Just a little over two years ago, I reviewed a strange new Wii U game from Nintendo called Splatoon. As my review concluded, I wrapped things up with the following final thought:
“Nintendo’s newest cast of characters leaves their mark on the third-person shooter genre in Splatoon, one of the freshest and most exciting competitive multiplayer experiences so far this year. It’s just a shame that we’ll need to wait a few more months for some of the game’s basic functions to be fully implemented.”
A lot has changed since I wrote those words. Splatoon went on to become a blockbuster franchise for Nintendo, with almost 5 million copies sold, the Inklings showing up in other games, the series has comics and even an upcoming anime based around it, and the pop-idol Squid Sisters entertaining crowds in real-world concerts.
It’s also funny how much hasn’t changed at the same time. Sitting here, now giving my thoughts on that game’s sequel, I could repeat almost all of those words verbatim about Splatoon 2. While Nintendo’s ink-splattering third-person shooter isn’t new anymore, it still feels surprisingly fresh and unsurprisingly exciting. The folks in Kyoto really hit it out of the park on this crazy attempt at creating a new franchise, and I’m glad to see how well it’s held up and how much life it still seems to have in it. This is still a fantasy game to play, immensely enjoyable for its mix of familiar shooter ideas and unique Nintendo twists, and it remains one of those games where you’ll be saying “just one more match” for an hour or more.
Which is a good thing, because I’m going to be honest here: I’m on the side that says Splatoon 2 is really more like Splatoon 1.5. Yes, there are new things to be found here—which I’ll get to momentarily—but it’s hard to deny how much this feels like the original game with a fresh coat of ink. There’s a lot that could be done here, from a far more ambitious main plaza, to deeper Inkling customization, to a more Mario-esque open-world campaign, to other potential ideas. At the same time, I actually didn’t mind so much that this wasn’t a huge upgrade over the first game. I’ve made no secret of my loathing of the Wii U as a gaming platform, and I think it’s in the best interest of Nintendo (and us players) to rescue as many of that system’s great games as quickly as possible in order to get them onto the Switch where they can have a proper chance. Honestly, I would have been pretty happy at this point had we gotten nothing but a straight port of Splatoon, so the freshening up and extra additions are icing on poor Pearl’s loser cake. Now, if Splatoon 3 doesn’t offer some real advancements in aspiration, then we’ll really need to talk.
One of the places where Splatoon 2 feels its additions the most is in the form of new weapons (in every class), gear, and maps. Part of the problem of simply giving you a list of what’s unique to the sequel is that we’re far from knowing everything that goes on those lists. Much like the original Splatoon, Nintendo is taking a “roll things out over time” approach to Splatoon 2, promising new content in a variety of areas over the weeks, months, and years ahead. When I reviewed the first game, I was reasonably hesitant to give Nintendo credit for its promise until we saw how things panned out; now that we know how it all went, it’s much easier to give the team the benefit of the doubt. Even as I write this, the game has already received a new weapon—the Inkbrush—that it didn’t have right at launch. So far, new options like the dual-wield Splat Dualies (that even allow you to roll out of the way of danger) and the special weapon Splashdown (which sends you up into the air before crashing down in a burst of your personal ink color) fit in perfectly with the game, already feeling like elements that are more familiar than not.
Easier to detail are the changes to the modes that we’ve been given in Splatoon 2. If you’re up for some competitive multiplayer, the standard Turf War and Ranked Battles are now joined by League Battles, where—if you’ve achieved a high enough rank—you can enter as a crafted team to take on other teams to climb the leaderboards showing which group has the best synergy. If you’d like to keep things a little more local, the options for playing with friends in person is way above anything we ever had in Splatoon. You can now engage in proper 8-player battles locally in Turf War, Rainmaker, Splat Zones, or Tower Control matches, no matter if you’re wielding your Switch as a handheld or have it plugged into a television. The other choice you’ll have for local play is the all-new Salmon Run mode, Splatoon 2’s co-op horde-style experience where up to four players try to survive through increasingly difficult waves of enemies while collecting golden salmon eggs. Salmon Run is probably the biggest singular addition in Splatoon 2, and not only is it legitimately fun, but it’s also surprisingly hard.
Maybe it’s unfair, but when I think about a Nintendo-produced horde mode, I don’t expect a decidedly hardcore experience—yet that’s what we got. Salmon Run can also be played online, but be warned: the mode is only open at set times, so you’ll need to check to make sure the option is active before jumping in. (I know some have derided the decision to run it that way, but I honestly don’t mind—the series has built itself around things constantly changing whenever you log in, so I see going the limited-time route as fitting in with that.)
On the single-player side, Splatoon 2’s campaign is pretty close in concept to that of the original game—which is a positive or negative depending on how you felt about it the first time around. As before, I wasn’t hugely hot on burning through the solo stuff, but I did enjoy myself more here than previously thanks to some fun new gameplay gimmicks and the ability to replay stages with any weapon once you’ve cleared it with the default choice. Surprisingly, another thing that made me like this campaign (and the game as a whole) better was the updated visuals. While Splatoon on the Wii U never looked bad by any means, things look even better now on the Switch—especially when it comes to far better lighting that can really change how a particular stage feels, or the improved ink effect that makes one of the game’s main “characters” pop like never before. (Thankfully for my sanity, the blue ink doesn’t look as nightmarish this time around as it did in Splatoon.)
There is one part of the campaign that legitimately let me down given my expectations, though, and it involves how the storyline plays out. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who have yet to play, but given the set-up going into Splatoon 2—built off of the previous game’s final Splatfest—I think Nintendo really wimped out. They could have done something really fun and interesting with the potential that existed, yet instead they went with a very stereotypical and, at least for me, unsatisfying resolution. Along with that, the narrative and main characters aren’t really set up well for newer players, and it’d be nice to have more proper storytelling in the campaign other than just what comes along with the end boss. On a happier topic, you can’t talk about the fate of Callie and Marie without also mentioning the game’s new singing duo, Off the Hook. Spunky little Pearl and soulful Marina captured the attention of many when they were revealed, and as much as I came to love the immortal Squid Sisters, I almost think I like Off the Hook better. Their tracks so far have been fantastic, and I adore the chemistry between the two—and yes, I’ve come to love Pearl just as much as her Octarian partner.
Finally, we need to talk about Splatoon 2 from a more technical standpoint. In playing multiplayer matches both before and after release, as well as having spent a few hours taking part in the pre-launch Splatfest—damn you Team Ice Cream—I’ve had a consistently great experience. Every now and then I’ll be kicked out of matchmaking, but I’ve had almost no noticeable lag issues nor failed games mid-match. I can’t quite be as positive when it comes to getting into those matches, however. On a basic level, Splatoon 2 does what it needs to do for finding or making lobbies, typical to Nintendo’s usual basic-but-not-fancy level of multiplayer matchmaking offerings. However, how in the world—two years later—can I still not be allowed to back out of a lobby search that’ll obviously go nowhere, or change my default weapon at any point other than sitting at the main matchmaking level? How is that possible Nintendo? How do you not understand that people might want to cancel a search, or realize they want to run a different weapon?
My befuddlement continues on to the Nintendo Switch Online smartphone app, which has received heaps of scorn without even being out for a week at this point. The good news is that a good chunk of what you’ll want to do for matchmaking can be done directly from in the game. If you want to have a private lobby with invited friends and the ability to voice chat, however, not only will you have to get your smartphone involved, but—at least as of now—you’ll have to leave it sitting active without switching to any other app in order to stay in the voice chat. I’m not ready to chastise Splatoon 2 for the failings of Nintendo’s misguided app, but it is an early warning sign of just how messy the Switch’s online functions are going to become unless the company takes a drastic change in direction. Last but not least, Nintendo has made a curious change to gyro controls for those who use them, where you can still use the right analog stick to look left and right, but not up and down. Speaking of that stick, it became clear to me pretty quick that the standard Joy-Con analog sticks just aren’t up to the task of a shooter like I hoped they might be. Not to say the game isn’t playable with standard controls, to be clear—it is, and I’ve gotten used to it decently well at this point. The problem is that those sticks just don’t have the travel distance or size to be as precise as I’d like them to be, so if you’re very serious about your Splatoon playing, you may want to invest in a Pro Controller if you haven’t already.
It’s easy to say that Splatoon 2 isn’t a huge upgrade compared to its predecessor, and on a certain level, that’s a fair criticism. And yet, this is still a better version of an already fantastic game, one that’s really going to shine now that it’s on a more worthwhile (and soon to be more popular) platform. While there are small cracks in the game’s shell, none of them ultimately taint the heart or soul of Nintendo’s best new franchise in years. If you were a fan of the original Splatoon, then Splatoon 2 has enough new or tweaked to get you addicted all over again. If you’re coming into the game fresh, then congratulations: you’ve got some fantastic and addictive gaming ahead of you.
While Splatoon 2 wasn’t the go-all-out sequel I would have loved to have seen following the original Wii U game, simply getting it onto the Switch and giving it a selection of new content still makes a trip back to Inkopolis more than worthwhile. Previous fans should find enough new here to reignite their interest in the series, while new players will have a whole lot of fantastic gaming to sink their cephalopod teeth into.
E10+ - Everyone 10+
|Splatoon 2 is available on Nintendo Switch. Primary version played was for Switch. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.