At first blush, Splatoon 2 appears to be yet another Nintendo Switch game that’s little more than a Wii U title with a couple of extra bells and whistles. That’s not to discredit Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or the upcoming Pokkén Tournament DX. Mario Kart is quite possibly the best in the series, and I’m all for more people discovering Pokkén, but continual re-releases never look particularly good in the early days of a console’s life.
Thankfully (although saying that does sound somewhat perverse) not enough people experienced the true glory that was Splatoon, so even a direct port of the Wii U build for Switch would be a smart move by Nintendo. However, Splatoon 2, however, isn’t a slight tweak or a direct port: it’s a brand-new game fully deserving of the “2” slapped on the end of its name.
The biggest issue Nintendo has to address with Splatoon 2 is the split in its player base. There’s a core audience of Nintendo Switch owners who have been gagging to get in on more Splatoon action. And there’s an entirely new audience of Switch owners who have never heard of the game before but have been won over by the promise of a proper online “shooter” for their snazzy hybrid console.
These two audiences are, in terms of skill levels, at complete opposite ends of the spectrum, which is a problem for a competitive online shooter. However this is Nintendo, and Nintendo knows how to win audiences over more than any other game developer in the world.
Splatoon 2 signposts its single-player mode in a way that’s meant to entice the clueless to head there instead of waltzing, unawares, into the lion’s den of online multiplayer gaming. Here you’ll learn the ropes of the first slew of weapons, pick up the tricks you can master in multiplayer and, just as you start to tire of the tutorials, you’ll be thrown into the action.
Even then, you can’t just go around snatching up the best weapons and gear and wading into paint-soaked “Turf Wars”; you need to play “Regular Battle” mode until you hit rank four in order to unlock new gear and the online “Salmon Run” co-op mode. Competitive Ranked Battles and League Battles require you to reach level ten and rank “b” before you can participate.
For newcomers it’s a nice learning curve. For old hands it’s an obstacle that’s quickly negotiated but eases you into some of Splatoon 2’s new systems. Win-win.
It helps that Splatoon 2 follows basically the same premise as its Wii U forebear. Two teams of inklings – the anthropomorphic squid-like protagonists at the heart of Splatoon – battle one another in team-based “Turf Wars”. The primary objective isn’t to kill your opponents and rack up points, but to cover the battle arena in as much ink as possible before the time limit runs out. Being splatted with the opposing team’s ink kills you and you’ll drop back in at your team’s respawn point.
It’s a straightforward premise that leads to some fantastic skirmishes and, unlike Battlefield 1 or Call of Duty, the game has a wonderful charm to it despite being fiendishly tricky.
As before, you can purchase new threads for your customisable inkling to wear. These aren’t simply cosmetic upgrades, although they appear to be at first. In fact, each item has certain attributes that work a bit like the Perks system found in later Call of Duty games except without the complex systems that accompany them.
Splatoon 2 review: Re-inked for the new generation
To keep Splatoon 2 feeling as fresh as Tsukiji Market-bought squid, Nintendo has also packed in a whole host of new content to complement the series’ previous features.
The single-player Hero mode returns but with a new twist that focuses on the disappearance of Inkopolis celebrity, Callie, who featured in the original Splatoon. Don’t worry, you don’t actually need to know who she is: most of your time is spent blasting evil Octarians and collecting stolen Zapfish, anyway.
Because the first third or so of Hero mode feels like an extended tutorial, it lends itself rather well to repeat visits with different weapons. This means that, even when you don’t have access to the internet, there’s still something for to do to pass the time – especially if you’re a stone-cold completionist.
Nintendo has also improved how Splatoon 2 feels to play. On Wii U, Splatoon never ran over 720p but for Splatoon 2 it’s been bumped up to 1080p when connected to your TV and still runs at 60fps. In handheld or tabletop mode, it still sits comfortably at 720p and 60fps.
Plenty of careful thought has gone into the control schemes too, allowing you to turn off motion controls when they’re not needed, and it also helps that the game is so wonderfully vibrant and colourful. It looks fantastic in motion.
The upshot of this is that Splatoon 2 is a beautiful, responsive and versatile Switch game, and its superb multiplayer mode means it should easily accomplish the eSports following Nintendo is hoping for.
Turf Wars haven’t changed but the new combat arenas are brilliant. They rarely contain large, flat open spaces, meaning you’ll have to pay close attention to vantage points and blind corners to ensure you’re not taken out by an unseen wave of ink. And when you move from a regular Turf War match into a Ranked one, things step up a gear.
Instead of the cutesy, feel-good matches found in Regular mode, Ranked is a fierce battleground where you ink and control territories in King of the Hill-style matches. In basic terms, not much has changed here between Splatoon and Splatoon 2, but the introduction of new special weapons and the excellent mid-range, two-handed “Splat Dualies”, battles certainly feel more fraught.
Away from the competitive side of things, Splatoon 2 also brings in a fantastically addictive new mode called Salmon Run. Here, you don waders and jump aboard a shady fishing vessel with up to three others to farm salmon eggs. It’s as wonderfully bizarre as it sounds and brings a welcome co-operative element to Splatoon’s competitive focus.
Once you take away the wonderful setting, though, Salmon Run is essentially just a wave-based survival mode. You have to last as long as possible against three increasingly difficult waves of twisted, goggle-eyed salmon, while trying to pick up golden eggs dropped by special enemies that wade into battle. Ideally, you’ll surpass your egg quota on each level and be granted extra pay for your deeds, which can then be used to unlock single-player items and new clothes in multiplayer mode.
Splatoon 2 review: Verdict
Nintendo is on a winning streak with Switch. Alongside Arms and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 demonstrates Nintendo’s approach to offering a portable home console focused on multiplayer games really works. The fact I can play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild literally anywhere already had me sold, but with Splatoon 2 I can suddenly scratch my competitive shooter itch anywhere I can get free Wi-Fi.
Aside from that, Splatoon 2 is an excellent follow-up to an already impressive Nintendo shooter, and with a bigger potential audience available to it than back in the Wii U days, it has all the tools it needs to come into its own.
It’s unlikely to draw Battlefield 1, Star Wars Battlefront and Call of Duty enthusiasts to the delights of the Switch, but it can woo an audience of fans looking for something more colourful and characterful; a game where there’s just as much skill in surviving as there is to taking out an opponent from the other side of the map. It might be rather similar to its three-year-old predecessor, but Splatoon 2 is the freshest shooter available right now, on any platform.
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