The original Splatoon was one of the biggest success stories of the Wii U. It was the first truly original IP from Nintendo in years and not only did it captivate its fans, it also managed to inject a healthy dose of colour, fun and creativity into the online shooter genre. Despite the platform it launched on, Splatoon left its mark on the public consciousness even if only as “that weird Nintendo shooter”. Fast forward to 2017 and the popularity of the Switch brings with it quite possibly the best second chance a franchise has ever had. Splatoon 2 is here, but is it a fully fledged sequel deserving of a numbered title, or a Mario Kart 8 Deluxe-style port?
For those not familiar at all with the world of Splatoon you play as inklings, humanoid squids that are very keen on shooting each other for sport and being on the cutting edge of fashion. Instead of bullets you shoot ink and the vanilla online game mode, Turf War, requires each team to cover the ground of the game arena in their colour. After the time runs out whichever team has the higher percentage of inked turf wins the match.
Splatoon 2, just like the original game, has an undeniably unique vibe and aesthetic. Whether you’re hanging out in Inkopolis Square, the (shopping) hub world populated by other player’s inklings, or exploding squids in gyms, skate parks or down at the docks with the brightest oranges, blues, pinks and greens imaginable, it all congeals into a bizarre but incredibly charming world. The music, too, is outstanding and ridiculously catchy. For those who played the first game, Splatoon 2’s soundtrack builds upon and tweaks familiar themes, as well as bringing all new tunes into the mix.
The single player mode makes a comeback, with Marie of the Squid Sisters tasking you to again recover the source of Inkopolis’ power, the Great Zapfish, while also uncovering the whereabouts of her missing partner. These levels are understated genius, a mix of shooting and platforming with plenty of secrets to find and mechanics to master. While this may seem an extreme comparison, I was reminded at times of Mario Galaxy in that each level introduced a new gadget, weapon or enemy that proved just as exciting and surprising as the last. There are floating orbs that when shot pull you towards them as if you were using a hookshot, ink rails that you swim along like you’re grinding in a Tony Hawk game, and my personal favourite, rolonium, which are stacks of cylinders that shoot off in the direction you hit them, steamrolling everything in their path.
Each world in the campaign is made up of approximately six levels, culminating in a boss fight. These encounters can be tricky, even working out how to damage them can be a challenge in and of itself. I was surprised by the humour seen throughout, with several lines getting some chuckles out of me. Marie poking fun at my earnest secret-hunting is a nice touch, too. The weapon merchant, Sheldon, will request you finish particular levels with a particular weapon and finishing all of them with that weapon will unlock a special skin for use in multiplayer. Playing levels you’ve beaten with a different weapon doubles as a great way to familiarise yourself with the arsenal you’ll be facing in online battles.
As mentioned earlier, Turf War will be your introduction to multiplayer and after reaching level 10 (which will take a decent amount of time) you’ll unlock ranked battles. Ranked isn’t just a way to put a grade on your skill level, it also comes with three distinct game modes: Rainmaker, Tower Control and Splat Zones. Rainmaker is like Capture the Flag, but the flag is also a devastating weapon. Tower Control sees each team capturing a small tower that will then move toward the enemy base. You can ride the tower firing down on your enemies, but be wary as you’ll also be presenting yourself as a clear target. Rounding out the ranked modes is Splat Zones, which involves capturing control points and holding them until your team’s timer reaches zero.
There are signs that Nintendo listened to feedback directed at the first game. Maps are now on a two-hour rotation instead of four, you can quickly skip through shopkeeper text now, Miiverse may be gone, but it’s functionality lives on in some form, along with a number of other quality of life changes. These include tweaks to the aforementioned ranked modes. In Tower Control, the tower will now stop at checkpoints for a short time instead of moving unimpeded to the goal. Similarly, the rainmaker now shoots in an arc like a grenade launcher instead of a straight shot like the inkzooka in Splatoon, making it far less deadly. These changes both favour the losing team, increasing the chances of a comeback.
Last but not least is the cooperative horde mode Salmon Run. This sees you and three other players holding the line against waves of AI-controlled Salmonids. Peppered in among the waves will be boss Salmonids, each as deadly and diverse as the next. When defeated they drop Golden Eggs which you have to nab and ferry back to your egg basket. The aim is to fill a quota for each wave before the time runs out, or before all four of you fall to the Salmonid masses. This mode is a brand new addition for the sequel and it’s an absolute blast. It can also be quite difficult, with a significant portion of the matches I played ending in defeat.
Launching alongside Splatoon 2 is Nintendo’s online app for the Switch complete with its bungled method of voice chat. Instead of being handled through the game and console itself, in order to use voice chat in Splatoon 2 you’ll have to have a smartphone, download the app, then use it to make a lobby. If you want to check Twitter or even send a text message, the app will temporarily disconnect you from the room. This is especially egregious because third party voice chat apps like Discord can run in the background with no issue. This solution is anything but ‘elegant’, as Reggie called it, and while I suppose it’s better than nothing, it’s extremely frustrating that, in 2017, Nintendo is still so far behind when it comes to online functionality. One positive thing about the app is Splatnet 2, which allows you to see your level, rank, weapon loadout, which maps are currently in rotation and a whole lot more. You can even order in special clothing which will allow you to buy in-game the next time you play.
All things considered, Splatoon 2 is an incredibly solid game that’s easy to recommend to any Switch owner. Whether you’re after creative singleplayer or battling it out online either against or alongside other players, Splatoon 2 really does have something for everyone. It speaks volumes that even while writing this review I can’t wait to get back to splatting some Salmonids. With a year’s worth of content updates promised, Splatoon 2 is set to make the most of its second chance and well and truly cement its position among the Nintendo pantheon.
Splatoon 2 was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using an eShop download code provided by Nintendo.