Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, copy supplied by Nintendo.
Splatoon 2 is a harrowing shooter in which mutated child soldiers battle it out to make their colour reign supreme. Or it’s a lighthearted ink filled mess, read into it however you want. What it most certainly is though, is a load of good fun.
Admittedly I didn’t really get heavily into the original Splatoon, which is surprising considering I was one of the select few who were deemed cool enough to own a Wii U. So to say I was keen to try out the sequel is an understatement. The lasting impression from my time with the sequel is that it’s an easy to pick up and addictive multiplayer title, but with a few glaring flaws.
Jumping into either solo, online multiplayer or local multiplayer, there are a fair few ways to play Splatoon, which suits the Switch to a tee. However, limitations on each mode make the otherwise impressive game feel let down in places.
Let’s start out by dissecting the solo mode. Putting players in the role of a hero searching for a missing celebrity (squidlebrity?) and stolen zapfish, you have to battle naughty octopuses and use your ink based skills and weapons to traverse the levels. The mechanics are exactly the same as the original, in which you use projectile and melee weapons to paint ink onto a map, and then can transform into a squid to fill up on ink and move quicker through the goop. To make this easier I recommend changing the default motion based controls to manual. Having your controller tilting the screen in both docked and handheld makes the game harder to use and frankly made me feel on the cusp of spraying some of my own ink (meaning it made me nauseous).
Whilst the singleplayer helps you get a grips with the core elements and passes the time, you’d be hard pressed to say it’s amazing gameplay. The thing with Splatoon is that it’s a combat focused game with some platformer elements, so when the game forces you to solely play it as a platformer, it’s not at its strongest. Making certain jumps and even getting a decent camera angle at times can be more trouble than its worth. That being said, the level lengths are relatively short and peppered with checkpoints, and the bosses you unlock in each area are interesting and fun to face.
Throughout the singleplayer mode you unlock weapons and points to spend on upgrades, which makes for a good if not expected addition, but when you’re forced to use certain weapons on certain levels and can’t take your loot with you into other modes, it feels a bit pointless. And the same applies with multiplayer unlocks, which you can’t take into singleplayer, including cosmetic items.
None of this is to say that the solo play in Splatoon is terrible, it’s perfectly serviceable, but the real draw card here is the multiplayer. Fast, chaotic and addictive, the online modes draw you in and holds you there. Over the past weekend my afternoons evaporated into Splatoon hazes. The core turf battles keep you truly gripped, as you fight it out with your team to colour the map in your favour. Combat is fast and often hard to predict, making it compelling stuff. For those with a more competitive edge there is also a ranked mode to try your hand at.
However, weird design choices also detract from the enjoyment with multiplayer. For example, once you’re in the game lobby and searching, you can’t change your loadout, even inbetween games. You also can’t see what loadout your team mates will be rocking, so it becomes a bit of a crapshoot as to your overall effectiveness. The weapons in Splatoon have specific roles, for example the roller is best at covering large parts of the map and the twin pistols are best for dueling. So when you end up in a game with unbalanced weapons, things go sour pretty quickly. This could all be negated if you could switch weapons between deaths or between matches, but nope. It’s leaving and tweaking before rolling the dice again for you.
The maps you play run on a rotation, with only two available at any time, which is a fine way to keep the game interesting when they change, however when they do, you’re forced to sit through an unskippable scene of commentators discussing each level. Once you’ve seen them a few times it becomes a bit tedious to go through. Fortunately, the gameplay here is enough to make it worth enduring, but it still could use a bit of work.
Not being able to skip annoying dialogue is a bit of a theme in Splatoon 2, when you purchase weapons or clothing you’ll sit through the same conversations again and again.
Leveling up your gear is fun however, so it’s worth bearing with the annoying text. Certain clothes will have unlockable attributes that are randomised, meaning you might need to spend some time perfecting your loadout, adding a great dimension for perfectionists. Purchases are obtained through in-game currency that you earn from playing online matches, and rarely have I ran low on funds, making it feel not overwhelmingly grindy.
Perhaps the best mode Splatoon 2 offers up is Salmon Run, where you fight waves of enemies and collect golden eggs off of bosses. The wave combat makes for interesting dynamics as you have to work together with friends or strangers, and adds an exciting variation to the Splatoon gameplay.
As ever the quirky nature of the game shines through in every mode, so it’s hard to let the minor negatives keep you down with this title. At the end of the day Splatoon 2 is up there when it comes to competitive online games, which is saying something considering it’s not usually Nintendo’s area of comfort.