Splatoon 2, the sequel to the 2015 Wii U gem of a similar title, brings the stylish squid universe to the Nintendo Switch. The multiplayer action truly shines with a unique take on the shooter genre, but limitations dampen the potential of the online experience. Furthermore, a tacked on single player and finicky motion controls leave a lot to be desired. Despite the minor hiccups, the core gameplay experiences make Splatoon 2 one of the most enjoyable online experiences for Nintendo’s fledgling console.
Out of the gate, Splatoon 2’s style dominates the flow of the game. Shopkeepers and proprietors will refuse to show you the time of day until you have reached level four in the online multiplayer. The heavy emphasis put on fashion in Inkopolis adds to the distinct flare and creates a dog eat dog vibe from the outset. Everything about the world building oozes the Nintendo charm that has made The House of Mario famous. Combined with the emphasis on different clothing pieces and their respective abilities in multiplayer and one quickly finds that style is everything.
Multiplayer maintains the spot of most prominent feature in the Splatoon series. The new game lacks new, unseen content in terms of modes and weapons over the Wii U original, but Splatoon 2 starts with all the content that the Wii U had to receive piecemeal, making it an amply complete package. All of the different modes have separate player rankings and progressions; an excellent addition for Ranked Battles especially, as a poor performance in one mode does not affect a strong standing in another, which is good, because the objective-based modes shine as the most action packed and fiery battles.
Ranked Battles can only be played after a player reaches level ten though, which can make the grind in Regular Battle’s one mode, Turf War, daunting and repetitive, despite Turf War being just as fun. No matter the mode, matches keep a fast tempo and never drudge on for too long; I always felt like I could quickly squeeze in a match or two in the few ten minute pockets of free time I’d find myself with throughout the day.
While Splatoon 2 took everything that made the original fun, it also inherited a lot of the small, grating aspects that held the original back. All of the maps and modes are on a two-hour timer, which compels players to continually return to play on the maps and modes they particularly enjoy, but that system left me feeling like I was on a ride I had no control of. I can’t play what I want to play; I have to play what Splatoon tells me. Compared to other online games, the experience feels limited. Another major gripe that carries over from the first title is the inability to change loadouts in the lobby between matches. Instead, players have to exit matchmaking completely and then enter another menu to switch weapons. An overall small complaint, but considering the original Splatoon was similarly criticized for the lack of streamlining, having Splatoon 2 commit the same missteps is all the more frustrating.
The only major, original addition that Splatoon 2 brings to the table is the PvE mode called Salmon Run. Salmon Run also comes with its own progression and exclusive rewards, giving players more content to sink their teeth into. It’s a breath of fresh air from the PvP modes and adds some much-needed depth to the franchise. The action in Salmon Run stands out as some of the most intense in the game; a good run can quickly become desperately overwhelming if only a single player leaves their A game at home. My only grief with Salmon Run relates to the timer that the different modes in PvP adhere to. Salmon Run also has a limited availability, usually in 12 or 24 hour windows every one to two days.
Perhaps the limited nature makes Salmon Run all the more memorable and to Nintendo’s credit, they use the small window to create varied play and reward structures that emphasize urgency, but the spotty availability plays in to Splatoon 2’s lack of player agency. Splatoon 2 telling their players they can only play the best mode when the game says so can be frustrating when you know you won’t be able to play it in your free time, but everyone else will enjoy it while you’re otherwise indisposed.
Plenty of comparisons have been made between the two Splatoon titles because the similarities are innumerable, but none more egregious than the single player. All exposition in the narrative is thickly laid on in the first few minutes and holds a striking resemblance to that of the first game. Narrative clearly was not a huge priority, meant only to act as a frame for the small slices of 3D platforming that make up the different levels. Every level has a gimmick to it that keeps the design fresh and distinguishable from each other, but the gimmicks more often than not felt cumbersome. Some of the design elements would be great implementations in future multiplayer maps, but feel wasted in the lifeless campaign. Of all the different facets that comprise Splatoon 2, the single player feels like the one developed with the least amount of intention.
Splatoon 2 has drawn plenty of criticism for being too similar to its predecessor. While it is true that the sequel adds very little new content, it is important to distinguish that the Splatoon 2 is only comparable to the first when you factor in that the first title received all of the content over time. What can hopefully be extrapolated is that Splatoon 2 has a long road of additional content ahead, which will only enhance this already complete package on a system that people want to game on (sorry Wii U).
For now, Splatoon 2 brings a competent, unique shooter to a new audience. Shortcomings that stem from ignorance of genre standards throw off the sleekness of the experience, but never derail the fun. Splatoon 2 will not bend for you; you must bend for it, but oh what a satisfying stretch.