Review: Splatoon 2
The multi-coloured menagerie of ink-inspired adventures continues in Splatoon 2.
21 September 2018 – by Catarina White
Version reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Nintendo has been especially adept at capturing creativity, unique gameplay, and fun in their first-party franchises. We've been treated over the years to many new adventures with old favourites like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario, and have enjoyed plenty of new experiences like Animal Crossing as well. Splatoon 2 establishes the Splatoon IP as a strong contender for one of Nintendo's best first-party franchises; a fun story that weaves original ideas and gameplay with dazzlingly colourful visuals, it allows you to be spirited away to Nintendo's absolutely delightful interpretation of a shooter.
I had varying expectations for different aspects of this game, predicting that the single-player story mode may not shine compared to the online multiplayer, which I was most excited to dive into. My predictions weren't very accurate: the entire game is carefully crafted, and the single-player mode offers solid, light-hearted fun, whereas the multiplayer mode delivers the pang of excitement you get before diving into a ranked online match. Nintendo has released an all-around great game in Splatoon 2.
The story is a continuation of the original game's plot, which ended 2 years before the start of Splatoon 2. As you're reintroduced to everyone's favourite Squid Sisters, Callie and Marie, it's revealed that the two have drifted apart since Marie defeated her cousin in the first game's final Splatfest. Marie leaves the great city of Inkopolis for a time, but finds upon her return that not only has Callie gone missing, but so has the Great Zapfish that powers the entire city! Marie takes up the mantle of Agent 2, and this is where you come in: recruited as Agent 4, your mission - should you accept it - is the recovery of stolen Zapfish from the evil Octarians and the simultaneous investigation into Callie's mysterious disappearance. The story provides a wild ride full of memorable characters, well-written humour, and great pacing.
Splatoon 2 is every bit the third-person shooter that its predecessor was, and much more. The world of Splatoon 2 is gorgeous to look at, with beautifully rendered NPCs and improved textures and colours. There are numerous stages available for online competition both old and new - I especially enjoyed the new Inkblot Art Academy and Musselforge Fitness as their layouts have great flow - and the progression of difficulty in the single-player levels never seems to compromise the aesthetics, which is an impressive accomplishment.
Gameplay in single-player isn't very complicated compared to the depth of customization options available in online play. You progress through a land known as Octo Canyon, by locating and inking tea kettles that act as entry points to the available levels in each of the canyon's four areas. As you progress to the later areas in the canyon, locating these tea kettle entrances can sometimes be quite challenging and might require moderately difficult puzzle-solving to reach them; I enjoyed the process, which left me with a feeling of accomplishment once I had managed to locate and complete all the base kettle levels, which unlocked the master tea kettle and the area's final boss.
You aren't able to customize the appearance of your Inkling in single-player mode; you wear a basic Agent outfit that is provided to you by Marie, who at first is coy about her identity. You also don't always get to select your weapon when starting a level. Sheldon, a horseshoe crab and military fanatic, is constantly recruiting you to do weapon research as you progress through your missions. He asks - tells, really, since you don't get the option to turn him down - that you use a specific weapon during your mission to gather data on it for him. I found it was often a weapon I wouldn't have chosen for the mission had I been able to pick, and it's likely to be the same for many players; this results in the difficulty of the mission increasing, which I'm certain was intended by the game developers, and is an appreciated quirk because the missions overall remain easy to complete even with the increased difficulty.
The 32 single-player missions progress smoothly, and with good pacing. The game can be completed in less than 10 hours, even with the time it would take to locate all collectibles. The only additions I would have made would have been more co-op gameplay involving Marie - though you do get to play alongside her during the last mission - and the ability to customize your gear as you progress through the Octo Canyon areas.
The online modes have significantly more depth and many different gameplay options available. Manoeuvring your Inkling to the lobby allows you to bring up the online mode menu, and though there are six different modes in total, the most common modes that players will select are Regular Battles and Ranked Battles. Regular Battles allow you to engage in unranked Turf War matches, the same kind of match available in the original game; Turf War is all shades of technicolour enjoyment, essentially consisting of two randomly assigned teams racing to cover the most square-footage of a map in their team's ink. It's simple, it's easy, but it's never boring. Ranked Battles have multiple possible modes including games like Splat Zone, Tower Control, or Rainmaker that test your different skills and teamwork abilities to get the win. My favourite by far is the Tower Control missions, where the extreme speed required to be highly competitive makes for some exceptionally entertaining moments and down-to-the-second wins.
Maps in both Regular and Ranked modes rotate every two hours, preventing players who sit down for extended sessions from experiencing the tediousness of having to play the same maps non-stop. Competitive players will be delighted to know that each different Ranked Battle mode provides a letter grade ranking, allowing you to keep a close eye on which modes you excel in and which modes you need to practice. The most recently updated version of the game also allows for gear changes between matches, a feature that I desperately wanted when I played Splatoon on Wii U. It alleviates the significant frustration of having to leave the lobby, change your gear, and then rejoin a new lobby. The elimination of that cumbersome process only required a small change, but makes a big impact. Additionally, I really wish you could change your Inkling's species into other cool species that you see as you interact with NPCs, although the addition of Octolings in the separate Octo Expansion is great progress here.
Splatoon 2 also includes a standalone online game called Salmon Run, a premium co-operative play offering. Your mission is to work with others to defeat boss creatures and collect eggs for a shady employer known as Grizzco Industries. Sounds simple enough, but in reality, the difficulty ramps up quickly and you must work in perfect concerted effort with your fellow Inklings if you want to collect eggs and not be overrun by the trash-slinging boss monsters. Despite being a smash hit in the Splatoon community, Salmon Run is only playable at certain times on an unpublished and unpredictable schedule. It's certainly a confusing move by Nintendo, and one that frustrates many of the game's biggest fans.
To discuss the depth of the online gameplay options, you must certainly also discuss the available gear. The amount of available gear has been significantly increased by including weapons from Splatoon alongside some that are new to Splatoon 2. The weapons provide an almost infinite combination of play styles and preferences, including anything from the short-range Tri-Slosher to the Splatterscope sniper rifle. Beyond the weapons, the customization continues with clothing, which provides a way to personalize the look of your Inkling in battle while also providing valuable boosts. Each clothing item - including shoes, sweaters, goggles, and more - has the potential to unlock between one and four special skill boosts, including the basic slot. These are unlocked as you gain experience in battle while wearing the clothing. If your favourite item of clothing doesn't get the skill boosts you were hoping for, you can delete unwanted boosts and apply boost combinations from other gear or play the lottery again and assign more random boosts which are hopefully more your style. As if this wasn't creative enough, you can also order any gear you have seen on someone else playing the game, though your ordered gear won't have the same abilities. These incredible customization options truly make you feel like you're in control when it comes to creating an edge for competitive play, which is always a great feeling.
You'll have no challenges playing this game with the Switch either docked or undocked, though I personally found it easier to play docked with the gyro controls turned on. In my opinion, gyro controls are a must for this game, as the extra control gives you one less thing to focus on when playing competitively in fast-paced situations, and you never need to worry about a change in frame rate or software crashes or other glitches. The game is highly enjoyable when playing on a large screen with the gyro controls on; depending on personal preference, you might want to use the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, but using a pair of Joy-Con controllers in the Joy-Con Grip is often going to be more than enough control for high-level play.
Splatoon 2 is a riot. I loved the first game, and I like this one even more. The improved gameplay experience with regard to weapons and gear is the icing on the cake, and the single-player mode is surprisingly fresh and enjoyable. Splatoon 2 cements Nintendo's growing reputation in the shooter genre with this impressive accomplishment. There are still some small opportunities for improvement, but nothing significant enough to distract from the crazily colourful and vibrant gameplay. Bravo, Nintendo!