Let me get this out of the way early on: Splatoon is my Overwatch. It’s been that way since, well, before there even was an Overwatch, but you get my meaning.
Along with franchises like Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem, this noble squid-based shooter remains my perennial favorite Nintendo first-party second banana. Sure, it’ll never be as big as a Mario or a Zelda or even a Smash Bros., but it knows what it is and I simply adore it.
That being said, I am calling it. Splatoon 2 is my game of the year for 2017. Sure, we’ve already seen stellar releases from both The Legend of Zelda and Fire Emblem, and we still have a solid five months ahead of us, but Splatoon 2 has, in just a few shorts weeks, made me fall in love with the property all over again.
What’s New in Splatoon 2?
The biggest additions to the world of Splatoon 2 are its new—or should I say more clearly defined—modes. Ranked play, for example, is now split into discrete subsets, with your graded play in Splat Zones, Tower Control, and Rainmaker modes now ranked individually instead of as a single lettered aggregate.
Then there’s the much talked-about Salmon Run, a horde mode to end all horde modes that succeeds mostly in proving to fans of more traditional shooters that Splatoon can be just as hardcore as the next title. In theory, it pits a four-player squad against wave after wave of Salmonids, a new gruesome group of antagonists from the briny (and clearly polluted) deep. In theory, though, it’s a veritable gauntlet of punishment.
Ranging in size and power from the diminutive Chum and Smallfry to the massive, mighty Boss Salmonids, the enemies offer a lot in the way of variety and very little margin for error. Multiple boss monsters tend to spawn and distract players as the smaller soldiers lay waste to you and your comrades on a restricted battlefield that always seems subject to the tides. This is further complicated by the fact that you don’t control your own load-out; weapons are distributed randomly before the start of each of three rounds.
The purpose of this exercise is to acquire golden eggs, seemingly harvested from dead Boss Salmonids, for Grizz, your mysterious employer, but it’s clear he doesn’t take worker safety particularly seriously. You are often overwhelmed and perpetually outgunned as you try your best to chip away at the singular vulnerable spot of a towering boss, all the while delivering harvested eggs to a central receptacle and reviving fallen teammates.
This overall issue of difficulty seems like the kind of thing that could be at least somewhat remedied using Nintendo’s mobile app-based chat system, which, sadly, was not available during my review period.
Joining other new features like the codified League Battle system is scores of new stages, weapons (such as the superb Splat Dualies), gear, and even more customization options like hairstyles and shorts options for your stylish inkling. You’re also given more direct control over the various ability slots associated with your preferred gear thanks to Murch, a small urchin who can help you scrub and redistribute abilities via an expansive (and expensive) process that, while a tad convoluted, is worth the time it takes to master.
All of this, though, pales in comparison to the game’s greatest step forward: the introduction of adorable co-referee Li’l Judd!
What Remains the Same?
At its heart, a shooter is a shooter is a shooter, and Splatoon is no exception. On its most basic level, you simply fire, advance, take cover, and then repeat. The fact that “take cover” in this instance means “turn into a cephalopod and disappear into a growing puddle of ink” makes little difference.
Splatoon 2 remains every bit as fun and competent a gaming experience as its predecessor, and its central Turf War, the four-on-four online multiplayer mode in which you attempt to ink more territory on the game map than your competition, still feels fun, exciting, and, most importantly, adaptable to varying play styles.
The Splatoon series is scarcely concerned with your kill/death ratio, instead reserving the greatest rewards—specifically, money for new weapons and gear purchased from fellow denizens of the sea and experience points for character leveling—instead, leans more toward those who can cover the most ground… literally.
If all this third-person-perspective shape-shifting is a little much for you, the game’s returning Hero Mode—a satisfying single-player, offline experience—is there to help, once again pitting your player against the Octoling army and teaching you the ins and outs of all the weapon types and environmental obstacles along the way. This time around, however, both Callie and the energy producing Great Zapfish have disappeared, and her bandmate Marie enlists your help to find them both.
While some of the names have changed (Callie and Marie have been supplanted as in-game hosts by newcomers Pearl and Marina, for example) and the overall offering has been supersized, the most noticeable constant is the wonderful, lively world of Splatoon, which has only increased in quality and scope since 2015. Character models are cleaner, stages are more polished, your vital ink now has a shimmering, next-gen sheen about it, and the new music is just as infectious as that of the original Splatoon.
In short, Splatoon 2 is a wonderful return to form for old-school inklings and an exciting new diversion for you fresh fishies.
What Do I Need to Play?
Before you even think to ask, no, you don’t need to have played the original Splatoon to play Splatoon 2, although that prerequisite will likely increase your appreciation for all its shiny newness and its copious callbacks. For you non-Wii U-owning completionists, however, allow me to present this extensive exploration of inkling lore to get you up to speed:
Seriously, though, all you really need to get the most out of Splatoon 2 is a Nintendo Switch, a copy of the game (physical or digital), and a reliable internet connection. My kids and I have been playing primarily with a Switch Pro Controller, which has more than proven its worth—and its ability to hold a charge through an entire weekend of marathon use—but dual Joy-Con controls, either attached to a Grip or free-hand, work just as well.
Handheld mode is awfully convenient, but I found playing on the Switch tablet with the Joy-Con controllers docked on the side is not necessarily the most comfortable option. Of course, this does allow you to easily play the game’s trademark Turf War whilst sitting on the can, and, while my own old arrière-grand-père is no longer around to confirm my theory, I think that might’ve been the reason we came to this country in the first place.
Should I Buy Splatoon 2?
Unsurprisingly, I am going to enthusiastically insist that, if you are a current or prospective Switch owner, you pick up Splatoon 2 immediately. Those who skipped the Wii U-era could be excused for denying themselves the power and glory of the series original, but with the growing popularity of the Nintendo Switch, that excuse doesn’t hold water this time around.
Splatoon 2 reaffirms the long-held belief that nobody has mastered their own hardware quite like Nintendo, but, moreover, it proves once and for all that Switch can more than hold its own when it comes to a frenetic, addictive online multiplayer experience.
Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America