There always seems to be an element of charm surrounding new Nintendo releases. When the original Splatoon was revealed at E3 2014, I was enamored with the fact that Nintendo took an exhausted franchise, the shooter, and reinvigorated it with their personal touch.
The objective was not about taking down the enemy team by hunting them down mercilessly. To claim victory in Splatoon you had to splatter the stage in your team’s colored ink while thwarting the enemy team from doing the same. It was an all out turf war to see which team of kids (or squids) could reign supreme. Splatoon 2 plays it safe by bringing back what we loved in the original game, while adding some new features. With Splatoon 2, Nintendo continues to “stay fresh.”
The moment Splatoon 2 begins, Nintendo does you the courtesy of showing you the ropes before you head to online matches or the single player campaign. Newcomers to the series may want to use these early moments to settle on their control scheme. You can play either with the analog sticks or with motion controls. I settled on the latter because that’s how I played on Wii U, as it comes close to the sensitivity of a mouse for ideal target acquisition.
Following introductions, you’re transported to Inkopolis, the central hub of everything Splatoon. From this hub you may head to the single player, co-op, and multiplayer modes. The hub is especially important for the many vendors and the goods they sell. From these shops you can purchase shirts, shoes, head gear, and even new weapons. As you begin climbing the ranks in multiplayer, you can return to these shops for better equipment. Better equipment means more slots for abilities.
Speaking of which, there are over 20 unique abilities that augment game features such as faster running in kid form, faster swimming in squid form, decrease in respawn time, ink conservation in main and sub weapons, as well as charging your special weapon at a faster rate. Considering that head gear, shirts, and shoes can hold a maximum of four ability slots, the combinations are endless but because they’re unlocked randomly, you’ll find yourself a regular shopper.
It wouldn’t be a sequel without some new weaponry either. New to Splatoon 2 are the Splat Dualies, or what can be best described as dual wield rapid fire machine guns. The Dualies have a great ink spread and, by default, possess the unique ability to dodge roll in any direction. It’s a perfect addition to the series. I’ve lost track of how many times I seized victory over an opponent by dodging their attack and followed up with my own. The Splat Brella is an umbrella that can fire bursts of ink like a shotgun. Holding down the fire button opens the umbrella to defend against enemies. Continue holding down the button to launch the hood like a rocket, leaving a trail of ink to surprise unexpecting foes.
The Inkling arsenal is expanded with new special weapons as well. Tenta Missiles can lock on enemy Inklings to unleash a salvo of explosive ink that rains down from above. The Ink Armor ability will give added protection to both yourself and your teammates. The Ink Jet allows you to hover in the air for a short time while firing explosive ink volleys. It’s impressive to note that all nine special weapons are completely new to the series and were not present in the original game.
Murch, the resident urchin, brings a new feature to the gear system. Similar to Spike before him, Murch can give you the clothing of another player should it catch your eye. You aren’t guaranteed to have the same ability slots as that player but, unlike the original Splatoon, Murch can scrap the randomized abilities to make room for new ones. Parts of those scraps are left behind so you can mix and match with your existing gear for the ideal setup. It does cost you but the added layer of customization is tempting for those who wish to fine tune their play style.
Another thing I admire about Splatoon 2 is its immersion for the player. That’s prominent in the single player campaign, which takes place nine months after the final Splatfest of the original game. If you recall, the final Splatfest was themed “Callie or Marie”, in a contest to see which of the two Squid Sisters had more loyal fans. When the ink settled on the battlefield, it was Marie who came out the victor of the event.
The immersion I allude to is the fact that Splatoon 2 made the player’s choice canon to the series. Callie has mysteriously gone missing after having lost the final Splatfest. Marie has enlisted the help of you, the new Agent 4, to search for her. Marie is convinced that Callie’s disappearance is the work of the Octarians, who have once again taken over Octo Valley. Even the Octo Valley overworld holds an easter egg that you might miss. Simply look down into the abyss and you’ll see the very same overworld that was explored in the first game. I love it when games acknowledge the past like that.
There are 27 levels across five hubs and each acts as a perfect training ground for the game’s various weapons. This is an improvement over Splatoon 2’s predecessor, which allowed for only a subset of the game’s total number of weapons. Moreover, you can replay the campaign with every weapon at your disposal to better understand each’s strengths and limitations for online battle.
Several levels contain a unique draw to rescue the Zapfish imprisoned at the end of the level. For instance, some levels will have sponges that can be inked to expand their size, allowing for easy traversal to otherwise inaccessible areas. Grind rails are introduced to Splatoon and is a match made in heaven for the series.
There’s incentive to keep going because there are hidden collectibles in each stage. Sunken Scrolls add to Splatoon’s whimsical and colorful lore, even filling in some details as to the events surrounding Callie’s disappearance. Sardinium can be paid to Sheldon, the game’s weapons dealer, to augment your arsenal, max out your ink tank, and upgrade your explosives. Sheldon will even offer his weapons from the campaign for purchase in his shop for multiplayer mode. Crusty Sean, the literal half-baked prawn, has stopped selling shoes in favor of running a food truck. You can’t pay in cash, however, as Sean only accepts tickets. These tickets can be found in single player mode. When given to Crusty Sean, he’ll reward you with multiplayer buffs such as earning more experience or cash for a limited time.
Multiplayer remains as fun as it was in the original game, if not more so. The tried and true Turf War steals your time away again and again, leaving you saying, “just one more match.” Tower Control is back along with the King-of-the-Hill inspired Splat Zone for Ranked and League Battles. These more competitive modes are worth it for the experienced Splatoon players, especially if you have a group of like-minded individuals to play with.
An issue I have with Splatoon 2’s multiplayer is the same problem I had with the original game; the lack of an in-between match loadout screen. You have to exit from matchmaking altogether it equip different articles of clothing and change weapons. It takes you out of the experience. Furthermore, while in matchmaking, you can’t back out of the lobby. Instead you have to play through a match, wait for the Continue or Leave prompt, and then you can back out of the next match. For a game with such a fun and addicting multiplayer, in gamer time, it feels like an eternity.
Finally, Splatoon 2’s best new addition is the cooperative Salmon Run. Four players take on wave after wave of hysterical salmons bent on taking down the Inklings in diverse fashion. That makes them easy to distinguish their unique abilities and how best to take them out. These waves of salmon pour in while your team attempts to gather golden eggs from boss characters to drop them in a basket. Unfortunately, Salmon Run is only playable online a few times a week. The schedule can only be viewed within the game. What makes this online game mode great is that weapons are randomly assigned to players. There will always be a facet of surprise, for better or worse, when you find you get to work with your strength or weakness. The same goes with your teammates. Cooperation is absolutely necessary. Who has a long range weapon to take out enemies from afar? Who’s best suited to hold the line with a strong defense? Who has a weapon with the best splatter range? These are just a few examples of what could run through your head. Salmon Run’s saving grace is that you can play at any time with your friends in local co-op but will four people always have that time to spare?
The final gripe I have with Splatoon 2, and Nintendo by association, is the terribly executed voice chat. The new Nintendo Switch Online app is a nifty feature in that it shows your most recent matches and even Splatoon 2’s rotating schedule for maps. You can also purchase new gear available exclusively on the app. However, the app’s voice chat feature is lackluster. Chatting is isolated to certain modes. When you do chat you must have your phone on at all times, draining your battery life. You can’t put it to sleep or the connection will be lost. How Nintendo hasn’t fully integrated an ideal voice chat feature by now is beyond me. I was hoping this sequel would be the one to do it because the original game lacked it altogether. At least Splatoon 2 makes some effort however inefficient it really is.
In any case, Splatoon 2 is a game to cherish, and I’m so happy we can all enjoy this game so early in the Nintendo Switch’s lifespan. I’m pleased we can look forward to new Splatfests, and the promise of free DLC to include new weapons and maps. From the beginning you’ll have your money’s worth with a quirky single player campaign, an endlessly engaging multiplayer mode, and a high risk-high reward cooperative mode, when it is available to play that is. Splatoon 2 is an absolute essential for your Nintendo Switch. Contrary to the sequel’s new catchphrase, Splatoon 2 is every bit worth getting hooked on.