Splatoon 2 Review: I Ink, Therefore I Am

Splatoon 2

Nintendo

Game: Splatoon 2
Consoles: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EPD

Splatoon for the Wii U was one of the most notable games to come out of 2015, a year overflowing with notable games. The game reinvigorated the stale shooter genre, providing a bright, colorful, family-friendly twist that emphasized clever use of terrain, positioning, stealth, and ink coverage over sheer kill streaks. Add to that its strong art style providing something wild even for the wacky world of Nintendo, and you have an instant classic.

Nintendo thankfully decided to not overcomplicate things for the sequel, a lesson I’m sure they learned well with the abrasive Star Fox Zero. All of the joy and surprisingly strategic gameplay of Splatoon has been preserved for Splatoon 2 while adding most of the content and updates from the original. But while Splatoon 2 is indeed everything you loved about Splatoon, I’d hesitate to say that it’s truly everything you loved and more.

Splatoon 2’s main course is its online competitive multiplayer mode. In Turf Wars, players are tasked with covering the map in more of their teams’ colored ink than the opponents’. Players can also transform into a squid, which grants them increased speed while swimming in their ink, speedier ink recovery, and the ability to climb up inked walls. Going into opponents’ ink slows you down and drains your health. Players can also bring up the map with the X Button and then warp to any teammate on the map.

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Screenshot by Jack Fennimore

The main crux of strategies in Turf Wars revolve around spreading as much ink as possible. Taking out opponents is a huge help as it prevents them from fighting for a couple of seconds and cuts their special weapon meter in half, but it’s not the main goal of the match. Because of this, Splatoon 2’s gameplay is much more focused on environmental awareness and strategically covering the map as opposed to hunting down enemies. Even players who aren’t that good at fighting can contribute. You’re constantly looking around the area and checking the map to see if there are any spots you missed or if the enemy are covering your team’s ink. You’re also sneaking past enemies to paint ink, only fighting when you have your side sufficiently inked and it’s time to move to enemy territory.

When you do have to engage with opponents, your squid-transforming abilities combine beautifully with your inking ones. You can face enemies head on if you have the weaponry for it, but it’s often best to hide in your ink and ambush opponents or climb up a wall and rain ink from above. Ink streams from weapons and the areas they paint are much more noticeable than your standard bullets, allowing you to find opponents easier. However, you can use this to your advantage to bait opponents into traps. You can also cut off opponents with your ink if they try to escape. But you’ll have to keep a careful eye on your ink reserves and retreat when necessary.

Once you get to level 10, you can join in Ranked Battles where it becomes an almost entirely different game. Instead of inking the whole map, you ink a small section of it whether it be a static point on the map or a floating tower you have to shepherd to your opponent’s side of the map. Either that or you have to take the powerful Rainmaker weapon to the end of the map. Either way, defeating opponents matters a lot more since you’re running into them constantly. The reward of XP is a lot more high stakes, with wins securing big bonuses and losses getting you almost nothing. Splatoon 2 improves upon the Ranked Matches from the original, having your HUD be more descriptive and having you lose rank points after a couple of losses as opposed to every time. All of the chaos of Turf Wars is essentially concentrated to specific points on the map. You’re constantly in a tug of war with your opponent as you furiously take down opponents and ink your turf. For those looking for a high risk, frantic challenge, this is where it’s at.

But no matter what mode you select, you’ll always be in for a good time. The unique gameplay lends itself nicely for beginners, but there are so many mechanics for advanced players to take advantage of. Matches are chaotic and speedy, giving you a rush every time you play. They also often come down to the wire; there were some matches I was sure we would win before being proven otherwise.

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Screenshot by Jack Fennimore

Adding to the craziness is the weaponry, with each type giving players different roles. For instance, rollers are used for spreading wide areas in ink as well as close combat while Chargers are used for sniping opponents from afar and creating long lines of ink for teammates to swim through. Adding to that are sub weapons like grenades and protective walls, which act as secondary sources of both spreading ink and beating opponents. Finally, your special weapon can be unleashed after spreading a certain amount of ink and can turn the tide of battle if used correctly. Weapons come in sets, offering different stats and firing patters as well as different combinations of sub weapons and specials. If there’s a specific setup you want for your tastes, there’s a good chance you’ll find it. Adding to that is stylish clothing gear that can grant passive abilities such as making you swim faster or having defeated enemies respawn slower at the cost of slowing your own respawn time. Players can combine their weapons on the battlefield for big results. You can toss out an Autobomb to distract an opponent while another sneaks up and hits them with the Octobrush.

Splatoon 2 offers brand new kinds of weapons. Dualies are two guns held akimbo which grant the player dodge rolls for evading enemy fire. While you’re immobile after the roll, your guns become more accurate as they combine their fire. There’s also an umbrella weapon that fires ink in a shotgun-like pattern, and can deploy an umbrella for protection and even fire it to move forward while under cover. However, while the umbrella is playable in single player, it won’t be available in multiplayer until a later update. New Sub Weapons include the Autobomb which seeks out opponents after being thrown, the Toxic Mist which slows opponents and drains their ink, and the Curling bomb which slides on the ground and bounces off walls before exploding.

By far the most drastic change to come to multiplayer are the new special weapons, which completely replace the ones in the original game. The specials are not nearly as disruptive as the old ones and require much more thought to use, and thus are not nearly as abusable. For example, the Inkjet has you hovering in the air via ink jets Super Mario Sunshine-style while firing exploding projectiles. However, you’re still vulnerable to attack while in the air. Ink Armor protects you from one attack and activates for all players but there’s a bit of a delay before the effect is applied.

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Screenshot by Jack Fennimore

Another welcome change is the fact that maps are a lot bigger and complex than they were in the original. Splatoon’s battles often took place in tight spaces and had very linear maps. Splatoon 2’s maps have the same narrow passages and choke points as the original’s, but there’s a lot more space and more routes to take. One map taking place in a biking track has a wide area with multiple walls to hide and a long stretch of land making up the track itself. A map in a shipyard has long stretches of land with narrow beams connecting them and moving platforms for vantage points. Thanks to the extra real estate, the ink-slinging gameplay is allowed to shine even more. Fans of the original maps need not fret as there are some fan favorites in the rotation as well. I do have to say that its occasionally frustrating when you fall into a death pit that was obscured by the map.

The biggest addition from the original game is Salmon Run, a cooperative horde mode (think Gears of War for kids) pitting a group of players against an onslaught of gormless salmon enemies. You collect eggs from defeated enemies, but your main goal is to secure golden eggs from powerful boss enemies and bring them to a container before some enemy retrieves them. Ink spreading is still a major factor as enemies have their own ink trails that constantly need to be covered up. Teamwork is also a big help, not just in letting teammates know where the boss enemies are but in helping to take them down. Some boss enemies requires you to lure it away so that another player can shoot its backside. Successful matches grant you bonuses you can use in the main game such as extra money and gear. It’s a very fun mode that that’s way more than a simple distraction. However, I would have loved to choose different difficulty modes as opposed to having everything randomized.

Single player returns as well, pitting you against the Octarians in stages across five worlds. In usual Nintendo fashion, stages have you traversing a series of obstacle courses separated by checkpoints revolving around one central gimmick. Gimmicks include rails to grind on, mats to unfurl, and of course bounce pads. I found myself enjoying these levels more than the ones in the original game. The level design, while still fairly linear, is more intricately designed and often takes you across winding platforms and even different pathways. The secrets are also very well hidden but not impossible to sniff out. Gimmicks often return and combine with new ones for more interesting gameplay. Adding to that is the fact that you can use more weapons than just your standard shooter, a feature that was exclusive to Amiibo figures in the previous game. Let’s not forget about the bosses, which offer more challenge and spectacle than the original ones. While the single player hits many of the same beats as the original, I found it to be a much more engaging time overall that’s neither too long nor short and neither too easy nor hard. Aside from some frustrating sections where you have to ride on robots and lead them forward with trails of ink and jump across rotating platforms, it’s a good time overall.

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Screenshot by Jack Fennimore

Whether you’re playing on a controller, in handheld mode, or even with the Joy Cons in each hand and the Switch on a table, the motion controls are surprisingly intuitive. It’s a good way to quickly catch opponents and spray ink around while you’re moving. I found it best to move the camera horizontally with the control stick and then move it vertically with the motion controls. In the event it does get out of whack, you can always reorient yourself with a quick tap of the Y button. While I occasionally struggled with aiming chargers, I wouldn’t honestly play any other way. Though you can adjust them or turn them off completely if you like.

The only problem with controlling the game is when swimming up walls, which requires ink to be at the very top of a wall to have enough distance to jump up to the top. Otherwise, you’ll have to repeatedly jump up to spread some ink and then make it up. It’s a constant irritation in single player which has you swimming up way more often than in multiplayer.

Presentation is as great as it’s always been, taking influence from Japan’s urban and pop culture and mixing it with Nintendo’s brand of silliness. With the move to more powerful hardware, the visuals are more technically polished. The character designs, especially for the new ones, I found more memorable and fun. And the music is way more catchy than the original, being less repetitive and much more varied with its instrumentation.

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Screenshot by Jack Fennimore

While Splatoon 2 is great, a lot of its success is the result of the base set by the original game. The sequel borrows liberally from the original, taking not just the base premise and game design but a lot of the character and environment design, weapons, gear, modes, and even some of the single player bosses. It’s not completely the same, but it still feels very familiar and only has some improvements implemented. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that while Splatoon 2 takes and sometimes improves upon elements of the original, it also retains a lot of its problems. They may seem small, but the fact that they weren’t ironed out in the sequel is a bit insulting.

You still only get to select from two maps for each multiplayer mode. While there are more maps and the rotation appears to happen more often, it’s still exhausting to play on the same map three or four times in a row. You have to listen to Pearl and Marina tell you about these maps as well as any updates every time you boot up the game without any option to skip, just like with the Squid Sisters from the original game. They’re funny, but I don’t want to have to waste a minute of my time before playing the game. In battle, you still only have two options for communicating with players: saying “This Way” or “Booyah.” The options for communicating with other players without resorting to the convoluted process of voice chat is pitiful. And in order to switch gear, you still need to exit out of the group of people you were matched with and then reenter the matchmaking process. There’s also no loadouts to speak of, with you having to change each piece of gear separately instead of having presets to change into.

Actually, there are loadouts in the game, but not in the game itself. You see, in addition to locking out some of the coolest gear in the game (power armor is best armor), Splatoon Amiibo figures also have exclusive access to the ability to save your gear setup onto the figure so you can place it on the system and change into it. A feature that could have genuinely improved the game can only be accessed by hunting down expensive, plastic twerps.

One of the most disappointing parts of the game is the fact that you cannot play minigames as you’re searching for matches. In the previous game, you can play a fun Doodle Jump-like game on the Wii U Gamepad while players join your game. In Splatoon 2, the most you can do is change the pitch of the music with the left control stick. This is especially upsetting when you consider that Splatoon 2 has an excellent rhythm minigame in the hub world – a minigame so polished that it could have been its own standalone product.

Bottom Line

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Screenshot by Jack Fennimore

I appreciate Nintendo not innovating for the sake of innovation, a trap they find themselves in all too often. Everything that made the original Splatoon such a classic has been preserved in Splatoon 2, with some improvements to give the game a fresh coat of ink. I also appreciate the tons of content to chew through, a big criticism of the original Splatoon before it received all its updates. But sadly they didn’t bother to change many of the problems of the original, and even created some new ones. However, Splatoon 2 is still the great game that made such a splash in 2015. It just could have been a bit more than that.

Score: 8/10

Pros:

  • Multiplayer is chaotic, fast, accessible, and fun
  • Salmon Run is a great, new addition
  • Single player is even better than before
  • Some improvements refresh the already great game
  • Basically everything you loved in the original Splatoon

Cons:

  • Problems from the original remain unchanged
  • Amiibo figures lock out good content, though not as much as the original game
  • No minigames during matchmaking
  • Some frustrating level design in single player
  • Swimming up walls can be a pain