Splatoon 2 Review: A Solid Return to the Franchise

Do the Inklings bring a fresh coat of paint with them to this Splatoon sequel?

Nintendo has proudly touted the Switch’s “play anywhere” capabilities since the hybrid console’s release, giving special attention to the wealth of multiplayer options that are available with its portable nature. Following releases of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and ARMS, Nintendo has further bolstered the Switch with Splatoon 2, bringing back all of the colorful, messy goodness from before.

So, how does a multiplayer shooter that was previously designed with the Wii U Gamepad in mind translate to a one-screen platform? Worried fans can let their minds be at ease, because Splatoon feels just as home on the Switch as it did before on the Wii U. A full view of the stage map is just a push of a button away, while the joystick offers a fluid means to click on your teammates and propel yourselves to their positions. Utilizing the map not be exactly as smooth as it was with that nifty second screen in the palm of your hands, but it’s far from tedious.

Every other mechanic feels just as sound and as fresh as it was before. Splatoon’s concepts are a very welcome deviation from a genre where many of the games blur together; if Splatoon 2 is your first taste of the budding franchise, it is wholly accurate to say that you’ve never, ever played a shooter like this. The significance that Splatoon places on the environment and your management of it is unlike any other title in the genre.

Being a sharpshooter or demolitions expert who can blast opponents is secondary to your ability to ink up your surroundings so that you and your teammates can swim freely through the paint. Mobility is the key to victory in just about any of Splatoon’s game modes, and that can only be accomplished with a thick coat of paint over the environment. With it, your range of movement opens up to just about any direction you can imagine, including vertical travel along the surface of walls. Once you’ve doused enough of the stage, no spot is out of reach, at least, until an opponent repaints it to their favor.

That particular struggle is the basis for Splatoon 2’s primary game mode, “Turf War”. In it, you and three teammates battle it out with another team of four to see who can cover the most of the map with your paint color in a three minute match. “Turf War” serves as the sole mode found in the online setting known as “Regular Battle”, which is essentially the casual setting; there’s no consequences if you should lose, while the points you gain from a win go toward your overall online ranking.

Splatoon 2 for Switch is Available at Amazon

You can play “Turf War”—and all of Splatoon 2’s multiplayer modes—locally, as well. However, that’s only if your buddies have a Switch and a copy of the game, of their own. There is no split screen option at this time, which is disappointing given that the original game included one.

Ranked Battles are back, as well, offering a more competitive way to play and more modes than “Regular Battle”. “Tower Control” tasks you with guiding a rail-riding tower long enough to reach the end point in an enemy base, “Rainmaker” has both teams fighting to sneak the eponymous item into the opposing base, and “Splat Zones” is a king of the hill-style match where you need to control a spot longer than the opposing team.

True to the name, there’s a ranking system in place that you work your way through with continued wins. In the past, you had just one ranking for all game modes, but now “Tower Control”, “Rainmaker”, and “Splat Zones” all give you a unique ranking based on your performances in each. “Ranked” is also no longer quite as unforgiving as it was in the past; where before, you would lose points for every loss, you’ll only take steps back should you lose several–and we mean several–matches in a row.

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For Splatoon players who seek even further risk and reward, this sequel introduces “League Battle”. In “League”, you and a squad of three buddies on your Switch friend list can battle it out against other four-person groups during two-hour sessions, amassing as many points as possible to earn the highest score among all participating squads.

If this all makes it sound like Splatoon 2 is a safe sequel, that’s because it is. While it is by no means an egregious retread, it definitely was conservative about innovating the franchise and moving it forward. It’s pretty light on brand new concepts, and it even retains some of the original’s missteps. Most notably is a lack of satisfactory voice chat, which would be ideal for a cooperative, multiplayer-centric title such as this, but only exists in the form of the SplatNet 2 app for mobile phones. Said app has its merits when it comes to helping you keep track of Splatoon’s robust online features and schedule, however, it’s no suitable replacement for something like a headset and mic.

One of the few additions that comes with Splatoon 2 is one of the best ideas that Nintendo has come up with in a while, at least. “Salmon Run” is a brand new game mode that plays like a survival battle, pitting you and three others against waves of monstrous enemies. You not only have to survive the timed rounds as foes swarm your surroundings, but you also have to kill enough to collect a required number of items they drop, called golden eggs.

At times, “Salmon Run” feels deep enough to be its own game. The variety of enemies, particularly the boss-like foes, known as Boss Salmonids, is truly remarkable. There’s a wide bestiary that you can contend with in any given round, meaning that only one style of combat isn’t going to cut it for you from start to finish. Between the diverse enemy selection, and the dynamic environment you battle them on, you could play “Salmon Run” for twenty or thirty sessions and still experience brand new encounters.

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If the hordes of enemies that “Salmon Run” throws at you isn’t challenging, enough, it also forces you to adapt to a limited range of weapons. You can’t use any of your own equipment while playing in Salmon Run, but instead must make due with whatever one of the four available weapons during any session that it randomly assigns you. Each round you’ll get a new weapon to fend off the Salmonids with, so don’t get comfortable with just one strategy. On one hand, it may feel restrictive, but on another, this limited arsenal fits with “Salmon Run’s” theme of asking that you be resourceful, and display a broad skillset with the game’s mechanics in order to succeed.

There’s already a lot going on in Splatoon 2’s lively online community, and there’s more on the way. In the spirit of the Wii U original, Splatoon 2 will be supported with a wealth of free DLC, the earliest of which has already began to appear just a couple of weeks following the game’s release. With new weapons, maps, and game modes on the horizon, expect the online component to stay fresh for a long while.

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There is plenty of fun to be had in Splatoon 2 even if it’s by yourself, thanks to the return of a single player campaign. The structure will be very familiar to those who played the original Splatoon; there are several different hubs which each contain their own set of missions you must complete before taking on a [usually] enormous boss in a bombastic battle. If you’ve been bummed at how boss battles have become a forgotten art form in the shooter genre, Splatoon 2 once again will scratch that itch for you just like the first game did.

The missions have a 3D Mario-kind of vibe to them; each one is built with its own unique, crazy environmental theme that tasks you with navigating its tricky hazards. In most, you’ll find a stellar mix of platforming challenges and combat, while some dive all the full into full-blown puzzling solving. There’s definitely a greater emphasis on combat here than in the original Splatoon’s story mode, and even many of the platforming sections feel more fast-paced than before.

What bare-bones story actually exists is also very familiar to a veteran of the first Splatoon. Nobody should ever expect a complex, thought-provoking narrative from a Splatoon game, but are a few cutscenes and a diverse cast of characters really too much to ask? It feels like a huge wasted opportunity to not explore the imaginative and zany world of the Inklings with some cinematic flair.

Where the single player campaign won’t feel so familiar is in the fixation it has with your weaponry, as most of the missions and their environments are designed with a single weapon in mind. In fact, your first go-around with them can only be completed by using the weapon that the level intends. Similar to “Salmon Run”, the single player missions demand that you be able to adjust and complete challenges with a wide array of play styles, but unlike Salmon Run, the single player portion of Splatoon 2 justifies it through more than just a rewarding sense of difficulty. Most of the stages’ platforming and puzzle sections are obviously built to be completed by a specific weapon’s unique abilities; using alternate weapons might just be tedious beyond words.

Order your copy of NIntendo’s Splatoon 2 from Amazon now

FINAL SCORE 

8/10

 

Much of it may be very familiar, but Splatoon’s inventive mechanics are just as sound and as entertaining now as they were before. If you weren’t interested when it debuted on the Wii U, then this Switch sequel is unlikely to change your mind. But, if you were a fan of the original, or just intrigued by it, then Splatoon 2 should be a solid return (or introduction) for you to all of the fun that this colorful franchise offers.

+ Loaded with vibrant visuals, humor, and charm that few other franchises can match

+ A robust online multiplayer component that appears will only get more dynamic with incoming free DLC

+ Thoroughly-fun game mechanics that have been refined from the original, and are unlike anything else in the genre

+ Salmon Run and the single player missions are challenging, seriously-addicting ways to play

— Takes few risks, and at times feels like too much of a retread for its own good

— Some pretty goofy limitations to online functionality, most notably the lack of suitable voice chat

Jeff Pawlak is the Nintendo Expert on the Geekiverse. He loved the original Splatoon, and he fully expects to spend the rest of the Summer battling it out in Ranked Battles and grinding through Salmon Run on Splatoon 2. If you ever want to join his matches, add him on the Switch with his Friend Code SW-1774-4999-4185. You can also find him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs, where he’s never short on words for what’s going in the world of Nintendo.

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