Nintendo Switch: Splatoon 2 (review)

Release date: July 2017

Developer: Nintendo

Format: Digital download (eShop) and physical cart

Other platforms: NA

Price: ~$75 AUD

I loved the first Splatoon on the Wii U, so the news we’d be getting a sequel just over two years later on Nintendo’s next console was very welcome indeed.

Structurally, Splatoon 2 is more or less the same as its predecessor; though it does include a single player campaign, the focus is on multiplayer modes. Once again, you start off with a little tutorial area that teaches you the controls before arriving in Inkopolis, the game’s hub world. You can access the shops to buy new gear and weapons from here, as well as the single player and multiplayer campaigns (these can also be accessed from the menu without having to walk around).

If you go to the little arcade machines on the right of the square, you can play a few little minigames. I didn’t spend a lot of time with them but the one I played with was some sort of rhythm game.

Many of the weapons will be familiar to those who played the first game, such as the rollers, the brushes and of course the standard gun and sniping weapons, but there are some new ones like the Splat Dualies and the Sloshers. Your selection is limited when you first start the game but as you level up, you unlock the ability to purchase different types of weapons, each of which has its own secondary and special weapons attached. The different clothing you can buy comes with different skills with slots to unlock further skills by leveling up in multiplayer, like faster run speed, quicker special attack recharge and more economical ink usages for your weapons. It’s well worth buying different gear and unlocking the skills as they can make a huge difference to your effectiveness in the match.

Multiplayer
The main multiplayer modes that were in the first game return for the sequel; Turf War has two teams of four competing to see who can cover the largest area with their team’s ink in three minutes. This mode is open as soon as you start the game. Once you hit level 10, you unlock Ranked Battles, which include three other modes: Splat Zones, where each team must compete to see who can hold a specific area of the map for the longest; Rainmaker, where teams battle to take possession of the powerful Rainmaker weapon and carry it to the enemy’s base; and Tower Control, where you take over a tower in the centre so it moves towards the enemy’s base as long as one of your team is standing on it. Each match lasts for three minutes, which is great for those who only have a short time to play on their break at work or before they go to bed. It also means that losing doesn’t feel too frustrating (most of the time) because you haven’t sacrificed that much time.

In addition to the competitive multiplayer modes above, Splatoon 2 also introduces a cooperative multiplayer mode, Salmon Run, which can be played online with randoms or in local or online teams with your friends. You get put into teams of four and sent to an island where you must collect a certain quota of Golden Eggs through three waves or rounds. These Golden Eggs are harvested by killing the variety of Boss Salmonids that will come ashore and try to make things difficult for you, along with the hordes of smaller Salmonids which are easier to kill but can still catch you off guard in large enough numbers. Some of these Boss Salmonids are relatively easy to kill but others are challenging and can take a concerted team effort to take down. In addition, the landscape sometimes changes between waves, with the tide rising or falling or night plunging the island into darkness. Sometimes a player will get swarmed by glowflies and this poor player will be targeted by Salmonids. If a player is killed, they can only be revived by another player hitting them with ink, but if all three players are wiped out, it’s game over (however any knocked-out players will respawn at the start of each new wave).

The huge variation in difficulty between games – and even between waves within one game – means you always have to be on your toes. As you win more games, your pay grade goes up and you start getting more difficult missions on average. However, if you keep losing games, your pay grade drops. You also don’t get to choose your weapon; instead, you are randomly allocated one at the start of each wave from the four that are available in that Salmon Run window. Unfortunately, Salmon Run is not accessible at all times (except in local multiplayer) unlike the other modes. I’m not exactly sure what the pattern is but it seems to run every second day or so, for about 10-12 hours. I’m not really sure why they couldn’t just have it always available like the other modes as it’s probably the best (in my view) mode in the game.

Sadly, a lot of the online issues from the first game have carried over into the sequel. While the number of disconnect errors I’ve experienced seems to have been drastically reduced, I still found myself frequently getting stuck waiting in lobbies for several minutes as the game searched for new players and kept resetting the timer. I always found that if the lobby wasn’t full within about 30 seconds, I would eventually get kicked out because not enough players joined the battle, so it was frustrating to have to sit there for ages because there’s no option to exit and just look for another one.

Disconnections from other players are also a huge issue. It doesn’t bother me too much in Turf War (though it’s still frustrating) but in Ranked Battles where wins and losses affect your rank, it’s unfair to be penalised for something beyond your control, especially when it happens several matches in a row. I found it particularly infuriating in Salmon Run, since these games last longer and require more effort. While you can usually manage a Salmon Run game with three people IF you get lucky and get an easy round, it’s pretty much impossible with only two players. Several times when I was playing, one or two players disconnected between the lobby and the first wave, so as soon as I spawned with only one other player beside me, I knew I had no chance. As I mentioned above, your pay grade drops as you lose Salmon Run games, and I really think that Nintendo should have included some sort of failsafe so that if you lose a game after having players disconnect, your pay grade doesn’t drop.

One thing I missed about the Wii U version was the ability to see the map for each stage at all times while you were playing. Though you can easily access it by hitting the X button, it still felt a bit cumbersome to me compared to just being able to look down and see how much ground you’d inked or to tap a player on the touch screen on the GamePad and superjump straight to them. Even though the Switch version wouldn’t be able to accommodate a separate screen, it would have been nice if they could at least provide a small map overlay in one corner or something.

Splatoon 2 also does not have an inbuilt voice chat function (though I maintain that a game like this doesn’t really need it, I feel like it would still be good to have the option there). There is a separate Nintendo app which allows voice chat but I haven’t downloaded it as I can’t really be bothered with it (and from what I’m hearing, it’s a bit of a train wreck anyway). You can also use the app to buy clothes with skills that are different to those you can buy in the shops, so it might be worth checking out for some people.

Single Player – Hero Mode
Disappointingly, the single player campaign’s story has been recycled from the first game: the Great Zapfish that powers Inkopolis (and all the smaller Zapfish) has been stolen by the Octarians, and it’s up to you to track them down and get them back. In addition, Callie – one of the Squid Sisters – has also vanished, leaving her sister Marie to enlist your help in finding her. I wasn’t expecting a particularly novel or complicated story but I had hoped there’d be a bit more variation from the first game. That being said, the level design is brilliant, with a wide variety of environments and platforming components ensuring that the game never feels stale. Some of the levels in Hero Mode are also used as stages in the multiplayer side of the game, but they have a whole different feel when you’re navigating them to take out Octolings and recover trapped Zapfish instead of just sloshing ink everywhere.

The campaign is also a bit longer than Splatoon‘s single player mode, clocking in at around 5-6 hours. However there are collectibles scattered throughout the levels and the game keeps records of which levels you’ve completed using each weapon – and there’s a larger variety of weapons than in the first game’s Hero Mode – so there is a fair bit of room to replay the single player campaign. You can unlock Hero versions of some weapons in the multiplayer shop once you beat every solo player level with that weapon, though aside from an aesthetic difference, the stats for each weapon are the same as the regular version, so this is probably only something completionists will see the value in doing. Especially since some levels were obviously designed with a particular weapon in mind, and completing it with a different weapon can be extremely difficult and frustrating.

Like its predecessor, Splatoon 2 released with three amiibo: Inkling Boy, Inkling Girl and Inkling Squid. This is the same as the first game’s initial amiibo, though this time the characters are different colours, and unlike Splatoon‘s green Inkling Squid, which was only available in a pack of three with the other two characters, Splatoon 2‘s purple Inkling Squid is available separately. The old Splatoon amiibo can be used alongside the newer ones in Splatoon 2 to unlock exclusive clothing and to store your favourite gear setups for you to scan and equip easily while in the lobby. However it’s worth noting that the Callie and Mario amiibo from the first game will only give you gear after you have beaten the solo player campaign. I haven’t bought the new amiibo yet but when I do, I’ll add them to the post.

Splatoon 2 is a must-buy title if you own a Nintendo Switch, even if you owned Splatoon on Wii U. Nintendo’s colourful shooter may have carried over most of the elements from the first game (including several of its problems), but the addition of Salmon Run, new maps and weapons and the ability to play this on the go make it well worth adding to your library.

Score:

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