Flatiron Hot! Gamer: Splatoon 2 Review
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Genre: Third-person shooter
By Max Shapiro
The splat is back.
Unlike movie sequels, video game sequels have a greater tendency to either live up to or surpass their predecessors. A good game sequel doesn’t scrap everything its predecessor introduced and start all over, but rather it retains that core gameplay and uses it as a springboard for new ideas, adding improvements and smoothing over any rough edges its predecessor may have had. So the question is: is Splatoon 2 the good kind of sequel?
The original Splatoon inked its way into the hearts of gamers back in 2015 on the Wii U. In true Nintendo fashion, it was a fresh and colorful take on an oversaturated gaming genre—the shooter, in this case. In traditional shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield, the objective is kill your opponents. But in Splatoon, bullets were replaced with ink, and it was all about covering the stage with your team’s color. The game was bright and vibrant instead of dark and gritty, and filled with 90’s-inspired aesthetics. It was one of the very best games in the Wii U’s library and an instant hit with Nintendo fans, so I had no doubt that a sequel would eventually be made.
However, I certainly wasn’t expecting one come out a mere two years later, but here we are with Splatoon 2. The world of Splatoon is inhabited by human/squid hybrid creatures named “Inklings” which you play as and customize to your liking. Anyone who played the first title will have no trouble getting back in their groove with the gameplay, since the core mechanics are largely the same: Players are split into two teams of four, with battles taking place one of the several different stages. The game sports an huge and diverse selection of weapons (a few weapon classes include shooters, chargers, and rollers, among many others), and you gain access to more and more of it as you level up. Every weapon comes with a different “Sub-Weapon” and “Special Weapons,” the latter only being able to be used once you’ve filled up your Special Meter, which you do by laying down enough ink. Your ink ammo eventually depletes, but with the press of a button, you can turn into a squid and swim through the ink you just laid down (along with the ink from any of your teammates). This mechanic allows for both allows for fast transportation and refills your ink gauge. Though taking out opponents is never the main objective, you’re still able to “splat” them with your weapon, which takes them back to their team’s spawn point located at one end of the stage. You can also instantly warp to any of your teammates’ locations by pulling up the map and selecting a teammate’s location (the game calls this “Super Jumping”). These core mechanics, coupled with incredibly fluid and responsive controls, were what made the first Splatoon such a fun and unique experience, and Nintendo made the right choice to not tamper with it any major way in the sequel.
Just like before, online play is the bulk of what Splatoon 2 has to offer (though local mutiplayer is now also possible through hooking up multiple Switch consoles via LAN play). You can play with strangers or with friends, with three different options: Regular Battles, Ranked Battles, and League Battles. In regular battles, you gain experience points and in-game currency whether you win or lose. Ranked Battles, which are only accessible upon reaching level 10, are more competitive, where your rank, which ranges from C- to S+, rises or drops based on consecutive wins or losses. New to this game are League Battles, which I haven’t been able to test since they aren’t playable with strangers (unfortunately I’m not friends with anyone who owns a Switch), but I do know you can only access them upon earning a B- rank in Ranked Battles.
The main multiplayer features four different modes of play, all returning from first game: Turf War, Splat Zones, Tower Control, and Rainmaker (the first of which is played in Regular Battles, and the latter three are played in ranked battles). The goal of Turf War is simply to cover a majority of the stage with your team’s color. On paper in sounds incredibly simplistic, and it is—but it’s incredibly fun and frantic all the same. I think IGN’s review of the game describes this mode best: “No two matches ever feel the same because the battlefield hotspots are constantly changing.” The other three modes, by comparison, are a little more involved. Splat Zones has players fighting for control of one or two specific sections of the map by keeping them covered with their team’s ink for a certain amount of time. Compared to Turf War, this mode is far more demanding of close-quarters combat, which gives it a more concentrated and intense feel. In Tower Control, teams fight to get a tower across the stage to the opposing team’s base. Rainmaker is somewhat similar, except you the thing you have to get to the enemy’s base is a powerful weapon known as the Rainmaker. Both this mode and Tower Control are tied for my favorites in the game, as for as much strategy as they demand, they manage to be amazingly chaotic at the same time. I do wish there was at least one new Ranked Battle mode, but I’m almost positive one will be added in an update down the line since that was the case for Tower Control and Rainmaker in the first Splatoon.
On the surface Splatoon 2 may seem like a carbon copy of the its predecessor, but upon digging deeper you’ll notice a sizable handful of subtle improvements present in this sequel. The stage designs are noticeably smaller and more compact than those in the original game, and feature far less verticality. These new design method makes the gameplay more offensive than defensive compared to the first title, as it’s much harder for you to find a place to camp out and avoid confrontation with any opponents. The Special Weapons, which are all new here, are far more balanced and less overpowered than before. All of the Ranked Battle modes have been tweaked in some way, such as how Tower Control now has checkpoints that the tower stops at for a certain amount of time. The ranking system has been improved significantly, as you now have individual ranks for Splat Zones, Tower Control, and Rainmaker as a opposed to one collective rank for all of these mode like in the first game. That means if you’re great at one mode but suck at another, your rank for the mode you’re good at doesn’t have to suffer.
Yet another smart tweak was made to the abilities gear gives you. In the original, you used in-game cash to purchase various stylish hats, shirts, and shoes that each granted you various different bonus abilities such as faster swimming speed or having your ink gauge deplete less quickly. But if you used a piece of gear in enough battles, you’d unlock a random new ability for it. That’s still the case here, but by talking to a certain character in the hub area you can pay to have pieces of gear “scrubbed” of their abilities and given back to you as “Ability Chunks,” which you can then assign to whatever piece of gear you want. Refinements like these may seem insignificant on their own, but when put together they make Splatoon 2 an even smoother and more polished experience than it’s already-stellar predecessor.
Also just like the first game, Splatoon 2 features a surprisingly fun and engaging single-player story mode, which takes you through a series of Super Mario Galaxy-style levels that mix tricky platforming with battling octopus-like enemies called “Octarians.” But this iteration of the single-player campaign is far superior to the one found in the first game thanks to lots of fun new level gimmicks, even wackier and more creative boss battles, and the option to use many different types of weapons instead of only one like in the original. When playing through these levels, you can also find tickets that can be used at a food stand located in the hub area to purchase meals that either temporarily increase the amount of experience points or cash you earn from multiplayer matches, or increase the chance of a certain new ability being unlocked for a piece of gear. It really goes without saying that this is a yet another smart new addition that takes just of bit of tedium out of the process of making your beloved Inkling more powerful.
But I haven’t even gotten to the biggest new addition, being Salmon Run. Salmon Run is a co-op mode that’s also playable online and through LAN play, where you fight off hordes of enemies called “Salmonids,” as well as more powerful ones called “Boss Salmonids,” alongside three teammates. The objective is to collect a certain amount of “Golden Eggs,” which are obtained from defeating Boss Salmonids. Playing enough times will grant you rewards like new gear or Ability Chunks, among other goodies. In short, Salmon Run is a blast and unlike anything else I’ve seen from Splatoon before. I haven’t been able to test this mode out with friends (which means I haven’t been able to play with the option of adjusting the difficulty, but apparently the mode is truly brutal when cranked up to anything above 50% difficulty), but I’ve heard that when doing so, the communication factor greatly elevates the experience.
And that brings me to one of the two major gripes I have with this mode, with the first being the lack of local split-screen multiplayer. It may not be a problem for someone who knows enough people who own Switches, but for someone who doesn’t–like me–this is frustrating. Granted playing online with strangers is still plenty of fun, but this is a mode I would’ve loved to play on the couch with my younger sister or any friends I have over, even if maybe meant the framerate being halved. Another baffling decision on Nintendo’s part when it comes to Salmon Run is the mode not being available online for certain hours, which gives people like me even fewer chances to play it. The only reason these limitations bother me is because Salmon Run is so darn fun, and I just want to play it more.
There are also a few annoying quirks in the main multiplayer that remain unfixed from the original Splatoon. For starters, I’m still not a fan of the map rotation system. When playing online, there are only two stages that are available at a time (they’re different for Regular, Ranked, and League Battles), with them changing every two hours. The problem is that playing on the same two maps simply gets boring after a while, and I really can’t see why the game couldn’t adopt a system similar to the online modes of either the Mario Kart series (where players vote on which stage to play) or the Super Smash Bros series (where the game randomly selects a stage each match). Additionally, the fact that you still can’t change your weapon or gear between matches without leaving the group you’re playing with is also annoying. You also still don’t have the ability to skip past the lengthy opening sequence you have to sit through every time you boot up the game, where all of the available stages and any new updates are announced. This is admittedly less of an issue than before since you can put the Switch in sleep mode unlike the Wii U, but I still don’t see why adding a stupid skip button is so hard. And finally there’s the issue of voice chat, though this is something I haven’t been able to test out. Voice chat isn’t available at all with strangers, and that’s fine by me because I’d prefer not to hear random 9-year-olds scream vulgar insults about my mom to me. It is an option with friends through the Nintendo Switch Online app, but literally every major gaming news outlet has talked about how poor it is. Hopefully Nintendo will fix their voice chat system through updates over time, but for now I’d stick with using Skype or Discord.
But despite some lingering issues from the first game and some odd limitations with Salmon Run, Splatoon 2 still manages to be a brilliant and addictive multiplayer shooter that’s filled to the brim with charm and polish, and its colorful presentation is bolstered by crisp visuals, a rock-solid 60fps framerate, and an insanely catchy soundtrack. Could Splatoon 2 have gone a little farther to differentiate itself from its predecessor? Sure, but that doesn’t mean what’s here isn’t great, and it will only get better when even more weapons, maps, and modes are added in future updates Nintendo has promised. Whether you played the first title or not, Splatoon 2 is yet another Nintendo Switch must-own.