Splatoon 2 [Review]

Nintendo has long been a game company that relies heavily on their original IPs as opposed to third party games for their consoles. Usually when someone remembers a classic game on a Nintendo console, it’s usually one of the exclusives Nintendo has. Zelda, Mario, Kirby, all of those are iconic brands with several games that are considered to be iconic for how fun, memorable, and charming they were. A couple of years ago, Nintendo finally took another risk with an entirely new IP about a bunch of squids. This wouldn’t seem too strange, except it was meant to be played as an online multiplayer shooter. Nintendo. Doing an online game. With elements of third-person shooting games.

What sort of timeline are we living in? Well, joke’s on us, because even though it came out on one of their less popular consoles, the Wii U, the first Splatoon game was a hit with critics and players alike, with everyone praising it for its charming looks, fun gameplay, and memorable style. I myself never really got the chance to play it, so when Splatoon 2 was announced for the Nintendo Switch, you know I had to get my hands on it. I got to participate in the pre-release Splatfest, a recurring battle that splits players into two factions based on a “Which is better?” question, and it just got me more excited to play the full release version of Splatoon 2.

And by God, it was certainly worth the wait. 

Splatoon 2 is one of the must-have titles available on the Nintendo Switch. I genuinely think it should be in every Switch owner’s library. Even if you’re not typically a fan of third person shooters, I implore you to give this game a try. It has a very enjoyable single-player mode that will help you learn some tricks to use in the multiplayer mode, and the multiplayer games themselves are incredibly fun and addictive, though they do make some questionable choices that I’ll address later.

Let me start this off by saying that this game looks amazing. It’s extremely bright, vibrant, and colorful in all the right places, with little details thrown in to make the world of Splatoon 2 stand out even more. Your central hub is a city square known as “Inkopolis Square”, and you use that to get around the various shops and access the different game modes available. There’s even a little DDR-styled minigame you can access that not only lets you listen to the fantastically fun and bouncy soundtrack, but also break your thumbs in frustration because you can’t keep up with the stupid beat of the songs. Aside from that, you can jump between the shops by accessing the menu if you don’t want to bother walking around or get lost easily. It’s a nice little feature that I enjoyed, as I constantly forgot where the shirt shop was.

I do have to say I was a little bothered by how I couldn’t switch off the motion controls for the tutorial section that the game makes you start out with, but once you reach the main square you’re allowed to fiddle with it to your heart’s content. I’m very glad they’re not mandatory. The options also allow you to lock the ink colors if you’re partially color-blind, which is a very nice addition. It’s little touches like this that make up the reasons I ended up loving this game.

In the singleplayer mode, you play as a nameless Inkling (the name of the squidkid race present in Splatoon) who is tasked with rescuing the Great Zapfish from the evil Octarian menace. It’s once again not meant to convey a great story, it’s just a setup meant to get you to play through twenty-eight levels where you splat, jump, and squid your way through to save smaller zapfishes. I say “squid your way”, because one of the main mechanics of the game is your ability to freely switch between Kid and Squid forms. Kid form lets you use weapons, jump around, move, etc. Squid form lets you swim around in the ink you threw around, climb up walls, and just generally helps you maneuver yourself into better positions to take out whoever is trying to take you out. You move faster on your own ink, but slow down and take damage over time if you’re on the enemy’s ink. You can cover their ink with your weapon, and they can cover yours, so it’s beneficial to be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to which color is surrounding you at that time.

The campaign isn’t very difficult, though there are some platforming moments that I remember getting frustrated with, mostly because I wanted to get all of the collectibles and was very impatient at the time. One thing I will admit I feel torn about is the way they implemented the different weapon types into the campaign. On the one hand, you actually got to use the several different weapons that Splatoon has to offer. From a “charger” weapon that acts like a sniper rifle, to a giant paint-roller that excels in everything related to close combat, the variety in the weapons is very impressive. Compared to the way they just forced you to only use one weapon throughout the entirety of the campaign in the first game, this was such an improvement. However, every level forces you to use that one weapon, no matter how much you hate it.

For example, in a previous level you could have breezed through it using the Dual Splatties, a sort of dual pistol rapid-fire short range weapon that I really enjoyed using, but then the next level would force you to use the frustratingly slow Charger weapon that I just can’t bring myself to enjoy. I’m not really much of a sniper person to begin with anyways, so it just felt annoying to have to adjust to a weapon I wouldn’t really pick in the multiplayer mode anyways. And that’s what the single player really is all about: preparing you to dive into the real meat of the game, which is the beautifully done multiplayer mode.

In the multiplayer section, you have four different types of games you can play. There’s the casual Turf War, where the goal of the game is to ink more of the current map with your colored ink than the other team. The team with the most ground covered at the end wins. Pretty simple, and it’s just a fun, casual way to enjoy the game and rank up. Once you hit level 10, you can start doing competitive battles where the rules change on a set schedule. One day it could be a capture the flag sort of game, the next it could be a “push the payload” situation. These battles are ranked, starting you at the C- rank and giving you the chance to climb all the way up to S+ I believe. I haven’t spent much time with this yet, but from what I’ve experienced it is fun to blast your way through in a more strategic manner. There’s a “League Battle” mode that you can play when you reach Level 25, but I haven’t gotten there just yet. If there’s one thing I have to complain about with these modes is that I don’t really feel like the matchmaking system is very fair, at least for the casual mode. I was Level 6 or 7 at the time, but I was being put against teams that had their lowest member at Level 17. It felt like it was a crapshoot on whether or not the match would be fair or completely one-sided.

Finally, there’s the enigmatic, frustrating, extremely fun game mode known as “Salmon Run”. This game mode takes you and three other players and pits you in a cooperative horde mode against creatures known as Salmonids. Your job is to collect a certain amount of Golden Power Eggs from the tougher Boss Salmonids while using pre-chosen weapons provided at random. At the start of each wave, you’re assigned one of four random weapons, and you have to work together to survive the salmonids and collect the eggs. If your entire team is killed or you fail to collect enough eggs, the game is over, and you lose a bit of your Salmon Run ranking. Yes, there’s a ranking for Salmon Run, but it really only applies to how much experience you get for the in-game rewards.

I call it frustrating because even though I adore this game mode and how it encourages teamwork, it does have a few issues. It feels like the difficulty can be extremely random at times, with some Boss Salmonids being much tougher to beat than others, and the way the maps can actually change during the match. For example, some maps have a low tide and high tide, giving you either more map room to work with, or so little that it feels like it’s way too easy to get cornered and separated from your team. It’d make more sense if this happened later in the match, but it can happen at seemingly any moment. Or maybe that was just my luck kicking in. 

And then there’s the weirdest thing about Salmon Run: It’s not always available to play. For some reason or another, this game is on a schedule, being available some days and shut down on others.

To give yourself an edge in the multiplayer modes (aside from Salmon Run), you can actually buy clothes and accessories that come with passive bonuses, such as giving you damage resistance, faster moving or better swim speed. These little bonuses can make all the difference, and if you really like the way a particular piece of clothing looks but not the bonuses, you can add or reroll certain bonuses on the item until you’re happy with both how you look and how it helps you play. It’s a neat little system that allows you to make your own unique Inkling.

If there’s one thing to take away from this review, it’s that Splatoon 2 is an essential title for anyone’s Nintendo Switch library. It’s one of the reasons to own a Switch, and with more free content on the way, I don’t have an inkling of an idea as to why you shouldn’t own one of Nintendo’s best new games.