Two years on from when the Inklings first burst onto the scene, battling to daub the world of Splatoon in various vibrant coloured inks, Nintendo’s sequel proves to be just as refreshing and engaging as before. This is a sequel in the truest sense of the word, as a direct follow up that builds upon everything the original did right. There’s a more satisfying single player, more multiplayer maps and weapons, and even a new co-op mode, but unfortunately, it’s also an example of Nintendo at their most stubborn.
The carefree, yet attitude-filled Inklings and their vibrant world might still feel better suited to 90s Sega than modern day Nintendo, but it’s only the latter Japanese company that could have refined the core gameplay as well as they have done. Simply switching from an Inkling’s humanoid form to squid and swimming through the ink is a joy, but then tying this together with splattering the world with your own colour is a moment of game design perfection.
It looks fantastic on Switch, whether playing on TV or on the console itself, and marks a noticeable step up in graphical quality compared to the Wii U original. It plays great as well, whether using the Pro Controller, with console in hand or with Joy-Con separately, with the proviso that you need to adapt to the motion controls. You can turn motion off independently for TV and handheld play, but it’s the better and more sensitive control option by far.
It’s the ingenious and expertly crafted combination of shapeshifting and ink painting that gives Splatoon its defining game mode, which remains in Splatoon 2. Turf War pits two teams of four head to head, not to rack up the most kills – though putting someone out of action for a few moments obviously helps – but to try and claim as much territory as possible with your team’s paint, usually at the enemy’s expense. Rounds are short and sweet at just three minutes long, giving each battle just enough time to flourish, a chance for a team to make a dramatic comeback, but without ever outstaying its welcome.
You’ve got a lot of weapons to choose from with which to colour in the environments, which cover a selection of fairly plain looking industrial and recreational areas like skate parks just waiting to be splattered. From the trusty Splattershot’s automatic fire to sniper rifles, paint rollers, paint buckets, gatling guns and new additions like the akimbo Splat Dualies and the Splatbrella that will be added soon after release, you’ll gradually unlock these different type of weapon and then variants of each that might change rate of fire, distance, and so on.
Compared to Splatoon, there’s more refinement here. The Splatcharger can hold its charge for a few seconds as you swim through ink, the Splatroller will throw a vertical line of ink when you jump, and the Splat Dualies let you pull a dodge roll that focusses the two streams of ink droplets into one for a moment. Not only that, but weapons come as a set alongwith a sub weapons and special weapon. Special weapons are your reward for covering the arena in paint, and they’re now more varied and don’t just boil down to being unlimited sub weapons for a short period, so you have Ink Storm that creates a cloud of inky rains over an area, the Tenta Missiles to send a barrage of rockets toward enemies current locations, and so on.
The goalposts shift for ranked battles that are available once you’ve hit level 10. With three returning objective-based modes – Splat Zones, Tower Control and Rainmaker, each of which has been tweaked – you’re not focussed on controlling the whole map, but pushed to consider one particular area or item at a time. Not only that, but it helps to work as a team, which will only be amplified in League Battles. These are accessible once you’ve attained a rank of B- or better for any of the three ranked modes, and are intended for teams of four and matchmaking with duos.
One thing not available prior to launch is the Nintendo Switch Online app, SplatNet 2 that lives within this and how it will aid teaming up with friends. An Online Lounge option exists in the online menu for the app integration, but there is also a basic Friends section that simply shows names and whether you can join them or not.
While multiplayer is the main show in town, it’s got a support act in the single player campaign. Amusingly, it features an almost identical story to the original – the Great Zapfish has disappeared and you’re inducted into a secret team to fight the Octarians to get it back – and with the exact same overall structure to the campaign. You explore five hub areas in order to find each level, and upon completing these have a boss fight that opens up the next space.
It’s hardly revolutionary, but it does introduce you to the game’s various weapons much better, as Sheldon from the gun shop pops up to hand you various guns at the start of certain missions. That said, you can replay all of these wth weapons of your choice. There’s more expansive level design and much more detail throughout, albeit with the same feel and abstract style of the original, and this feeds into the next hub area you reach. The boss fights are also more interesting and they evolve their attack patterns more convincingly.
The one truly new addition here is the cooperative Salmon Run, which is Nintendo’s crack at a good old Horde Mode. Just as with the other pillars of this game, it’s played in short and sweet bursts, as you face just three waves of enemies per match, trying to scoop up the golden eggs dropped by the varied and quirky Salmonid bosses – you’ll quickly learn their weak spots. Each wave has a minimum quota of golden eggs, but a crack team can grab well over three times that at lower difficulties, which boost the amount of points you can put to rewards later on and helps level you up.
It can be absolutely brutal at times, especially when you’re not at your full compliment of four players, as the game seems to delight in throwing an overwhelming mass of bosses at you during the third wave, or uses the variable sea levels, night time and fog to feature different enemies and present different challenges to you. One thing hampering you is that you don’t get to pick your weapons, but are instead given a different weapon each wave. On the one hand, it’s a nice way of keeping you on your toes, but it’s a noose around your neck if you don’t get on with a particular weapon type.
Bizarrely, Salmon Run won’t be available at all times. It’s a simply baffling decision, but you are at least able to see the upcoming schedule in the game’s Stages menu, and there will be five windows of opportunity in the game’s first week, each lasting between 12 and 24 hours.
It’s just another sign that Nintendo don’t quite “get” online multiplayer, or that they disagree with everyone else over how it should be structured, with many of the oddities of the original game remaining. To change your loadout, for example, you can’t do so in a match or while being matchmade, but have to back out at least as far as the main multiplayer menu, except there’s no back button once you’ve started matchmaking. Even Mario Kart 8 Deluxe realised that players would want to switch characters and karts between races.
Similarly, there are no map playlists, but rather pairs of maps are assigned to each of regular, ranked and league battles for two hours at a time, meaning you could easily end up playing the same map time and time again for two hours straight. Not only that, but there’s still the map introduction cutscenes, now with Pearl and Marina as the Off the Hook hosts, that will have you mashing the A button to skip them. At least you can fast forward through Sheldon’s gun unlocking preamble, but that still lasts too long.
A fairly straightforward sequel to one of the Wii U’s best games, Splatoon 2’s unique take on the online multiplayer shooter is as fresh as ever on Switch. Nintendo still have one foot in the past with online functionality, stubbornly sticking to their (paint) guns when they should be learning from others, but these flaws are easily covered up once you get into a game. At its heart, Splatoon 2 is a second helping of one of the most inventive shooters of the last decade.