I’ve often said that Nintendo are at their best when they’re exploring the various abilities and gameplay mechanics in their games. It’s something that was so ably demonstrated in Breath of the Wild with more than a hundred shrines designed to test your exploration, puzzling and battling, and it’s that same spirit that returns in Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion, albeit with a healthy portion of sadism mixed in to spice things up.
Waking up with the gloriously moustachioed Cap’n Cuttlefish standing over you, with no memories of how you came to be here or your previous life, one thing is made clear: you’re enemies. Instead of playing an Inkling, you’re one of the Octolings that’s regularly popped up in the single player for both games. As Octarian counterparts to the Inklings, you’re still humanoid, still have all the same weapons and abilities, but sport octopus-like suckers on your hair. With no idea where the two of you are, Cuttlefish proposes a truce to try and get you back to the surface, and Agent 8 (or Number 10008 as a weird telephone you find calls you) gets to chase the dream of passing all the tests before them and reaching the promised land of the surface.
This is no simple task and it’s one that must be earned, exploring the Deepsea Metro network and overcoming all the challenges put before you. At their simplest, they pit you against a squad of rival Octolings in one of the game’s multiplayer modes, such as Tower Control and Rainmaker, but the vast majority are much more inventive than that, testing your reflexes, puzzling skills, or both. You’ll be riding rails and sniping targets in one level, rolling in a hamster ball the next, trying to make it through a level without running out of ink, and on and on.
Whether it’s the number of lives you’re given, a strict ink limit or a timer that counts down to your death, you’re often pushed to the limit by the exacting demands. Not only that, but you have to pay out of your bank of tokens to keep trying, forcing you not to get stuck on one spot and head to try a different challenge if you’re not making enough progress. It initially feels like it could be a harsh punitive measure, but it’s not too difficult to end up with a nice buffer. Additionally, after two failed attempts at any level, you can call upon Pearl and Marina’s hacking skills to bypass the level for a fee.
There are 80 challenges to take on in the metro system, trying to reach the four “Thangs” that will enable you to reach Inkopolis, and I often bumped into ones that felt nigh on impossible on my first few attempts. Thankfully, the metro system sprawls out in different directions, connecting different lines at marked points and unveiling more of the map for you. Right from the off you have two levels to choose from, but soon you’ll have half a dozen, meaning there’s always somewhere else to go if you’re stuck and always another way around to reach a Thang.
While story isn’t exactly Splatoon’s strongest point, Octo Expansion makes the most of what it’s got. Pearl and Marina find a radio that can chat with Cap’n Cuttlefish, leaving cute chat logs for you skim through, filled with relatively modern day humour around text speak and Cuttlefish’s age. A couple of other characters live on the tube, a sea slug conductor excellently called C.Q. Cumber and Iso Padre who’s eager to sample the ‘mem cakes’ that you collect from completing each level. It’s still a shame that, with a fun and lighthearted world, Nintendo aren’t doing more to weave a more engaging story through it. That’s something that Splatoon 3 really ought to try and take on.
The potential that a third game could hold is really demonstrated once you gather all four Thangs and journey through a sequence of several levels to reach the surface. It’s tightly constructed, again taking the core gameplay ideas from Splatoon and mixes them up once more into a serialised string of missions that expand and solidify some of the world’s barmy lore. It’s a great way to cap off the DLC. Of course, if you return and complete all of the levels on the metro, there’s a bonus boss battle to take on for the true ending.
The one problem with this expansion is the price. At £17.99, it feels very expensive when compared to other games and their DLC, and it similarly feels like it’s catering to quite a specific niche. With so many levels and challenges though, there is plenty of content here, however, and it is pretty comparable to the main single player mode in the game.
While it’s wonderfully experimental, Octo Expansion isn’t an essential purchase, but will give diehard Splatoon fans hours of often rock hard challenges to overcome.