Following Splatoon 2’s launch, I immersed myself in one of Nintendo’s newest IPs throughout long-haul flights, hour-long trains, and half-hour trams, and I never once felt like my experience was diminished because of it. Splatoon 2 is something special, and while it doesn’t reinvent what made the Wii U original great, the new additions, quality of life tweaks, and the hardware it now finds itself on make for an experience that is perfectly tailored to the Switch.
Meaty single-player modes aren’t something to be expected from multiplayer-focused titles in this day and age, so as a new player to the series, this was the first thing that surprised me about Splatoon 2. The game’s hero mode, which is comprised of 27 levels and a handful of boss battles, is a collection of wacky arenas that introduce you to all the mechanics Splatoon has to offer, wrapped up in a story that takes itself about as seriously as the universe the game finds itself in.
Most of the game’s levels follow a central theme, and many require you to use a specific weapon the first time you complete them. There are two types of collectibles you can grab in each level, and alongside the currency you pick up, these can be used to upgrade your inkling’s abilities and weapons.
For most titles of this nature, a ‘one and done’ type deal is usually how I’d operate after finishing the single-player mode. In Splatoon 2, this was not the case. Upon completion, I immediately wanted to dive back in to collect everything on offer and beat my previous times. That most levels are designed with a certain weapon in mind makes using a different armament a fascinating deviation.
When it’s time to take your weapons online, there’s nothing quite like Splatoon’s frantic, fast-paced set of multiplayer modes. Turf War is back, and will probably carry the bulk of players over the game’s lifespan. Tasking combatants with covering the most area of the map with their assigned ink colour, the 4v4 mode is a classic – raw, and extremely fun way to spend hours upon hours online.
Similarly, with a two map rotation every two hours, Turf War is competitive and rewards teamwork, though without a way of communicating properly online via voice chat without a secondary app (Discord and Skype are recommended – don't bother with the Nintendo Switch Online app), it can get frustrating if your teammates aren’t playing to the objective.
The game’s ranked modes, which unlock after you hit level 10, provide similar thrills. Rainmaker tasks you with pushing deep into enemy territory with the game’s most powerful weapons, Tower Control is an Overwatch-styled objective-based mode, and Splat Zones is a domination-style frag-fest that rewards the team that covers a specified zone with the most ink.
All are great fun. The problem is that without a way to create lobbies with friends, you’re at the game’s mercy in terms of who you’re ranked up with. Were there some way to make a lobby and go at it with your own four-person squid team, the multiplayer would be an absolute treat.
Oddly, you can do exactly that in the game’s League Battle mode, Splatoon 2 stab at an esports mode. Teaming up with another player or a team of four, you compete for two hours at a time (!) and are ranked and graded when that time elapses. It’s not something I found myself playing too much, but I can see the competitive scene really taking to it over time.
Splatoon 2 is rounded out by horde-like mode called Salmon Run, which pits groups of up to four players against a never-ending salmonid army. The aim is to collect a prescribed amount of eggs that salmonids drop to complete a wave, with each wave getting more difficult the longer the game progresses.
It was here I had the most fun with Splatoon 2, but also felt the most frustration, as co-operation and teamwork remains a key element to success. If you’re with a group of random players and can’t find a way to effectively clear out waves or communicate, you’re going to struggle in the higher difficulty modes. Though Salmon Run is only available during specified times – during the game’s bi-monthly Splatfests, for example – it feels like an event, and checking and bookmarking the times it is an exciting little routine.
Customisation and experimentation is heavily encouraged in Splatoon 2, with inklings able to purchase and equip a variety of hats, shirts, and shoes, which all affect play in one way or another. All pieces of gear have a core stat assigned to them, but some also contain up to three extra stat slots which unlock as you play and gain XP. The ultimate goal is to have gear that compliments your play style, and equipping gear with three extra ability slots gives you a great advantage over others.
Almost everything works well in Splatoon 2. Its graphics are gorgeous and truly pop in handheld mode, and soundtrack is a fantastic accompaniment as you ink your way up the rankings. It’s a shame, then, that the game is held back by so many small things, the most prominent of which is that you can’t change your loadout mid-match or while you’re in a lobby waiting for a match to start.
And again, the fact that you’re unable to create lobbies and enter ranked play or Turf War with friends is extremely frustrating, considering how long Sony and Microsoft have been doing this for. It’s absurd in 2017 to be restricted so heavily, and to have communication features relegated to a phone app that frankly is a bit of a disaster at this time.
Hopefully these negatives are rectified over time, but as of now they heavily detract from the game, which otherwise could be one of this generation’s best and most original multiplayer outings. The potential is certainly there, and with the Switch as popular and portable as it is, Splatoon 2 is still a game I can’t recommend enough.
It is also one of Nintendo’s most conservative sequels, but why break a formula that works? Its seven hour single-player outing is well worth experiencing, and the multiplayer is an experience you can’t quite get anywhere else – for better and for worse. Salmon Run is a great new addition, and I’m excited to see where Splatoon 2 is in a year’s time. The biggest issues plaguing the game right now are ones that can ultimately be fixed with some patching, so here’s hoping this inkling adventure gets the dev love it deserves over the next few months.