Splatoon 2 (Switch)
Released: July 21, 2017
Splatoon 2 is one of those sequels where you can pick up instantly where you left off, without a sense of disdain that you just paid $60 for an expansion pack.
Inkopolis is back and The Great Zapfish has been stolen once again, but much has changed behind the scenes. Callie and Marie, the game’s former idols, are gone, replaced by Pearl and Marina. Some shopkeepers have moved on, others have re-branded, and new styles have swept over squid culture. It all has an air of familiarity to it, which is bolstered by the fact that we never really got to see enough of the original Splatoon in the first place — there’s many more tales to tell.
While the staple weapons are back (the rifle, sniper archetypes), the new ones add another dimension to combat like the Splat Roller did before it. You have things like the Splat Dualies that offer combat rolls for a more dynamic skill-based approach, on top of wackier concepts like the Hero Brella that blocks shots before being shot off in a Batman‘s Penguin-like fashion. While the tutorial forces you to at least try motion controls (which are a little more awkward given that you can’t use the Wii U GamePad [Switch tablet] on the TV), you can immediately turn them off after that quick five-minute escapade.
From there you can choose to immediately jump into the 10 hour-ish campaign, or partake in the almost wholly encompassing multiplayer economy. Opting for the former is a great idea as it provides a framework for everything you’re going to be doing online, and given that it uses the same concepts from the first, it’s a well-paced ride from start to finish. Hubs house several linear levels and are fun to trek around, and as always, the puns pour down like acid rain.
Without going into spoiler territory Nintendo really upped their game with boss encounters (yes, even the final one), especially since they skew toward giving you more freedom with several weapon types. I also dig the continued compromise that was made, challenge-wise, as giving you one life per checkpoint is more than fair — and also eschews the concept of “unlimited lives.” Occasionally you will have to master that tricky section, and you’ll become a better player for it. My main criticism of the campaign is that even though it never overstays its welcome, it only gets mindblowing by the time you reach the Ratchet & Clank inspired final world. They’ve officially reached the limit of this formula, and a theoretical sequel needs to re-invent it.
Salmon Run, Nintendo’s take on a horde gametype, is just what the series needed. A manageable four-player romp that has an actual goal is a perfect alternative to the hardcore endless angle that most big shooters take, and the enemy character models are adorable as hell, showcasing some of Nintendo’s best work. Playing it with the difficulty jacked up (it has a 0% to 100% slider) is a treat, and I’m willing to bet we’re going to see a surge of speedruns in the wake of its release.
The way Salmon Run is accessed though is a complete mess. After jumping in with my copy I was confused as to why I couldn’t just play it, then I remembered that outside of local support (read: no split-screen, just local Switch LAN play with at least two units) the mode is limited to “certain times” as it cycles in and out online — which makes zero sense. Given how much I’ve enjoyed the mode it’s absolutely withholding, and the only major strike against the game. Remember that when online play requires payment next year that this will be gated behind it.
The rotating level scheme is much better suited for general multiplayer. I’ve had Splatoon 2 for nearly two weeks, and almost half of my time with it was spent with online play. When I called it wholly encompassing I wasn’t kidding, because yet again most of the game’s progression is still locked to online play. If you want to upgrade your clothes or try new weapons, you need to level up and earn the right to do so. Given that every location can be unlocked in roughly 30 minutes it’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s something to keep in mind.
There’s a handful of little touches that make Splatoon so wonderful and welcoming to play online, like its recon feature, which allots you three minutes to scour a map in a practice mode of sorts. Actual matches are similar mechanically to the first, which adapts a formula that didn’t really need to be changed. It feels incredible to ink a territory, morph into a squid to juke someone, then blast then from behind. The thrill of playing Turf War (still a brilliant take on Tony Hawk‘s Graffiti mode) and meeting your enemy in the middle is still palpable, as is the sense of pride when looking over your inked kingdom. Ink, mind, that looks far more detailed given the Switch’s extra hardware juice.
Powering up gear is a little more intricate, as players can “cook up” specific stats by re-rolling them with Murch in the Inkpolis lobby, or pay a food ticket to try to augment a piece of clothing with a power-up. As a result there’s now a legitimate meta in Splatoon, one that hardcore players are going to be grinding like crazy for. The good news is that if all of that scares you, said power-ups seem to be nominal and don’t compensate for raw skill. It’s just an extra layer of icing on top for those who care.
To get into those higher levels you need to hit level 10 to unlock ranked, and work up to rank B- to get access to League Battle, the new tier of competitive play. There’s an earnest effort to cater toward the eSports crowd with all of this, but pretty much anyone should be able to reap the benefits months down the line with more ranks to chase — I’m looking forward to not capping out in one ranked mode and calling it a day.
The Nintendo online app was not available for testing, but we’ll report more on it when it does launch worldwide alongside of the game. In case you were wondering amiibo support is mostly in the form of costumes (and the power to save your character data), though I didn’t have the brand new trio in my possession at the time of publication.
If you’re the type of person who tried Splatoon for a little while and gave up, Nintendo hasn’t done a whole lot to change your mind outside of adding a horde mode. But with more concessions for higher-level play and a deeper meta, veterans will be jumping ship from Wii U to Switch in an instant. Here’s hoping that Splatoon 2 gets even more long-term support and Salmon Run is free of the shackles of a “once in a while” event for those of you who don’t have multiple Switches at your disposal.