Game Review

by Dustin Bailey,

Splatoon 2


Splatoon 2
You're a squid and a kid as you once again head to the world of competitive inking in Splatoon 2. The co-op Salmon Run mode rounds out the first game's features as the ultra-fresh combo of shooting and Saturday morning fun makes its way to the Switch.
Two things are true of the Wii U—it was Nintendo's biggest hardware failure since the Virtual Boy, and it served as a home for some of the most fun, original games the company has ever produced. When the Switch came along to deliver on the previous console's unfulfilled potential, it seemed like a given that some of the Wii U's brightest stars would get a second chance on new hardware. The Breath of the Wild port was inevitable, as was the Mario Kart 8 reissue. We're still awaiting the Mario Maker and Smash ports, because obviously those are on the way, right? Splatoon was the Wii U at its very best, colorful and charming with a slick sense of style and a hip finger on the pulse of devoted community. It's no surprise, then, that on a newer, sleeker console Splatoon 2 is even better, a joy to look at, listen to, and most of all to play.

The core remains an online-focused competitive game of inky domination where you fire weapons filled with colorful goo in an effort to cover the arena in your color and prevent the enemy team from doing the same. Ink isn't just a scoring metric, either, since friendly colors let you transform from kid to squid and quickly, stealthily swim around, while enemy goop slows you down and makes you an easy target. Victory is far less a matter of pinpoint shooting, and far more a consideration of how to limit the bad guys' ability to move while maximizing your own—and, of course, covering every possible centimeter of the map in ink.

That all makes Splatoon an incredible shooter variation even for those far outside the “360 no scope” crowd. Yeah, grabbing the sniper rifle-like Charger and picking off the other team is a valuable way to play, but so is grabbing a paint roller and hanging around the edges of the battle to shore up your team's ink coverage. The best ways to contribute are usually pretty obvious, especially given the constraints made by the short match time and small stages, so hopping into an endless series of random matches against random opponents never gets old.

Those are the things you already know if you've played Splatoon, and the sequel is just as exciting and entertaining. It feels unusually similar for a Nintendo sequel, in fact, and outside of the Switch game's slightly sharper visuals you'd be hard pressed to tell one from the other—discounting the new maps and weapons, of course. That's not really a complaint, since the action is still so much fun, but if you were hoping for more fundamental changes or simply got your fill of the original, this is mostly more of the same. I'm still sticking with my trusty Splattershot, but new stuff like the Splat Dualies come with their own entertaining abilities, and the preselected combos of weapon, grenade, and special remain well-considered selections that force you to think strategically about how and when to use them.

One significant new addition comes in the form of Salmon Run, which fans of more traditional shooters might refer to as a horde mode. You and three others team up to take on waves of incoming bad fish, defeating boss enemies to collect a quota of golden eggs each round. The short set of waves don't overstay their welcome, and the action can get exhilaratingly intense—but the mode's structure is far less suited to random games than the main Turf War battles. Each wave assigns you a random weapon from a predetermined pool, which means you've got a very particular role in the battle, and if the kid with the weapon you need to take down the boss that's bearing down on you is on the other side of the map, things can get a little frustrating. It's a mode that requires communication to a much greater extent than quick play, and that's likely why Nintendo has promoted it primarily as a local experience—though you'll have to convince your friends to bring their own Switches, since there's no split-screen option.

The other caveat to Salmon Rush is that online, it's only available at particular Nintendo-approved time slots. Why? Who can say. Those slots are lengthy, but even in the week the game's been out I've had more than one incident of sitting down to play, heading over to the Salmon Rush menu, and finding nothing there. That goes for both matchmaking and playing with friends, unless—again—your group's in on local play. Turf War still rotates a pair of maps through every few hours, and Ranked—still the only way to play alternate modes in the vein of capture the flag or king of the hill—remains one mode per rotation. If you want to get some Splatoon in on any mode beside Turf War, it's on Nintendo's schedule rather than yours.

But that's a pretty minor frustration considering how much fun every single mode in the game truly is, though, and they shine whether you're playing solo or with a group. What shines far less—and is in fact the singular pox on an otherwise incredible game—is how you join up with a group. Splatoon 2 is the first game to support (and require) the Nintendo Switch Online app, and to call the implementation merely bad would generous. The in-game friend list only lets you join a game in progress, with no guarantee of being on your buddy's team or even if a slot in the match will open up, requiring you to use a separate app for what's basic functionality on any other console. The voice chat solution requires you to have the app open at all times with your phone's screen on, which is such a disaster of design that it's nearly unfathomable it could release in such a state. If you're playing solo, then great—you can pretend this paragraph doesn't even exist and register Splatoon is a caveat-free great time. And ultimately, it's not that big a hassle to invite through the app and then use Discord or somesuch for voice chat. But the fact that it has to be any hassle at all at this point, when consoles have had this problem solved for over a decade, is ridiculous—especially when Nintendo's planning to start charging for it next year.

Such a tremendous failure of an interface feature stands out mostly because Splatoon is such a good time. It's not just the inking and splatting, either, since the game's style is so fully realized. The squid kids' fashion choices, the music, the Nickelodeon-approved goo that splatters every which way—it feels like a weird, late-era Dreamcast import that you'd pay exorbitant money for a soundtrack CD of and listen to on repeat for an entire summer. It's cool, and the community the sprung up around the game kept it that way, which is why having the main menu also be an area you can walk around in is such a smart addition. Like the first game, the area is populated by other the avatars of other players, decked out in whatever fresh gear they like to dress up in. The Switch no longer features the wacky imageboard of the Miiverse at the system level, but seeing doodles and art in the lobby was so core to Splatoon's feel that they brought it back in-game, and it's already a heady wildland of great art and memes I'm probably too old to understand—and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Beyond its addition to the aesthetics, gear also provides just the hook to keep you coming back. New bits of clothes gain random new abilities as you level up, and this process happens so fast that you're constantly encouraged to try out new stuff and see what kind of combos you can get. There's a pretty robust system for breaking down abilities, stripping out old gear, and rebuilding new bits of kit, but it's so streamlined and easy to work with that it keeps from feeling like a Skinner box, and instead just offers a little extra incentive to keep coming back to the game.

And yeah, there's still single-player, too. It remains very much a side dish to the main course of multiplayer, but the few hours it lasts remain delightful throughout, showing just how much depth and possibility there is with the way inking combines mobility and offense. Every level is built around a specific weapon (though you can replay them with anything in the arsenal), and the stage designs force you to use those weapons in evolving ways that are reminiscent of the mechanics in latter-day Mario levels. Interact with something cool (say, a new enemy), add a variation (maybe some moving platforms), and then build toward a final challenge. It's classic Nintendo platforming, and once you move past the handful of too-easy early levels it's an entirely creative and engaging addition.

Splatoon 2 is—like everyone expected—more Splatoon. But Splatoon is so much fun that it's tough to see that as anything but a great thing. The issues with the Switch's online interface are not just bad, they're terrible—but I'm having such a great time playing the game it's tough to stay mad about them. It's fun from top to bottom, and in one of the greatest catalogs in all of video games, Splatoon remains one of the most entertaining things Nintendo's ever created.

Overall : A
Graphics : A
Sound/Music : A+
Gameplay : A
Presentation : A

+ Inking still makes for the most exciting shooter variation in ages, every mode is great, the look and sound remains fresh
That awful, terrible, no good app

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