Nintendo’s take on the competitive online shooter, Splatoon, made its debut for the Nintendo Wii U in 2015. The main multiplayer mode, Turf War, pit two teams of four in an urban map as they aimed to out-paint one another in a battle where the most colour won. Thanks to solid physics, great map design, and charming visuals, Splatoon became an instant hit among Nintendo fans and audiences across the globe. The only real downside was the generally undercooked single-player aspect and the fact that the Wii U was, well, not really known for being a platform for competitive online gaming.
Featuring the same visual style and look as the original, one might take a glance at Splatoon 2 and think it was another Wii U remaster for the Switch along the lines of Mario Kart 8. It isn’t. And even though we’re only two years out from the original game Splatoon 2 is every bit a fully-fledged sequel. Traditionally so, as it keeps everything that worked the first time around whilst building out a more varied experience. This time the single-player campaign, called Hero Mode, has been expanded in terms of both the story and the variety of levels and giant Boss Battles it offers. Multiplayer has been expanded to include a charming new co-op horde mode called Salmon Run, and Turf War has been refined with new balancing and some new ink-weapons too.
When talking about a primarily online experience for the Nintendo Switch, which Splatoon 2 certainly is, one kind of has to take a step back and look at the social features of the hardware itself. Being able to manage a friends list, see who’s online, group up with people you know, or with complete strangers, and chat via messaging or voice. There are things that over the years we’ve come to expect from a gaming console or platform. Things that, unfortunately, are not built into the Switch’s software. In terms of the quality of the online experience, speed, and lag, Splatoon 2 works flawlessly. It’s just that all the social stuff is relegated to a mobile companion app - which works fine, but isn’t ideal.
Okay, so with that out of the way, what’s a Splatoon 2?
Like me you might not have played much, or any, of the original back in 2015. The concept is simple enough, paint guns of different types used to not only shoot each other but also paint a map. Throw in the ability to transform into an Inkling and become one with the paint to move quickly around, and Splatoon features the sort of quick and easy-to-learn mechanics that are the hallmark of many a Nintendo classic. With the added bonus of being able to tell immediately who’s good and who’s, well, not.
Turf War is very much the core Splatoon experience, and you can tell that everything else has been built off it, from the campaign mode to the co-op horde stuff. Thankfully Turf War is exceptionally well designed, with the online mode rewarding continuous play thanks to rotating maps, ranked play, and the ability to buy new weapons and customise your character. With the winner of each round determined by the highest percentage of the map painted by a team when the timer runs out, it’s immensely fun too. So, without highlighting or basing performance or score solely on kills or takedowns or death-by-paint the focus shifts towards teamwork. Whilst giving players the option to simply sort out their OCD issues and spend each round trying to paint every corner of the map, avoiding combat entirely, and leaving no spot unpainted. Ahem.
Turf War is where Splatoon 2 shines, and the same goes for the co-op Salmon Run mode. The single-player stuff is here, and quite solid, but is secondary to the core online experience. The most difficult part of Hero Mode usually comes down to finding each of the stages in the overworld, and then trying to collect all the hidden pieces within that unlock new stuff. For the most part, it serves as a great training ground for Turf War, with interesting boss encounters and charming character design and art direction.
Speaking of look, Splatoon 2 is a joy to take in. The fun and colourful presentation of the simple in-game hub that serves as the gateway to experience all the different modes on offer and spend virtual currency at clothing stores has a vibe that we can only describe as very Jet Set Radio. In that it blends the east and the west, and the cool, in ways that are immediately endearing. Just like Sega’s Dreamcast classic. And when you factor in both the art direction and mechanics, Splatoon quickly becomes quite unlike any other Nintendo game currently available. Or any other big player for that matter.
And as a Nintendo Switch exclusive Splatoon 2 joins an already stellar first-party line-up for a console that is still only a few months old.