For all that Splatoon and its sequel get right as a particularly Nintendo twist on the multiplayer shooter, neither game has really hit the nail on the head in terms of single player. Sure, there was a straightforward story in each, as you tackled the Octarian threat, but the games were more toward abstract puzzle shooter than cinematic epic. Nintendo are leaning in hard on this aspect though with the Octo Expansion, coming sometime in July.
Nintendo are often at their best when they take the core elements of their games and play with them in new and interesting ways. It could be the way that Mario games can often introduce a new idea and then drop it as soon as the level is done with – the capture mechanic in Mario Odyssey enabled this to brilliant effect – or how the shrines in Breath of the Wild gave you dozens of bitesized puzzle shrines that used your wits and Link’s various abilities. Octo Expansion’s levels definitely have a Breath of the Wild vibe to them, taking all the various abilities in the game and playing with them in new ways.
Take, for example, the level that puts you in the Baller special ability for its duration, effectively giving us an idea of what Super Monkey Ball would be like if transported into the Splatoon universe. You’re rolling forward, dodging incoming attacks, using the Baller’s explosive ink attack, and trying to hit checkpoints so you don’t run out of time before you can reach the end. It’s short, sharp and snappy, and it’s a lot of fun.
There’s a similar type of level for the Inkjet jetpack, and again, you’re travelling through an abstract level with floating blocks and Octarians trying to take you down. One twist is that, while you have unlimited time using the Inkjet, you can still only hover so high above the ground and will glide down into the abyss if you don’t have a platform beneath you. That quickly becomes a big part of getting through the level, as you have to manage the glide and when to use a little boost ability to get to the next platform. I actually broke out of the bounds of this level by mistake, managing to glide all the way down to the finishing platform and skip the final third…
These levels get hard, though, and you can often pick a different weapon to make it tougher still. There’s the predictably tricky timed sniping challenge, made trickier by having to shoot targets to spin the array of Octarians so that they come into range, and then there’s a level where you’re armed with a Slosher while the entire arena is made out of destructible wooden boxes. Every time you throw paint at the enemy, you destroy some of the arena!
The extremes of the expansion are well demonstrated by the last two levels I got to play: one had me shooting a large ball across the platforms, trying not to knock it off the side and praising the Great Zapfish for the stickier platforms, while another brought to mind the main game’s final boss, as I had to grind along rails and shoot down the dozen or so targets. With several different rails and all of the targets moving at different speeds, this was the trickiest level of the bunch and the one that I failed to beat.
Of course, the ultimate draw for fans of the game is that you’ll get a sweet new octopus-inspired hairstyle at the end of it all, and be able to show off when you head online. However, in order to earn it, you’ll need to beat the entirety of the Octo Expansion, which weighs in at around 80 levels. This won’t be a walk in the park!
There’s great variety in this expansion, from the puzzle-like to the tough as nails tests of your combat ability, but the one thing I’d say is that this mainly appeals to the devout Splatoon 2 fanbase. While Nintendo are toying with the gameplay in new and interesting ways, it does little to change the fact that Splatoon 2’s single player offerings aren’t particularly cohesive. If anything, Octo Expansion doubles down on this with its more experimental and challenge orientated style.