Riding a train of hype that was literally oozing style, I got the first Splatoon on launch day and enjoyed every second I spent with it, at least when I wasn’t raging at my teammates. While not without flaws and some questionable Nintendo-y decisions, the first adventure was a fresh change of pace to the stagnant shooter genre that had fallen into a dark, rusty rut of trying to be hyper-realistic, often at the expense of fun. The risks Nintendo took paid off as the game was met with critical acclaim and took home piles of accolades, including The Game Awards Best Shooter, Best Multiplayer, and Best Family Game awards in 2015. I defy any other company to win those three awards with one game.
Thick with Hype!
Leading up to Splatoon 2, I’ve been even more excited from the plethora of promotional material; enough so to buy a grossly overpriced Gamestop Switch bundle just to be sure I would have everything I needed on launch day (Seriously, $40 for a 64 gig microSD card and $22 for shipping?). Adding to my fervor were the scheduling conflicts that prohibited me from participating in any of the Global Testfire demo events or the Cake vs. Ice Cream pre-release Splatfest event.
Before we begin…
For the few uninitiated, Splatoon and its sequel take place in a distant future where the ice caps melted, flooding killed off most species of land creatures, sea creatures evolved and inherited our society, and now Inklings (squid people) war with Octolings (octopus people) over electric fish to use as their power supply.
In their downtime, Inklings compete in Turf War sporting events where they compete to cover as much horizontal surface as they can in their team’s ink before the time limit. In both cases, they use a variety of water guns, paint rollers, buckets, and other pool party inspired weapons to attack each other, cover surfaces, and swim through said covered surfaces.
Basically, it’s a non-violent shooter that tries a lot harder than Extreme Paintbrawl.
Have no mouth; must scream.
One thing I enjoyed about the first game was the use of the Wii U’s asymmetric gameplay. Wii U gamepad used a touch screen allowing you to super jump to your allies or call down an Inkstrike with certain weapons. Having abandoned a two screen experience on the Switch, I’m apprehensive about the lack of an innovative feature and how it will impact gameplay. However, I’m not nearly as apprehensive about the lack of a second screen experience as the rest of the internet is about the new Nintendo Switch Online app.
After having no voice chat in the first Splatoon despite public outcry, Nintendo has responded by offering voice chat not through the game itself, but through a free phone app that apparently requires a headset and special splitter. The early consensus is that you’re far better off just using Skype or some other medium, and given that I never felt much need for voice chat in Splatoon 1, I’m content to do without it for now. However, the app also shows your battle records, how much ink you’ve spread compared to the surface areas of large things like world wonders, and allows you to special order gear to your game.
While all nice features, there’s zero reason for them to be delegated exclusively to a mobile device. The Switch could do all these things directly and do them well! It would be easier and simpler than picking up a second device. The existence of this app sends the message that the Switch is incapable of these functions, which simply isn’t true.
Enough preface. Time to get messy.
Looks like my save data from the Splatfest event didn’t carry over. I’m dumped into the training area from the demo, which tells me no data from the tutorial carried over. Wow, am I out of practice or are the controls super loose and sensitive? Oh well, after the tutorial I’m greeted as expected by Pearl and Marina, the new pop band running things now. They force feed me information about three different types of battles going on and the game’s simple but enjoyable story mode.
On to story mode, the best place to get my bearings before going online. The story centers on Marie, a member of The Squid Sisters pop band. In the last game, Marie assisted the player in the last game in defeating the antagonistic Octarians and returning the electric Zapfish to Inkling control and use powering their towns. In Splatoon 2, the Zapfish are stolen again and Marie’s sister and bandmate, Callie, has gone missing as well, and she asks me to rescue both.
Apparently, I’m not as rusty as I thought. Things fall back into place immediately and I start ducking, swimming, using cover, and obliterating NPC enemies like so many online n00bs as I progress through quirky platforming challenges. It doesn’t take long before I’ve cleared three levels, taken their hidden sea scrolls, and slain an absurd boss designed like a bread oven.
The new levels are fun and recycle some bits from Splatoon 1 with new offerings as well. As I progress, Sheldon, the weapons dealer, offers me a variety of weapons to progress. To some extent, they all just feel like point-and-blast against the predictable computer enemies, but perhaps I’m rushing and not savoring the nuances.
After six levels, it’s time to return online. I’m dropped into a lobby where I’m the sole level one of the four-on-four turf war, perhaps leaving me at a disadvantage I was hoping not to encounter on launch day. I at least have the good fortune of playing in Port Mackerel, a retouched but returning level from the last game that I’m familiar with.
Armed with my junk gear, I am determined to start my Splatoon 2 career with the first splat. I stick to strategies I developed from the last game and try to ink the nooks and crannies before diving into the fray, dodging a frontal attack, and after some back and forth dodging, end up starting with a double kill! Sorry… double splat! The momentum doesn’t exactly carry through the match though and despite coming in first on my team with over 1000 points, we lose the match. Some things never change… A few more online matches and I win more than I lose, splat far more than I’m splatted, and seem to come in first on my team half the time, though too many matches are decided because someone disconnected. Makes me glad I opted for the USB Ethernet adapter to strengthen my connection. People on forums have been complaining about dropping connections, but as time went on I didn’t experience more than an odd rubber banding once or twice while playing online. $8 well spent.
Splatoon 2, Screen 1
It isn’t long before the lack of the second screen by way of a gamepad really starts to hurt my playstyle. Before, it was a simple matter of looking down at the gamepad to know what turf was inked by who, and tapping on the teammate you wanted to teleport to. Now, you have to toggle that display on your only screen, be it your television or the switch screen. Either way, it feels very cumbersome compared to last gen and really shows the biggest failing of the Switch as a system compared to the Wii U. As time goes on, I start getting used to toggling the map over my TV with the X button, but it’s just not the same.
The new multiplayer levels feel familiar despite being new. Concepts like a skate park and a museum are recycled because I guess there’s only so many kinds of hipster establishments to conceptualize. While they are fresh and fun to play, they don’t feel terribly memorable. But perhaps that’s due to the intense rush of playing. As my sessions went on, I got better gear and fell into my familiar groove of playing, and got at least two quad-splats to ace the enemy team. It would seem that this game has brought in an influx of people who either skipped Splatoon 1, are struggling with motion controls and don’t know to turn them off, or are just plain bad. Oh well. More points for me.
This isn’t weird enough. Let’s add radioactive salmon.
The game’s biggest new feature is the Player vs. Enemy Salmon run game. Only available intermittently, a team of four takes on three waves of monstrous Salmonids to harvest their eggs for an inanimate talking wooden bear. I played a few rounds and initially found it to be easy yet satisfying.
However, I put it down and came back a few hours later, and found the difficulty had skyrocketed with no observable warning. Twice my team was wiped within the first wave and I found my experience points being docked for it. Not helping matters is that you’re assigned weapons between rounds, and both times I was stuck with the melee-centric Inkbrush I don’t care for. A greater level of control would have been most welcome. Furthermore, I returned the next day to find the game was time locked and unavailable. Further still, looking at the posted schedule, the game would not be available for the nights after I get off work or on my upcoming vacation day. It’s frustrating to have this game mode be unavailable the only times I can play it. I imagine they’re trying to keep it fresh by limiting how much people can play it, or else limit how much they can bank off of it, but there must be better ways of addressing that. I hope future patches soften these limits.
Finish the story.
Bouncing around between features, I finished the game’s story mode with all the Sunken Scrolls after something under eight hours. Much like Splatoon 1, just navigating the hub world and finding the kettles (doors) to stages in the later game is more challenging than early levels. The mode is forgiving with frequent checkpoints, each granting you three chances to progress to the next checkpoint. Only maybe twice were they not enough to spare me returning to the hub world to start over due to failure. Much like the first Splatoon, the final boss battle was a thrilling musical climax that wrapped things up while leaving me wanting more. I don’t want to say more, as to not spoil anything, and because you just have to see the ending play out to appreciate it. I guess I’ll just have to return to multiplayer while my adrenaline is still pumping.
Immersed in lovely squid ink.
Splattered throughout the game are so many charming features that add to the overall experience. While Nintendo is phasing out Miiverse, you can still draw one color pixel art for the game’s lobby area and the internet has figured out how to hack in pixel perfect memes and clips from movies and TV. Hub world NPCs are likable and funny in their own ways. Little details in the lobby include parody billboards for Phantom of the Opera and Wicked with squids as well as a straight up advertisement for Tower Records. The game feels like a small but living world that you can be excited to be a part of.
Like its predecessor, the game’s soundtrack is a joyous mix of pop and techno, often accompanied by heavily filtered incoherent lyrics that might get on the nerves of parents or the kind of heartless person who wouldn’t be playing a game like this in the first place. The Squid Sister’s hits from last game return in the story mode alongside new tracks, along with new music from newcomer band and darlings of the internet Off The Hook. The songs can get a little repetitive in multiplayer, but they also help you gauge how much time is left in a three-minute match when you can follow the flow of a familiar song. Still, music and other audio sliders would have been a welcome addition to this game as they were painfully absent from the previous game.
…from my cold, dead tentacles.
Level rotation for online play feels limited but I’m fine with it for now, knowing full well Nintendo is planning a year of content updates and two years of events, similar to how they handled Splatoon 1. I’m level 11, reveling in my 32 and 18 Win/Loss record as I’m tearing up ranked battles, and my biggest concern relating to Splatoon 2 right now is that I won’t be able to tear myself away from it in October when Super Mario Odyssey releases.
- Colorful graphics with a strong framerate
- Fast paced action
- Great variety of play modes
- Absurd app and voice chat execution
- Seemingly unnecessary mode restrictions