Developer: Nintendo EPD
Format: Nintendo Switch
Released: July 21, 2017
Copy supplied by publisher
Although they could be doing more to bolster the Switch’s library, it’s hard to deny that Nintendo has been doing an admirable job with the console’s first-party release schedule thus far. Since its launch in March, Nintendo has delivered at least one major release each month and the trend looks to be continuing for the rest of the year, with major titles like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Super Mario Odyssey still to come. July’s big Switch release is Splatoon 2, the sequel to the surprise 2015 Wii U hit. Splatoon 2 is probably Nintendo’s most online-focused Switch title yet — in fact, the company released a companion mobile app to coincide with the game’s release — but is it a deep enough experience to maintain an active community in the months ahead or even become the viable eSport title Nintendo clearly wants it to be?
Right off the bat, I should mention that I am coming into Splatoon 2 totally fresh. I missed out on the first game completely, but it was a title I admired enviously from afar, not having owned a Wii U myself. As such, I can’t really speak to the issue of Splatoon 2 not offering enough “new” content over its predecessor, but I am aware of this being a concern among some fans of the first game. That being said, this is a new game and not an updated Switch port like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, a game that I think is still worth purchasing even if you owned the Wii U edition so if you are worried about not getting enough bang — sorry, splat — for your buck, I’d say it’s best to look at it as more of a refinement of what the first game already did so well.
One thing that becomes clear almost immediately upon booting up Splatoon 2 for the first time is that Nintendo has gone all-in on the colorful, absurd universe they’ve created. This is a game that oozes style — and if you didn’t like that pun, you should probably pass on Splatoon altogether as the game tosses them around at every octortunity (sorry) — and it all starts with Inkopolis Square, the title’s hub world. Here you’ll access everything the game has to offer, including campaign missions, online multiplayer, the new cooperative Salmon Run mode, as well as handful of shops where you can purchase new weapons and clothing items. You’ll also be introduced to new “hosts” Pearl and Marina, who are somehow both endearing and horrifying all at once. The pair act as commentators for all the events that are happening around Inkopolis, which means that they will let you know whenever the rotating battle stages switch over (an update that you will soon grow tired of since there’s no way to skip it). Overall though, it’s hard not to be charmed by the world Nintendo has created and the many little details they’ve thrown in to help give the game its unique personality. This is a game where even waiting for a new match to start is entertaining, as you can manipulate the menu music using your controller.
While the majority of the game’s content is focused on multiplayer of some sort, Splatoon 2 also features a surprisingly engaging single player mode. This is where a lot of the game’s personality shines through, as Nintendo throws hilarious lines of dialogue and creative boss battles your way at a consistent clip. The narrative, which has something to do with searching for Callie, one of the hosts of the previous game and saving the Great Zapfish from the evil Octolings, isn’t exactly engrossing, but it gets the job done and provides context for the campaign’s 32 missions. Each mission is essentially a platforming level where players have to navigate obstacles and defeat enemies. A currency system used to upgrade your weapons and some inventive platforming sections helps keep things interesting over the course of the campaign, which can be finished in around 4-6 hours. It’s not enough to justify Splatoon 2’s purchase on its own, but the campaign is useful for getting familiar with the game’s controls and variety of weapons, and serves as something of an extended tutorial for the multiplayer modes.
Similarly to the original game, Splatoon 2’s main draw is its online offerings, which don’t rock the boat too much in terms of new modes or features. The game follows in its predecessor’s footsteps in being an unconventional third-person shooter where players spray ink at each other rather than bullets. While this lack of bloodshed immediately opens the game up to a much wider audience, it also allows Splatoon 2 to differentiate itself from the plethora of competitive shooters already crowding the market. Much like Blizzard’s Overwatch, Splatoon places less emphasis on kills — affectionately referred to as “splats” here — and more on objective-based gameplay. Spraying each of the game’s arena’s with your team’s colored ink is just as important — if not more so — than scoring kills against the enemy team, which allows those players who may not be as proficient at third-person combat to still contribute to their team’s success.
The online modes are essentially split into two categories: competitive and cooperative. Turf War, in which teams of four compete to cover the most ground with their team’s ink color before time runs out, is what you’ll likely be spending most of your time on. It’s a little disappointing that the other competitive modes — Splat Zones (basically just king-of-the-hill), Tower Control, and Rainmaker (Splatoon’s version of Capture the Flag) are essentially just tweaked versions of Turf War, but the core gameplay loop of taking over territory and alternating between shooting other players in kid form and speeding around in puddles of ink as a squid is so compelling and fun that it’s hard to criticize the game too harshly for sticking to what works. Plus, the matchmaking is silky smooth and you never have to wait long to jump into a match, making this the perfect game to bust out when you’re strapped for time to play.
The most prominent new mode when it comes to multiplayer is easily Salmon Run, a wave-based cooperative mode where teams of four have to survive against waves of increasingly difficult A.I. enemies. It’s basically Splatoon’s answer to Gears of War’s Horde mode and it’s quite good. In addition to just staying alive, teams also have to work together to deliver “Golden Eggs” to a designated drop off point and the only way to get Golden Eggs is to defeat one of Salmon Run’s eight rotating mini-bosses. This is where team strategy really comes into play, as there is a specific way to take down each boss and it can be difficult to coordinate these plans when an arena is also crawling with a bunch of regular enemies. Salmon Run practically demands the use of voice chat at higher levels but unfortunately, this is the one area where the game stumbles the most.
Splatoon 2 is a good, even great shooter at times but one that is marred by a few significant issues that are difficult to overlook. The first is the aforementioned voice chat issue. For whatever reason, Nintendo has decided to make voice chat on the Switch much more complicated than it needs to be, requiring users to download the Nintendo Online mobile app and plug their headsets into their phones rather than the Switch itself. To put it bluntly, the entire thing is asinine and indefensible in the year 2017, especially when you consider that the original Xbox had voice chat figured our 15 years ago. I’ll freely admit that I didn’t even bother testing out voice chat because the entire process gave me a headache but fortunately, you can get by playing Splatoon 2 without it (though by all means give voice chat a go if you’re willing to put up with the absurd way it’s set up on the Switch).
The other big problem with Splatoon 2 that feels like a huge missed opportunity is the lack of any form of split-screen. Admittedly, local multiplayer has largely fallen by the wayside in the last few years, but Nintendo has been one company taking steps to keep it alive, so it’s disappointing to see a new game from them without split-screen, especially one with such a heavy multiplayer focus.
Still, even with these rather significant shortcomings, Splatoon 2 is a hard game not to like. It’s the rare multiplayer shooter that feels appropriate for gamers of all ages and skill levels and one that is helped along by the fact that the Switch still doesn’t have very many deep online experiences. While I don’t think Splatoon 2 will replace your current multiplayer obsession (at least not for very long), it still feels fresh and unique compared to the majority of shooters out there and its pick-up-and-play style makes it the perfect game to jump in and play for a few matches at a time. Splatoon 2 is easily Nintendo’s premier online shooter at this point and a game that wears its fun, creative spirit on its sleeve. Don’t miss it.