With Splatoon 2 being the fourth major first party release for the Switch in five months, and with plenty more to come, there can no longer be any argument against the fact that Nintendo are supporting their new home console in a far bigger way than they ever did the ill-fated Wii U. This is something that is obviously, for early adopters such as myself, very promising. Of course, this doesn’t really mean anything if the games they do put out aren’t of a high quality. Thankfully though, this sort-of sequel continues the now-established trend of polished, content-brimmed adventures that will keep their claws dug into you (or, I suppose, tentacles in this case) for weeks.
The premise of Splatoon 2 is a very simple one, and if you’ve seen any gameplay whatsoever then chances are you’ve already managed to grasp it almost entirely. This is Nintendo’s kid-friendly, pre-watershed take on the team-based third-person shooter genre, set in a world where blood is nowhere in sight and bullets are replaced with bizarrely paint-like, vibrantly coloured ink. During gameplay, by holding ZL you can revert from the form of a child to that of a squid, and back again when you release it. Both control very differently. As a kid, you are able to move around on your feet and shoot/attack enemies with whatever weapons you have at your disposal. As a squid, on the other hand, movement is much more fluid, as you submerge yourself underneath the ink and zoom around – providing it is of your own colour – but you relinquish your ability to shoot. This allows for some quick escapes out of sticky situations, and leads to some incredibly kinetic gameplay, as players dart through the ink to find cover and outflank their opponents. There is even an optional element of stealth, as you are invisible to enemies when stationary under the ooze.
The most important component of the game, as is solidified from the very beginning of each play session through annoyingly unskippable news reports which update you on the current maps and modes, is the multiplayer. And overall, I have to say that as long as you’re not bad at the game like I am, you will find the experience to be very smooth and great fun once you start levelling up. Connection to matches is usually almost instantaneous: I’ve only had a couple of issues since starting. The first mode available to you is Turf War, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Two teams of four compete to ink the largest proportion of the map in the allotted time. What’s refreshing about this is that the objective has very little to do with ‘kills’ (called ‘splats’ here for all the overprotective mothers out there.) While you will obviously encounter enemies across the map as you play, and will have to avoid being inked into nothingness by them, anyone charging in simply looking for a nonstop fight will attain very little success here. There is little reward for splatting opponents besides self-satisfaction at topping the team leaderboard at the round’s conclusion, with the game placing far greater merit on team-focused players who contribute the most to the cooperative inking effort.
Once you reach level 10 after a great many matches of this mode, the real meat of the game reveals itself – Ranked Battles. This is composed of three separate game types which alternate hourly. I won’t detail them here as it would be a long and tedious affair, but take my word for it, they’re excellent. Each of them is brimming with complexities and different strategies for victory, and they’re all extremely varied from Turf War and one-another. Attached to each of these game types is a personal rank. You start at C minus on each of them and through winning multiple matches, you can rank up and earn all of the bragging rights attached to it. Lose enough times in a row, though, and you risk losing your current rank, as cracks appear ominously on the level bar. Trying to prove yourself amongst the online community is its own addictive reward, even if like me you’re not exactly a five-star player.
The final mode that you unlock is League Battles. This apparently allows you to form a squid squad of friends to battle with, but since I don’t have any of those, I wouldn’t know.
Levelling up soon proves immensely rewarding, as with each level up you unlock a new weapon. The sheer diversity and variety of the arsenal available to you in Splatoon 2 is one of the games greatest strengths, and helps massively towards bulking up its replay value. You have basic automatic weapons such as the Splattershot, but what makes things really interesting is when Nintendo truly flexes their creative muscles, offering up options such as the rollers (which resemble giant paint rollers, and are great fun to mow other players down with) and my personal favourite, the dualies. These allow you to perform a dodge-roll with the B button, making you feel like an unstoppable badass as you nimbly circle opponents and pepper them with flurries of ink. Each of these weapons also has a secondary weapon and always-satisfying special move combination, meaning depending on which weapon you choose, the game often plays completely differently. Another dimension is added with the ability to purchase gear (clothing) with currency earned from online matches, which give you minor stat buffs to help in battle.
Also worth a mention is the new-for-Splatoon-2 mode known as Salmon Run, which is what the rest of the world bar Nintendo would ordinarily refer to as a horde mode. This again puts you in a team of four, but this time your enemies are some constantly-spawning evil fishies and their miniboss overlords. The aim here is to collect the bosses’ special eggs, which sounds disgusting but is great fun every now and again, although definitely not something I can see myself playing for hours on end. Funnily enough, though, it’s arbitrarily only available sometimes anyway, meaning when you feel like playing it, sometimes you will be unable to. Lastly, there is a surprisingly well-done, although rather short single player campaign, containing plenty of diversity and giving off plenty of LittleBigPlanet vibes, both in tone and the sense of creativity. With some great boss battles, it’s absolutely worth a look.
Not everything is perfect, though, and I do unfortunately have some grievances. The first of these is that when you are on the losing team in multiplayer matches, the game is extremely stingy when it comes to giving you points. If you’re having a bit of an off-day or even unlucky enough to be put with less skilled players a few times in a row, it can be very demoralising and frustrating to see your progress bar absolutely crawl along – especially when some of the rounds aren’t exactly short. Given that a loss is never entirely your fault as everything is team-based, it seems somewhat unfair to give such minor rewards. Additionally, more rare an occurrence but an issue nonetheless is sometimes when players leave the lobby before a game begins, you will be left with a three-player team but still be expected to hold your own against a four-person-strong opposition. Again, this has only happened to me a couple of times but seems a balancing issue nonetheless. Most importantly of all though, for those interested in online chat with friends, the distinctly Nintendo-ish solution of a mobile app is beyond ridiculous, and something only they, with their crazy, out-of-touch ways could think up. It’s a ludicrous, unnecessary hassle in this day and age and the company really should be more caught up by now in regards to this. But then, I guess none of us expected any better.
Despite these problems, Spla2n – the marketing team really missed a trick – is by and large the full package. With some lovely visuals, silky smooth gameplay and a plethora of modes to keep you entertained for months, Nintendo have managed to continue their current streak of strong exclusives. I’m not squidding when I say that this game is a solid