While it does not have quite enough to define its own traits, and even though it inherits all of the negative quirks of its predecessor, Splatoon 2 is irresistable
Regardless of the internal expectations Nintendo held in relation to Splatoon, one thing is almost certain: not even its most optimistic employees could have accurately predicted how big the new property would turn out to be. Splatoon was, by all means, a rarity: in a world of sequels and established sagas, it was able to – with a single release – blast its way to the upper echelons of videogame franchises, cementing its position as one of the strongest assets attached to Nintendo’s seemingly interminable belt of characters and series. Its positive critical reception as well as its strong sales across the globe, despite the fact it found its home inside a platform that was struggling commercially, meant that a sequel was not only assured but also inevitable. Realizing the incredible hardware-moving properties of the universally beloved title, Nintendo was quick enough to make that second chapter be one of the earliest releases for a newly born console.
The position of Splatoon 2 as one of the first games to come out for the Nintendo Switch is, therefore, understandable. The rather fresh take on third-person multiplayer shooting, which replaces a focus on stacking up kills with an intense fight for territory, is far-reaching in its appeal, like a true Nintendo product; moreover, it has a surprisingly consolidated popularity in spite of its young age. Its vibrant colors, quirky humor, and lovely characters are enough to lure both children and those who like their games to lean to the cartoonish side into its grasp; meanwhile, its gameplay carries the right degrees of accessibility, originality, and potential for chaos to make even the most skeptical gamers at least curious to check out what the general commotion is all about.
Even if it is easy to see why Splatoon 2 hit stores when it did, as it has the right ingredients to give the Switch the initial push new systems certainly need, the two-year gap separating it from its prequel puts the game in a rather tight position. While most Nintendo franchises, including those that are built for multiplayer action, have at least four years between installments (a comfortable enough span that allows for plenty of new ideas to be born, mature, and fall from the tree ripe to be eaten) Splatoon 2 had to make do with a much shorter interval. And therein lies the game’s biggest obstacle.
First and foremost, though, regardless of roadblocks and issues, Splatoon 2 is uncannily fun. There is some sort of subconscious joy intimately related with joining three people and battling another four-member team to see who – in three minutes – is able to ink the biggest portion of the scenario’s floor. Much of it is actually related to how it is easy to feel one is contributing to the team’s progress. As eliminating rivals is not the focus of the match, as all it does is making the defeated player inactive for a few seconds and sending them back to their team’s spawning point, even inexperienced gamers can succeed in achieving the main objective of Turf Wars, the most family friendly mode of Splatoon, which is painting the stage with the team’s color.
Under that straightforward goal, Splatoon 2 holds a remarkable strategic layer. As it happened on its predecessor, it is a quality that emerges thanks to four main pillars. Firstly, there is how the Inklings can transform into squids at will, which allows them to swim undercover on ground and walls that have been painted with their color, thereby giving players plenty of opportunities to sneak around and surprise foes in a number of ways. Walking hand-in-hand with such a twist, the design of the stages, which are filled with ledges, shortcuts, climbable structures, tight corners, hiding spots, and more wide-open grounds for explosive shootings, supports from the most aggressive approaches to the most defensive and calculated ones.
Additionally, the game gives players a lot of room for character customization via its weapon selection and ability-embedded gear. The former is incredibly varied and clever, featuring everything from standard guns, to buckets, paint rollers, brushes, sniper riffles, and more, each having a sub-weapon (different sorts of bombs) and a special attack (including a team-wide shield and a jet-pack) which can be activated whenever a gauge is filled up. The latter, meanwhile, lets Inklings hold up to twelve distinct special skills on their stylish outfit, like extra resistance to enemy ink, reduction of the ink consumption of main and secondary weapons, coming back from the dead more quickly, among others.
In addition to Turf Wars, Splatoon 2 retains the three ranked modes of the original game: Splat Zones, in which players must take control of a predetermined area of the map and keep it until a timer runs out; Rainmaker, where teams strive to carry the powerful titular weapon (which considerably slows its holder down) into the base of the opponents; and Tower Control, which has Inklings struggling to stay on top of a tight tower in order to make it move towards their rivals’ headquarters. Arguably, these three gameplay variations present a far greater requirement for cooperation than Turf Wars, as it is impossible to succeed without smooth coordination; likewise, they bring about a stronger need for killing, two facts that make this trio of modes more suited for experienced gamers. Nevertheless, they are equal to Turf Wars in the sense that they are chaotic, fun, addictive, accessible, and also rely on inking as much of the stage as possible.
From an objective point, though, thereby looking past the fact the gameplay described is astonishingly engaging and lasting, one needs to admit that all of those tricks had already been pulled off by Splatoon. What defines a sequel is what it does different from its predecessor, and in the case of Splatoon 2 the answer is “not much”. Surely, the natural additions are here: there are new weapons, sub-weapons, and gear; the special attacks have been completely revamped as there are no returning moves; original stages have been built; and a different single-player campaign is presented. Sadly, almost none of those increments are significant enough to make Splatoon 2 a clearly superior experience, which is what one would expect from a title of its stature; instead, most of these features come off as pleasant fresh ingredients rather than game-defining traits.
In fact, some of them represent such tiny shifts that reasonable complaints could be made. The sets of gear and weapons hold so few new items that sometimes it is hard to spot them, with the most remarkable addition in that regard being the dual guns that allow Inklings do dodge in the midst of firefights; meanwhile, in its raw state and without the numerous updates that will surely come, Splatoon 2 only has eight stages, a meager quantity that gets even less impressive when one considers two of them are slightly upgraded versions of levels from the previous game.
The sole completely commendable natural evolution comes in the single-player mode, which presents a group of levels of superb design, solid difficulty (which gets notably high as the end approaches), and true creativity. The Super Mario Galaxy style of stage construction, which features disjointed parts that defy the laws of physics and common sense coming together to form far-fetched obstacle courses with incredible variety, works wonders in a third-person-shooting setup. And the six-to-ten hours players will spend in the quest will certainly be of a much higher gameplay quality than one would hope to find in a multiplayer-focused game.
Unfortunately, aside from not totally succeeding in introducing new assets, Splatoon 2 also misses the opportunity to fix many of the issues that somewhat held its predecessor back and that were the source of fair complaints from fans. The stages that are available at any moment are still limited to two per mode; and even though the rotation time has been reduced from four to two hours, the method for level selection is still inferior to that of games like Mario Kart, where players vote on the stage they want to play and the game randomly chooses from among the ones that were voted for. Such restriction causes a certain harm to the value of Splatoon, as long gameplay sections get inevitably hurt by the fact players are just battling on the same two stages over and over again.
Similarly, leveling up gear – which means adding another ability to it – still causes the new skill to be chosen from a random spinning wheel, which works against the freedom of customization of the characters. Truthfully, Nintendo does try to resolve that issue by letting players add abilities to gear by collecting ability chunks, but the number of chunks required to do that is so high and the process of getting them is so expensive and luck-based that most players will never be able to do it. Other problems that have been carried over from Splatoon 2 are the lack of scenario variety, as all stages are located in an urban setting; the irregularity in the formation of teams during Turf Wars, as the game seems to make little to no effort to assemble groups with players whose levels are balanced; the fact disconnected players are not replaced by AI, which leaves teams that suffer from that problem at an impossible-to-overcome disadvantage; and the shortage of communication options, as voice chat can only be done through a cumbersome method that involves a cellphone app, and in-game predetermined texts are lackluster, as they are limited to two buttons and do not give players the ability to customize what they want to say.
The one trait that might make Splatoon 2 be a better game than its predecessor is Salmon Run, which is by an immeasurable distance its most brilliant addition. Salmon Run explores a cooperative vein that was completely overlooked in the original, and it does so with the brand of creativity and chaos that Nintendo is known for. A team of four players must gather their forces to fight, in the middle of a polluted ocean that holds a pair of different stages, armies of angry (and possibly psychologically disturbed) salmon in order to collect their eggs for a very shady (and likely hungry) bear. If the Inklings survive the three waves of enemies and succeed in collecting the established quota of eggs, they level up and stack up points to acquire rewards.
Salmon Run is utterly frantic: the enemy waves are generally made up of straightforward minions of varying sizes and more than a handful of tricky bosses, which are the ones that must ultimately be taken down in order for the eggs to appear. The design of the bosses, in particular, is the highlight of the mode, as their ways of attack and weak points are varied and creative. A shark-like foe, for instance, will suddenly emerge from the ground to brutally swallow whoever is slow enough not to get out of its attack circle on time; a salmon that hides under an umbrella will summon clouds that drop toxic ink; another fish equipped with jet-packs will wreak havoc with missiles; a mad creature driving a snake-like machine will destroy everything on its path; and more.
As attack waves go by, and as players level up, battles get increasingly frantic: the frequency with which bosses appear goes up so significantly that failing to kill one efficiently will mean the number of bosses roaming around the stage will quickly get out of control, causing the whole team to be caught up in an impossible-to-survive scenario. Salmon Run might as well be the highlight of the whole package due to how fresh, funny, and brutal it is. However, it also has a couple of tiny shortcomings; namely, the fact it is only available on alternate days and how the weapons that are to be used by the team are predetermined, something that can be interesting in how it forces gamers to survive with that they are given and learn how to master the different kinds of weapons, but that can also be annoying in the sense that if the weapons available are not pleasing to one they will probably not get much enjoyment out of the Salmon Run session that is in place.
Splatoon put such an incredibly solid and fun gameplay structure in place that its sequel could not possibly have been anything short of incredible, and that is exactly what Splatoon 2 is. If it had been given more time to mature, instead of the brief two years that have passed since the original’s release for the Wii U, Splatoon 2 could have been a far better game; as it stands, though, it fails to gain enough traction to propel itself to a level that is superior to the one reached by its prequel. Being just as good as Splatoon, however, is not a sin, because that means it is a game that has the potential to entertain for as many hours as one has available to sit down with it. While it does not have quite enough to define its own traits, and even though it inherits all of the negative quirks of its predecessor, Splatoon 2 is irresistible.