible game, even for people not overly familiar with first person shooters. This is because inking the ground can be just as important to victory as getting a headshot in, especially when playing “turf war” mode. This extra objective makes it so that you can have just as much fun grabbing a paint roller and steamrolling your way through a map as you would sniping from a distance. The weapon variety is also great, even if Splatoon 2 only introduces one new weapon type (with more, such as the umbrella, on the way). That new weapon type, dual wielding pistols, known appropriately enough as Dualies, allow your character to use a quick roll move. It’s fun, but I’ll admit I had a bit of trouble adjusted to aiming right after the roll.
The game also looks great, especially compared to its predecessor. Everything appears clearer and the maps seem extra detailed. Your inkling character has a few more customization options this go around as well, and they are much appreciated. In addition to changing your gender and eye color, you now have 3 options for both pants and hair style. It might not seem like a lot, but it goes a long way to making your Inkling feel truly unique.
Splatoon 2 has a few ways to track your multiplayer progress. Number one is your actual level, which is important for both unlocking gear and modes. You won’t be able to access ranked matches, for instance, until you reach level 10. There is also a “fresh” rating, that you earn by winning matches with particular weapons. This grants you a pretty sizable experience bonus. When I first started the game I was as fresh as Judd cat’s litter box, according to the character himself, but I quickly moved up the ranks. It’s an interesting concept, and since it’s tied to a weapon, it almost doubles as a way to level up said weapon. Just as before, you can also earn letter based ranks in ranked competition.
The game has a few quality of life improvements, as well. No longer do you have to sit through the Squid Sisters talking every time the maps go on rotation. In a similar time-saving move, you can now fast forward through Sheldon’s diatribe every time you unlock a new weapon. This is a lifesaver for cases like mine, where I leveled from 1-10 in one setting and visited his shop for the first time after. One area that was similarly maligned in the first game, not being able to switch out weapon load-outs between matches, was unfortunately not addressed.
Splatoon 2 is largely a player vs player affair, but it does have a few modes available outside of that. The first is the game’s story mode, which is short but sweet. Players familiar with the first game’s story can expect much of the same. It can be completed in 8-10 hours and acts largely as an extended tutorial for how to play the game in competitive modes. It’s not all that simple, though, and mixes in a lot of surprisingly fun boss fights. Each stage also has two different types of collectibles, and, unlike the original, can be played with a variety of weapons without the use of special Amiibo. This gives the stages a decent amount of replayability on their own. The game also includes a new “horde” mode in the form of Salmon Run. Unfortunately, I was unable to play this online since Nintendo is only making it available at certain times. This is a real shame, as I did play a local co-op match and it was a blast!
The final verdict
Splatoon 2 isn’t a perfect game, but it’s a super unique and more importantly fun third person shooter. The game launched with 8 maps, more than the original launched with, but far less than it finished with. Still, we already know Nintendo will be supporting this game with free DLC in the future, and 8 is plenty to start out with. Most of my hangups with the game actually come from transitioning from the Wii U version. Not being able to glance at the map at all times, for example, can be very frustrating. True, it’s just a button press away, but it’s still not nearly as convenient. The changes to super weapons are a similar struggle. The new supers are just not as powerful as the ones in the first game. This is probably better for balance but it’s still odd as someone that would use “build special, unleash hell” as a strategy in the prior game. Perhaps these gripes best explain my feeling on the game: at its core it is still Splatoon, but it changes just enough to keep me from feeling like it’s a rehash.