Splatoon 2 Review
Author: M.S.
System: Switch

As my roommate and I began playing through the single player mode in Splatoon 2 – me on the big screen, and him in handheld mode – he said something that got my attention. “Man Nintendo has created gold again, there are a lot of clever and new ideas here”. I have to say it somewhat irked me, enough to flippantly reply, “Ya, it was new 2 years ago in the original”.

After all, 2 years prior, the original Splatoon was one of my favorite games and a brave new enterprise in a year that featured heavy hitting sequels like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, and Metal Gear Solid 5. It was a game that started off from humble beginnings and after a couple of years of generous free updates in the form of new maps and weapons, modes and trinkets – by which I mean some spiffy new duds of course – became a new force to be reckoned in the overcrowded multiplayer shooter realm.

As someone who spent upwards of 50 hours painting the town – that being Inkopolis – neon, hearing my roommates enthusiastic words reminded me too of just how much I felt that same way when Splatoon first hit the Wii U in 2005. It also served as somewhat of a disappointing realization that for just how great the core game still is – as well as the new changes and updates – the game doesn’t feel quite as fresh as it once did.

…Also Nintendo still doesn’t get multiplayer.

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For those who have never played Splatoon before it is essentially a third person shooter/platformer/paintballer hybrid that focuses more on shooting the environment for points than it is your opponent. By shooting the floors and walls with paint, either by fast action pistols, sniper rifles, paint rollers, or the dozens of other unique weapons at your disposal, you can use your surroundings to your advantage, swimming through your own colored paint in squid form, making it easier to travel through each map and in the hopes of getting the upper hand on the enemy.

Where most shooters are straightforward in their run and gun aspirations, Splatoon is much more than that, eschewing the typical deathmatch and K/D ratios we come to expect from games like Call of Duty for a more team objective-based multiplayer experience.

Splatoon 2 picks right up from the original with the exact same structure as the 2015 release. After creating your own Inkling – which while simple, features some fancy new hairstyles – you are welcomed to the Shibuya-inspired squid pool of Inkopolis. It’s this hub that will serve as your gateway to a multitude of modes and mayhem that await you.

Those that played the original Splatoon, you already know the drill. You can either partake in the single player or multiplayer modes – of which I will get into – or use the currency you have earned through these modes to take to the shops and buy new weapons and clothes to outfit your character with so that they too can be a hipster millennial like the rest of us – I kid…kind of….okay not really.

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What’s great about the new fashion in this iteration is that although it hasn’t been completely restyled from the original, they’ve incorporated new brands and therefore new styles to go with the classics, so trade in those musty ball caps in the original for a sweet skull-adorned balaclava.

Each piece of gear is outfitted with a unique ability, ranging from faster ink recharge to quicker respawns, and a set of open slots, that upon leveling up, will grant you an additional random ability. The more rare the gear, the more slots will be available to unlock abilities. Ranking up your level in multiplayer bring about new and more rare gear making it an addiction worth investing the time cultivating.

The gear system has seen some subtle but well appreciated improvements in Splatoon 2 thanks to Inkopolis’ newest denizen, Murch – who replaces Spike from the original. If you love a specific set of shades, shoes or shirts, but are unhappy with the abilities that they spawn, take them to Murch and he can scrub them of their abilities giving you a clean slate to try again while also giving you the trashed upgrades in the process in the from of Ability Chunks. Get enough of these chunks and you can trade them in for a specific upgrade that can be affixed to any piece of equipment you desire.

This brings about a new level of personalized customization allowing you to create dream gear sets with the exact upgrades you want to focus your play style around. Don’t get too excited though, the Ability Chunk requirements as well as the cost to get your gear stripped will make sure you are playing for tens of hours before you will see the benefits of this new addition take place.

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Inkopolis has undergone a few other changes as well. Former shoe connoisseur and salesman, Crusty Sean, has ditched the kicks addiction and has opened up a food and drink stand. He sells EXP and coin boosters which can be used in multiplayer to help level up your inkling’s overall rank quicker or give you a higher chance of gaining a specific ability for your gear upon leveling it up.

The cynic in us might cry foul at this being a perfect vehicle for micro-transactions, but seeing as how well Nintendo treated the first game with all of its free post-release content, I doubt this system will be exploited. Besides, you will find a good amount of these tickets throughout the single player or as prizes through Splatoon 2’s biggest new addition to the roster, Salmon Run.

Salmon Run is Splatoon’s version of Horde Mode that originated in Gears of War. You and up to 3 friends and/or random players will be tasked with taking out 3 waves populated with the most ridiculous enemies to grace such a mode yet. These Salmonids are a prickly bunch of fuckers and while their grunts are fairly easy ink fodder, their boss incarnations require skill and strategy to take out. For example, the Maws – reminiscent of a shark – burrows itself underground only coming up to feed on the nearest inkling on the team, but they become much more manageable to take out when you exploit its telegraphed attacks and drop a Splat Bomb in its…well maw. Defeat one of these bosses and they drop eggs of which a quota must collected before each wave ends to be able to progress to the next stage.

While fairly standard, Salmon Run ends up being a fun new diversion from the competitive nature of Splatoon 2’s multiplayer, rewarding you with aforementioned prizes in the form of random prize bubbles that drop coins, food tickets and even exclusive gear. And while I didn’t find the rewards enticing – nor its repetitive nature – enough to draw me to play it as much as the other multiplayer modes, it’s a nice change of pace if you want to grab a few friends and crank up the difficulty. There’s bound to be some fun and frantic moments awaiting you.

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Multiplayer is broken up into Regular, and Ranked modes all returning from the original game as well as a new Team Battle mode for the more competitive E-Sports scene.

Regular Battle features a solitary 4-on-4 mode called Turf War that promotes the heart and soul of what makes Splatoon what it is. The goal in Turf War is have your team ink up as much of the map as you can while making sure the other team doesn’t. Whoever covers the most surface area at the end of the match is declared the winner.

It’s a simple concept but it works beautifully, requiring a mixture of careful planning and quick decision-making. It’s also incredibly accessible for those who aren’t adept at the pinpoint precision requirements of today’s shooters as the name of the game here is map control, not kill count. Few things are more satisfying then travelling behind enemy lines and slowly painting their own zone in your team’s colours, unabated, only to have opponents shift their attention to you, opening up an opportunity for your team to mount an offensive push, which leads to victory.

Turf Wars is where you will spend a majority of your opening hours, and for the good majority of you most of your time period, due to its pick up and play nature and quick 3 minute rounds. Its’ easy to go in thinking you’ll play a couple of quick rounds only to lose hours to the boundless amounts of fun this mode provides.

Ranked Mode makes it return in Splatoon 2 as well as the same 3 modes that comprise it.

Tower Control requires your team to control a tower point long enough for it to pass into enemy territory. In Rainmaker, you’re job is to obtain and escort the Rainmaker weapon into enemy territory in a capture-the-flag style mode that is reminiscent of American Football…if the QB had a sub-atomic ray gun that shot inky death. Finally, my favorite, Splat Zones requires teams to take and hold an area of land in the middle of the map by making sure its composed mostly of that teams ink.

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Each of the 3 modes is fun, unique and sport incredibly intense – and tense –rounds compared to the more casual free-for-all nature of Turf War. They require great strategy and team composition and can become frustrating if you are playing with random players who are not on the same page, but the game’s matchmaking does its best to divvy up the teams accordingly. Regardless, like most ranked modes in competitive games, they are rewarding when you are winning and frustrating when you find yourself on the losing side and see you ranking go down.

Thankfully the ranking system has been completely reworked in Splatoon 2 and for the better. While still keeping the C- to S+ ranking, where in the original game, rank went down after every loss, the sequel makes sure rank is only affected by continuous losses. Every time you lose a match, you stand the chance of seeing your ranking take a hit by a cool visual overlay on your level bar in the form of little cracks. When you hit enough losses to “break” your rank bar, your ranking will drop. To make things less dire, if you manage to pass certain threshold – around 40% of a level – if your bar breaks, you will only have to start from the beginning of that level again.

This makes for a less frustrating experience because if you find yourself on a prolonged losing streak you won’t have to worry about dropping significant levels quickly. Furthermore, if you manage to find yourself on a winning streak you can jump up multiple levels in one go as long as your bar doesn’t have many blemishes on it when you level up – for example I jumped from a C- to B- at one point.

On top of the change in overall ranking system, instead of having one ranking for all modes, each mode is graded separately this time. No longer will someone’s rank be tarnished by a mode that they don’t enjoy playing. It’s a great change, but as welcome as this addition is, you still cannot choose which mode you want to play and it points to my overall frustrations with Nintendo’s brand of multiplayer and that’s its lack of respect for the player’s time.

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This is seen in almost every single aspect of its multiplayer suite because just like the original game’s release, everything is on a rotation. Whether it be their stringent 2 map rotation rule, or in the case of Ranked Battle, individual modes, everything is run on Nintendo time.

Take Normal Battle for example; due to the luck of the draw when I first sat down with the multiplayer, I was forced to play the same 2 maps three of the first four times based off the time I was playing – it also doesn’t help that 2 of these maps were from the previous game. Even though the sequel has bumped the rotation time down to every 2 hours, that’s still 2 hours of the same 2 maps and that becomes a huge problem when matches in Turf War only take 3 minutes.

Why did Nintendo not at least bump the map rotation to 4 maps or I don’t know, no limit at all? I get that it helps you becomes familiar with each of the wonderfully intricate stages, which can be helpful in Ranked Battle, but if there was ever a way to get tired of Moray Towers or Musselforge Fitness, this is it.

Another frustrating gatekeeper that carries over from the first game is the fact that you can’t even join ranked matches until level 10. That might not seem like much of a hurdle on paper, but leveling up in Splatoon 2 is very slow and it could take you anywhere from 8-12 hours to do so, depending on whether you use food tickets or not. For those who put in the hours the first time ‘round, there is no way to forgo this and it becomes unnecessary handholding for veterans.

What’s worse in Ranked Battle is the fact you can’t select which of the 3 modes you want to play and instead are once again a slave to the rotation and whichever mode it brings. If you are someone who loves a specific mode you will have to check in-game or on SplatNet2 – Nintendo’s companion App – to see when the next opportunity will be. It sucked when I was on a roll in Splat Zones only for it to be booted out for a rotation of Rainmaker. It completely kills the buzz.

The greatest offender though has to be Salmon Run, which is only available in 12-hour chunks 4-5 days a week. If you want to play this game any other time, it either has to be a private match with friends or tough luck.

What. The. Fuck.

You’ve got to be squidding me Nintendo!!!

… *ahem* sorry for that.

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I could understand if this was a timed event like Overwatch’s abundant trove of such treats, but when this is the major new addition to your game, it’s completely asinine to put it through the wringer like Nintendo is doing here. I won’t even bother to go into detail of the much maligned voice chat service the company has graced us with, but let’s just say it’s squid poop (so ink?).

Other than that, joining matches with a friend is a pain in the ass and we are still not allowed to change weapon or gear load outs in battle or while waiting for the next round, unless you go to the lobby, which is wonderful – it was sarcasm; it fucking sucks – not to mention we lose out on the cool Squid Jump mini game thanks to the lack of Wii U gamepad, but at least you can DJ the menu music.

These practices were already archaic in 2015, but in a post-Overwatch world they are borderline unacceptable. It’s a testament to how good the core game is that they are worth putting up with. *sigh*

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Thankfully you won’t have to put up with those types of shenanigans in the single player mode, which takes everything you loved about the first game’s solo offering and offers more of the same.

Picking up right after the first game, the story focuses around you finding Callie, one half of the Squid Sisters from Splatoon, while recovering the Great Zapfish, which supplies Inkopolis’ power and has once again been stolen by the Ocatrians. It’s silly stuff folks, but it’s good for a laugh or two due to the impeccably sharp writing.

Over the course of the 27 levels over its 5 worlds, you will be treated to more of an action-platformer with light puzzle elements. Each take place in Super Mario Galaxy-esque – as my roommate excitedly pointed out – mini-worlds that house a particular challenge, which range from clearing out different types of enemies, to passing by timed paint rollers, to hitting hard to reach switches to form bridges to the next stage. Some of the levels get quite inventive and while they all share similar ideas to the first game’s campaign, there are a few new cool mechanics that really stand out such as the levels that revolve around bouncy platforms to make your way across. Each stage also houses hidden collectibles that unlock funny pieces of Inkling and Octarian lore and make scouring each level worth it.

Bosses are easily the highlight from both a visual and gameplay standpoint and each of these 5 bad boys will challenge your reflexes as well as your mind – you might even spot a familiar face or two repurposed in fun and funny new ways. These will go down as some of the best boss battles Nintendo has ever come up with over its decades of incredible game design.

Unlike the original game – unless you had Amiibo – you are now given many weapons to play around and test out before you jump into one preferred. Unfortunately, everybody’s favorite Melvin, Ammo Knight’s own purveyor of armaments, Sheldon, will request – and by request I mean force – you play each stage with a specific weapon the first time around which can be an annoying inconvenience to those who just want to run and gun with the Splat Duelies instead of laboring with the Slosher.

Overall the single player is a fun time and if you never played the original you will be amazed by how inventive some of the levels get and if you liked it the first time, you will find a lot to like again; just don’t expect a revolutionary upgrade.

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If you expect a revolutionary change in the visual department as well, you will be sorely disappointed, but seeing as how fucking rad this game looked in the first place that shouldn’t be a problem. The game looks the same, but instead of trading up for more polygons it delivers even more panache then before. For example, the wonderful touch of adding glitter to the paint in the single player mode really pops off the screen – now in 1080p no less, running in its patented 60FPS.

Splatoon also featured some of the best character design Nintendo has delivered in years and this continues in the sequel, especially with the two new hosts Pearl and Marina, who are stylin’ and adorable and make me want to shell out copious amounts of money for their Amiibos – get on it Nintendo.

Who am I kidding, you already have.

This immaculate sense of style that reminds me of the best of Jet Grind Radio and Persona, carries over into what is arguably the game’s crowning jewel: it’s soundtrack.

Each of the tracks on display is fresh, catchy and wholly unique to what Splatoon is, featuring up-tempo tracks that are accompanied by the strangest yet most alluring vocals you’ll hear – some sort of squid/Japanese dialect. The only disappointment is there aren’t more, but I’m sure that will change as they keep rolling out new DLC stages.

Other than that we now have a fast forward button to skip through Sheldon’s rambling, but it’s unfortunately still too slow.

He talks way too much.

 

3.75 out of 5

 

Splatoon 2 is every bit as great as the original game and maybe even better with some new and subtle additions and tweaks, but it hardly feels like it deserves its numerical moniker. Instead it feels more like a series of DLC updates that do a solid job of improving the original experience, but don’t really add anything more than new coat of paint to an already known commodity.

And as wonderfully inventive as the core of the Splatoon experience is, the same can’t be said about Nintendo’s continually baffling practices when it comes to its handling of its multiplayer that force the player to play on their time. Nonetheless there is enough content and variety to keep you playing even when the game prevents you from enjoying certain modes.

For new players and those who just want more of the same, this game delivers in ink by the canister and shows just what kind of magic Nintendo can achieve when they are at their best. But for those who were expecting this to be a true sequel and not just another deluxe version of a game they’ve spent countless hours with already, that might sting a little. How ironic for a game that only a few short years ago was revelatory in its uniqueness.

Who am I kidding, I’m still gonna put 50 bloody hours in anyways!

 

 

 

 

 

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