Initial Release Date: July 21, 2017
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Platforms: Switch (Reviewed)
Splatoon 2 is Nintendo’s follow-up to 2015’s Splatoon for WiiU. As Nintendo’s entrance into the competitive online multiplayer shooter genre, the series entered a wide market with some notable heavy hitters. In a sea of same-y, military shooters, Splatoon 2 manages to be a breath of fresh air, imbuing a splat of color and spirit to an increasingly homogenous genre.
Calling Splatoon a “shooter” doesn’t give the full picture. Yes, the game centers around multiplayer matchmaking, playing lightning fast rounds with two teams slugging it out. However, teams focusing solely on the most “splats” (kills), will find themselves quickly losing game after game, as the winner is determined by how much area has been painted by each team.
Both teams seek to completely cover the arena with their respective colors of paint, encountering one another and using said paint to knock off opponents who then follow the traditional respawn formula. Some players will wield large rollers, others will have pistol squirters, and others will simply have buckets of paint they throw towards enemies.
By moving the focus from the traditional Team Slayer objective, Nintendo have managed to create a very unique experience in an online shooter. While simply racking up kills can require teamwork, getting paint down in Splatoon requires a different kind of cooperation. Players need to track their minimaps for the next best paint location, but also do not want to duplicate their teammates hard work. Efficiently laying down paint is the name of the game in Splatoon.
As someone who is not traditionally at the top of the kills leaderboards in Halo, Battlefield, or Call of Duty, I was happy to see that team-based motivations would also be rewarded game-to-game. Sure, getting multiple splats also makes it easier to lay down paint, but someone still needs to lay down the paint!
So, how exactly do you lay down all this brightly colored paint? Splatoon 2 offers up a variety of different weapon forms, each with unique strengths and weaknesses. The aforementioned roller is my particular favorite, as it lays down a wide swath of paint as you run from location to location. It’s also a bruiser in close quarter combat by simply splatting over any foe its its formidable wide breadth. In contrast, the rifle based weapons have a longer, more accurate range, and therefore are more effective at getting splats, but are cumbersome in effectively laying down paint.
Weapons and strategy are linked via replenishing ink, Splatoon’s equivalent of ammo. Ink is a clever mechanic, as it both supplies your means to eliminate opponents but also in taking territory. Ink replenishment is typically undertaken via transforming into a squid and riding the paint currently applied to the arena. While in squid form, you cannot attack or use your weapon, and you can only travel in your own team’s paint. However, you gain a little bit of speed, and are also generally hidden from the other team. This creates an interesting balance of when to refill ink, how to use the squid form for travel, and also getting the right spots painted to allow for quick squid travel to critical portions of the map.
Besides weapons, players can customize with their gear. Hats, shirts, and shoes can all be outfitted to varying degrees with specific in-game bonuses. Want quicker ink refills? Tack on some upgrades to your shoes. Shops and certain play modes allow you to purchase and acquire different gear for both gameplay and aesthetics. The gear comes with an initial loadout of upgrades, but these can be altered through different in-game rewards for true customization.
The basic game mode in Splatoon is four on four matchmaking with a rotating map pool. You rank up based on performance in each match (again, not entirely dependent on the amount of kills you rack up) and how much of the map has been properly painted. Getting in and out of the games is an absolute breeze, as the matchmaking is all automated.
This brings one of my first big criticisms of the game – the online lobby system is way behind what modern games should implement. I know this is partially remedied if you can get to reasonable levels in the competitive matchmaking queues, but for a simple straightforward match, I could not join a lobby with a friend and instead had to try and matchmake simultaneously and hope to get into the same pre-game lobby. In 2018, this is just not acceptable.
In addition, communication has been difficult. My friend and I ended up just talking over Skype to coordinate in-game action. I’ve posted the picture before, but the layout for how to initially set-up the headset for Splatoon was just absolutely atrocious:
Nintendo’s first paid online service will be rolling out soon, and I really hope that comes with some improvements to the entire online environment. While the specifics of that are another topic for another time, suffice to say, the current state of the online environment makes it difficult to properly play and communicate with friends in Splatoon. Given that Bungie and Microsoft figured out how to do this back in 2004 with Halo 2, I’m sure Nintendo could meet those minimum standards.
I will say I have played a great majority of my Splatoon 2 hours solo, and the matchmaking has been quick and easy in that space. I simply boot up the Switch, get in the game, and start getting into a lobby.
Splatoon 2 also manages to keep things interesting and less frustrating by having incredibly short match durations. Each match is 3 minutes, which has been the perfect length so far. Given the maps are fairly small and the teams are capped at 4 v 4, 3 minutes is all you need to feel like you meaningfully impacted the game, had a chance to interact with the other team, but don’t feel burnt out if your team is getting rolled. This delicate balance is not found in other shooters, but Splatoon hits the mark.
Given the ease of jumping into solo matchmaking, as well as the quick match timer, it’s easy to play several rounds of Splatoon 2 in a short period of time. This also has the side effect of allowing you to accumulate awards and currency to head back out into the main lobby and upgrade your weapons and your look.
There are a variety of shops that litter the small town square where you begin each time you boot up the game. Each of these essentially acts as a menu item, although the square is also filled with people you’ve recently played with, including their loadouts and their little cheerful drawings you can share. This allows you to request some of the items of theirs if they tickle your fancy.
While the little square is neat, it was also confusing the first couple of times I played. I had no idea where anything was, and it wasn’t quite clear how I was supposed to interact with all these shop fronts. I quickly learned that I could instead go to where I needed through the start menu instead of physically walking there. This does not include some of the little Easter eggs or hidden places that are available if you search around however.
Most of the shops are fairly rudimentary, there are rotating items available depending on your level and you simply purchase them for coins. However, it is again a little confusing on how exactly the power-ups/upgrades work on the clothing items, although getting more time in the game you simply pick up on how things work in real time. It would be nice to see a more detailed breakdown though.
Further, I have to point out, in the weapons store, the character running the store will always go on a long rant about the new items that are available for sale. You cannot skip this useless ramble either, although Nintendo now allows you to quickly speed up the scrolling text bubbles. Why is this necessary?
You do get to try on the new clothes as well as test out the new weapons for sale in in a little test room before purchasing. This does help bring some clarity into how the stats listed on the storefront translate into the actual gameplay. I found this especially useful for the power-up attacks, which are built up through laying paint, and typically give you some kind of souped-up attack a la killstreaks.
Other notable modes of play is the Salmon Run and Splatfest events. Both occur on a set timed schedule so they are not available at all times. However, both are a fun switch-up from the traditional modes.
Splatfest events have players choosing one side of an issue (example: “whats more important – love or money?”) which forms the basis of the team matchmaking in the lobby. During these events, you can earn special currency that helps in getting new upgrades and optimizing gear. There is also an overarching game of which side is currently ahead globally.
The Salmon Run mode is completely different, and acts as Splatoon’s version of a horde mode. You are paired with other teammates and must coordinate a defense against multiple waves of vicious salmon. You then collect eggs from each wave and deposit them in a secure location. The maps for these Runs are entirely different and it’s a unique switch-up from the online matchmaking modes.
Graphically, Splatoon 2 is also unique, leaning hard into its splash of colors with a nod to early 90s themes of bright colors and punk-ish aesthetics. While cartoony, the graphics are clear and crisp which makes it easy to navigate during actual gameplay, and works in both handheld and TV modes. The whole theme is pretty light and fun, which contrasts with the trend of realistic shooters. While this may be a put off for some, it’s a feel Nintendo really nails, and fits into their larger brand imaging.
Overall, Splatoon 2 is a fun, bright shake-up to the online multiplayer shooter genre. The game iterates on its predecessor and builds the fledgling Nintendo franchise that will be further cemented as the inklings and other characters are put into Super Smash Bros and the like.
The game manages to differentiate itself in the gameplay as well, shifting from a focus on racking up kills to a focus on territorial control that is completely different than what we’ve seen before. By keeping matches quick, players can get rewards and try out new load-outs without getting discouraged by spawncampers taking up residence 2 minutes into a 12 minute match. Splatoon 2 is a great effort, and I look forward to getting into its future installments.
+Unique gameplay mechanism for the genre
+Variety of gear and load-outs
+Easy solo matchmaking
-Difficulty in setting up matches with friends
-Timed events require specific availability
-Some suboptimal UI and navigation choices
Final Score: 7/10