Ink-credibly off the hook!
The original Splatoon on Nintendo’s underappreciated Wii U, was a fresh coat of paint to the banal online shooter realm, and a remarkable testament to Nintendo’s ability to branch off from their established repertoire of success and comfortability. Its unadulterated addictive nature cultivated one of my favourite online experiences in recent memory and its easily accessible structure outweighed any notable limitation, especially since the Wii U was Nintendo’s inaugural foray into the online space of gaming. Nintendo’s sequel to the colourfully delightful shooter is arguably the most fun I’ve had with their hybrid console and is without a doubt the best online game I’ve played all year. Splatoon 2 might only implement incremental changes to the formula, but notable design contributions polish this exquisite sequel off to a pristine shine. The moment to moment gameplay is riveting and polished to a glorious T – evoking an imperative sense of cooperation and variance -, the gear system is revamped to accommodate idiosyncratic playstyles, its inherent addictive bite-sized nature is retained on all fronts, and it’s all wrapped up in a gorgeously vibrant world that is oozing with Nintendo’s renowned sense of charm. The newly introduced cooperative mode, Salmon Run, is a welcome addition to Splatoon’s addictive repertoire and is arguably the best mode in this glorified sequel. While Splatoon 2 has its fair share of notable and subtle improvements, it still manages to fumble every now in then, with similar discrepancies that hindered its predecessor. Seeing how the Nintendo Switch has been a prominent device that restores the remnants of local multiplayer goodness – as is such with the excellent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and ARMS – the absence of any form of split-screen multiplayer in Splatoon 2 is a tragic missed opportunity to say the least. Despite notable disappointments, Splatoon 2 is still an excellent sequel that embraces the fundamentals and success of the original, while adding a few variances here and there to spice up the formula. Splatoon 2 is easily one of the best games of 2017 and is undoubtedly the freshest online experience that Nintendo has cooked up.
While Splatoon 2’s exquisite online component is its conspicuous bread and butter, its single player counterpart is an important inclusion that acts as an essential appetizer to the main course. The single player campaign, or Octo Canyon as it is coined, is definitely an improvement over the decent showing we received in the original Splatoon, but it is far from the Mario Galaxy level of perfection that I was hoping to receive. In terms of level design and variance, Octo Canyon implements novel mechanics such as Tony Hawk-esque Inkrails, invisible platforms, bounce pads, and exhilarating grapple points, all of which are extremely stylish and evoke this sense of unadulterated fun. Weapon variety also play a major role as each level is to be completed using a specific weapon recommended by everyone’s favourite horseshoe crab, Sheldon – however you are free to replay any level, with the weapon of your choice. On top of this excellent level of design variance, the levels are subtly altered to fit the structured nature of your selected weapon, matching the level design accordingly to the weapons attributes and capabilities. It’s a small feature that might go overlooked by some, but I appreciated this attention to detail and level of consideration. Octo Canyon’s greatest success is its engaging factor – the original Splatoon’s Octo Valley was a decent effort that lacked the variety and intricate design of platformers and the bombastic nature of the modern shooter. Level design is dynamically exalted with new mechanics altering the very act of moving forward, exquisite platforming puzzles are impeccably merged with the silky smooth gunplay – all of which is notably evident in the engaging boss battles-, collectible goodies are cleverly hidden throughout each level, the enemy AI is surprisingly competent – providing a notable challenge -, and each level encourages a sense experimentation and nuance due to the inaugural mandatory weapon system. Even the Hub worlds housing each section of normal levels promote a sense of exploration – each topped off with their own collectible goodies to discover and lite platforming puzzles to solve. While it lacks the addictive quality of its online counterpart and its level design never reaches the impeccable heights of Nintendo’s notable repertoire, Octo Canyon is the single player experience that the Splatoon series rightfully deserves and is a darn good appetizer to an excellent main course. Splatoon 2’s vibrant colour pallet may seem visually identical to its predecessor at a surface glance, but its constant 60 fps, crisp 1080p resolution (720p when undocked) is nothing short of a marvel. Nintendo has always had a commendable reputation of creating stylistically beautiful experiences on notably inferior hardware and Splatoon 2 is by no means an exception to the rule.
Splatoon 2’s core gameplay is fast, frantic, and downright addictive, scratching an itch of accessibility that is simply unrivaled in regards of competition. The gunplay is silky smooth, traversal and platforming is exquisitely responsive, and the slew of different weapons add an excellent level of experimentation and variance; all of Splatoon 2’s highlighted gameplay elements are prominently showcased in its online multiplayer suite, which is the undeniable main course of Splatoon 2 and it is dangerously delicious. The original Splatoon’s flagship multiplayer mode, Turf War, makes a prominent return and it is an undeniable favourite of mine. As you probably already know, Turf War pits two teams of four against each other, with the primary goal of covering as much of the stage in your coloured ink. The fundamental success of Splatoon 2’s structure is its higher prominence of objective based cooperation as opposed to the traditional reliance on player elimination. Splatting enemies simply allows you to complete the objective faster with fewer hindrances – it’s an advantageous factor but is ultimately never the primary goal of battle. Swimming through your own coloured ink permits traversal enhancement while touching the enemy’s coloured ink not only slows you down considerably, but also causes notable damage. Battles are extremely dynamic as the stage can be covered in either coloured ink at any given time; therefore the stage and flow of battle is constantly changing, with no two matches feeling inherently the same. Stage design, for the most part, is excellent, boasting a rather intimate structure that funnels chaotic encounters but makes sneaking into enemy territory all the more satisfying if successful due to its challenging execution, which greatly turns the tide of battle. Ranked battles make a welcome return in Splatoon 2 and just like its predecessor, these skill-based modes are unlocked after reaching level 10 and house the more frantic battles that excellently highlight the impeccable balance between accessibility and challenge. Instead of having a sole ranking system for the entirety of ranked battles, Splatoon 2 incorporates a separate ranking system for each ranked mode – which will increase or decrease based on your performance. This accessible system is further testament to Nintendo’s ability to adapt and streamline the experience to fit the player’s level of skill and overall preference. There are three different ranked modes made available via rotation – Rainmaker, Tower Control, and Splat Zones – and all of them are very combat intensive and strike notable competitive chords. Rainmaker and Tower Control act as a dynamic capture the flag-esque modes that requires each team to escort either titular object to the enemy’s base – the tower follows a fixed path resulting in an engaging push and pull affair while the Rainmaker is far more variable in terms of traversal and can even be used as a weapon. Splat Zones, my personal favourite ranked mode, is a more traditional “king of the hill” type mode. These territorial battles are amongst the most addictive and thrilling given the high traffic to be found at the fixed capture point(s). Splatoon 2’s online offerings continue the addictive bite-sized formula that made the original so special. Normal matches only last for 3 minutes, while ranked battles have a 5 minute time limit – Splatoon 2 is the perfect online experience to slip into your busy schedule. Its bite-sized nature is ridiculously misleading as with the original, Splatoon 2 encourages a “one more game” mentality that further enhances its fundamental addictive quality. While certain restrictive limitations from the original remain intact, such as map rotation or the inability to switch weapons or gear while in a lobby, incremental changes help alleviate Splatoon’s restrictive stature – for instance, stages now rotate every 2 hours as opposed to the 4 hour rotation of the original and Splatoon 2’s sense of balance outshines its predecessor in almost every conceivable way. It’s relatively disappointing that Splatoon 2 ships with the exact same game modes as its predecessor, with no nuanced elements of development to be found whatsoever. Despite this minor gripe, Splatoon 2’s online suite is practically flawless in terms of its moment to moment gameplay, its unparalleled addictive quality and dynamic structure, and its accessible, yet challenging, nature.
Splatoon 2’s sense of balance is simply incredible. Weapons are scaled accordingly and offer an unparalleled sense of equilibrium and accessibility. Stages revolve around the sense that all weapons are fundamentally equal and will inherently work because of its accessible level design, with no particular weapon or special boasting an unfair advantage. Notable new additions to Splatoon’s colourful arsenal are the swift Splat Dualies and the bombastic Splat Brella, both of which add an intriguing flavour of experimentation and flair to the ever growing arsenal. Splatoon 2’s plethora of abilities also follow this alluring trend of balance and nuance, overshadowing certain unfair design choices that plagued the original. The original Splatoon had a few specials that granted temporary invulnerability, providing an unfair advantage for that specific team. Weapon specials in Splatoon 2 provides an obvious advantage for the utilizing team but can be strategically countered if the opposing team understands said special. The InkJet can turn a player into a hovering death machine, but they’re left extremely vulnerable as they no longer have the ability to evade or return to squid form (also their imminent landing point is highlighted on the stage for all to see). Tenta Missiles are homing beauties that are excellent for crowd control; however your maneuverability is extremely hindered upon activation, making you an easy target for any enemy players near by. Each weapon special, for a lack of a better word, is fresh and bears its own pros and cons; their utilization never acts as a detriment to the impartial and leveled playing field. Splatoon 2’s level of customization and accessibility, while not perfect, is a vast improvement over its predecessor. First off, weapons are again restricted to predetermined sets, each topped off with a specific sub-weapon and special weapon; there is no ability to mix and match any of the selection. This form of restriction does promote a surprisingly effective sense of experimentation. Secondly, gear plays a prominent role in Splatoon 2 – with each piece unlocking random abilities, which act as bonus perks that enhance specific skills such as swimming speed, ink consumption, or special weapon efficiency. Not only do you have the option to reroll your abilities, but you are also able to select specific abilities to place in vacant slots if you have the required resources to spare – an exceptional cadence to the varying playstyles and accessibility enriched in this glorified sequel. Lastly, the original Splatoon’s levelling system was a meticulous chore as it was a process that simply took too long to achieve results. This is mostly alleviated through Splatoon 2’s novel meal/drink ticket system. These tickets can be exchanged for a delectable deep fried treat that will provide a temporary experience or money boost, or a thirst quenching beverage that increases the chance of rolling a specific gear ability. Splatoon 2’s biggest detriment is its insulting absence of any form of traditional local multiplayer. As I previously mentioned, Nintendo’s dedication to local multiplayer on the Switch has been a commendable effort that I greatly appreciated. I’ve lost countless hours playing ARMS and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe locally with friends and family, all of which has culminated into some of the most multiplayer fun I’ve had in recent memory. The original Splatoon had its rudimentary Battle Dojo mode, which was rendered to nothing more than a shallow time killer, but its existence was still welcome. Playing some addictive Turf War with my family on a single screen, or incorporating split-screen online multiplayer could’ve elevated an already amazing multiplayer suite into one of the greatest multiplayer experiences of all time.
Splatoon 2’s freshest addition to the formula is its horde mode-esque Salmon Run, which is an undeniable breath of fresh air for an arguably tame “by the numbers” sequel. Here, four players must cooperatively endure three arduous waves against the comically grotesque Salmonids and collect the required quota of golden eggs to complete the objective. Golden eggs, however, can only be obtained upon the glorious defeat of a boss Salmonid, which can be a difficult task to achieve if the required level of teamwork and cooperation is absent. Boss Salmonids are tasteful highlights in Salmon Run as each one is distinctly unique and must be defeated in an idiosyncratic manner. The Steel Eel is an elongated mechanized eel that can only be defeated by splatting the sole Salmonid piloting the impervious machine at the rear. The Maw is a large shark-like enemy that viciously attacks by leaping mouth-first out of the ink, consuming any poor inkling located in its designated radius. However, luring the menacing Maw towards you and leaving an appetizing bomb in your stead will cause the monstrosity to go SPLAT. Each boss has its own designated function and pattern, which are extremely fun to learn and manipulate, but once Salmon Run throws multiple bosses at you at once, its true chaotic and frantic nature begins to shine. The level of cooperation your team executes will ultimately make or break this enthralling experience, but it is an absolute blast regardless of the outcome. Known Occurrences are special events that can have altering effects on the current wave; the high tide restricts the outward stage layout resulting in more chaotic and claustrophobic encounters, rush occurrences result in berserk salmonids that are dangerously fast and unnaturally aggressive, and an obscuring fog may occupy the stage, limiting visibility and providing a terrifying advantage for the enemy salmonids. Each occurrence is completely random, adding an excellent touch of unpredictability and variance to an already well-paced experience. Salmon Run also boasts its own separate point and ranking system, providing a slew of exclusive rewards and goodies to keep you coming back for more. Salmon Run’s biggest drawback is its sporadic structure as this cooperative mode is not available all the time, it has its own rotation cycle. I understand Nintendo’s mentality as Salmon Run essentially is an event due to its limited availability and this rare occurrence undoubtedly sparks a high level of player traffic. It’s just a darn shame that this exceptional new mode is locked behind a schedule that only Nintendo governs and deems fit, as opposed to developing what works best for the community.
Splatoon 2’s online affair is undoubtedly its strongest factor, but it is by no means perfect and certain design choices lack a collective form of user-friendly intuitiveness. First off, the voice-chat system is tied to an optional phone app and is extremely cumbersome to use. Voiced communication is not necessarily a key for success in Splatoon 2, so this obtuse voice-chat apparatus is not a notable detriment, but its backwards design and convoluted intricacies should not be overlooked or forgiven as it’s downright frustrating to set up any competent form of group chat on the Nintendo Switch. Any notable connectivity issue that I experienced playing Splatoon 2 was at the fault of my internet provider, so it wouldn’t be fair to denounce Splatoon 2’s online stability; however because my internet has caused so many intermittent issues in the past, I was unable to determine if certain disconnects were authentically caused by my poor connectivity or if it was the result of Splatoon 2’s servers. Despite its lack of authentic split-screen local multiplayer, each multiplayer mode can in fact be played locally with friends via local wireless or LAN, which is a competent alternative if you have enough friends with Switches. Splatoon 2, on the surface, may appear to be a “by the numbers” sequel, but it’s inherently more than a fresh coat of paint. Splatoon 2 polishes off an established formula to a pristine shine, representing what the original should have been in the first place while adding layer upon layer of exhilarating inclusions and improvements. The single-player component is a conspicuous improvement over its predecessor, adding exceptional layers of longevity and gameplay variety, while expanding on the excellent platforming and level design. The online multiplayer suite is still an impeccably addictive experience that is second to none, with certain new design implementations that iron out the minor kinks that plagued the original. Plus that little phone app I was complaining about earlier tracks all of your online stats, provides a nice 24 hour schedule for stage rotation, and is primed with exclusive gear to purchase. Salmon Run is a delightful inclusion that further extends Splatoon 2’s accessible and addictive formula. The idiosyncratic boss Salmonids and their level of intricacy is further testament to Splatoon 2’s impeccable design and unparalleled charm. With enthralling Splatfest events coasting onto the horizon, a constant flood of updates filled to the brim with new goodies, and a preconceived addictive and accessible structure, Splatoon 2 is simply an engaging, unrivaled online experience, one that will keep me occupied for the foreseeable future and beyond.