Game Review: Splatoon 2 (Switch)

I struggled to enjoy the first Splatoon on the Nintendo WiiU, and it’s mostly for the way the game encouraged motion controls by making it quite front and center and limited to what other control methods were available for the title. You could turn the gyro motion controls off and use the Gamepad’s analog sticks, but I was never a fan of how large and awkward the peripheral actually was. I found it rather puzzling that the original Pro Controller could only be used in a split-screen mode, and not in any of the other modes available. It was a franchise that I assumed I was just not destined to enjoy. That is until Splatoon 2 came along.

Splatoon 2 is available exclusively for the Nintendo Switch, and that is mostly because the WiiU has been put to pasture and Nintendo is keen on keeping its shiny new toy available for those who have the latest and newest Nintendo console. The pick-up and play nature of the Nintendo Switch works well with Splatoon 2 via its single player or local network multiplayer battles, and should you be able to track down some Wifi, then you are all set for the real meat of the title; Online Multiplayer. Of course, you can always just put the Switch into its dock and enjoy the game on whatever sized TV you have.

Splatoon was Nintendo’s effort towards joining in on the popularity of the online shooter. Call of Duty, Halo, and a few other brand names that almost single handily sell consoles were titles that either were exempt from appearing on a Nintendo console or just lacked the popularity of being something big on the platform, as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 did make an appearance on the WiiU but didn’t pull in near the online numbers of its competition. It wasn’t even close.

Rather than create something visually similar to what was dominating the market, Nintendo chose to do what it did best, create something that fit the Nintendo brand. In the place of run and gun gruff soldiers, Nintendo bet the bank on cartoony squid children that were outfitted with paintball rifles and set out to splatter that paint everywhere they could. Sure, you could splatter your competition into paint oblivion, but violence was – is – not the point of Splatoon in the slightest.

Splatoon’s main characters; the Inklings, are comprised of either the Squid Boy or the Squid Girl. You can change their squid-hair and a few other squid-features to make them their own, but they’ll each transform into a visually similar Squid-form to dive into the paint or through thin grating and fences. By diving into the paint you will refill the ink that you’ll use in the variety of weaponry at your disposal. Each weapon is set to shoot out ink in very different ways, as well as how effective it is with taking down your Inkling opposition.

There are several different weapon types that work well here with a few that I just wasn’t a fan of. The standard blasters and dual pistols are incredibly fun, and even the umbrella gun has its charm. The big paint rollers, the charger, and the mini-gun are weapons that I really didn’t enjoy and tried my best to not use them unless they were forced upon me at times, which they are. During the single player campaign you can upgrade your weapons and make them far more effective, but sadly this is not translated to the multiplayer at all. While this is mostly Nintendo wanting to make the playing field somewhat more level, it lessens the appeal of the progression, at least to me.

There are some items that do add in a perk or two to make you slightly better in moving, painting and earning your special moves a bit faster, and that is in the form of clothing items. Each item has a few slots that upon leveling them up will unlock random stats that make you faster, hold more ink, or improve sub-weapon proficiency. Clothing is offered for shoes, shirts, and a head item; glasses, hats or face masks. Stores will refresh their stock at midnight and you can also buy items from the mobile Nintendo Switch App via Splatnet which refreshes more frequently.

Multiplayer is separated into three tiers of competitive play; Regular, Ranked, and League Battles. Regular matches consist solely of one mode; Turf War. This mode has you playing four on four in a timed race to cover more of the map than your opponents can. Ranked Matches offer a bit more variety in Splatzone, Tower Control, and Rainmaker, with victories increasing a grading scale rank from C- to A+ and even further to S rank. Splatzone is your basic zone control where Tower Control and Rainmaker both work like variations of reverse capture the flag where you are meant to take something into the enemy base. League Battles require your rank to be at least B- and these 2-hour battles let players show off some serious skills without the fear of ranking down.

The majority of my time was spent in Turf War as it really is my favorite of the modes. The back and forth nature of capturing as much real estate as you can is rather engaging when you claim a few sections of your own, only to have them taken back and the chase begins anew. Maps and modes rotate every two hours, but Regular Matches will always be comprised of Turf War as this is the only mode available to those under level 10. Upon the rotation, you will be made aware of which maps are available to each mode via the hosts: Pearl and Marina, who fill in for the Squid Sisters from the previous game.

Apart from the four on four PvP modes that have carried over from the first title, Splatoon 2 brings with it a new PvE mode called, Salmon Run. This four player mode sees you and three other players team up to take down waves of Salmon hordes and a selection of random bosses that look to wreck your whole team. Each boss will drop Power eggs upon defeating them. These eggs need to be returned to your home base to count towards your quota. There are three waves that you’ll need to survive to claim the rewards for victory. As you level up your rank within Salmon Run, you can unlock new gear and more coins to put towards the newest and freshest items in the shops.

Each time you jump into Salmon Run, you will be fitted with certain weapons and forced to use them during that single round. I’m not a fan of how this is implemented as there are weapons that I really don’t enjoy using in the game. The bosses you’ll encounter each have different weaknesses that must be exploited to take them down. The Stinger sits atop a collection of pots and each pot must be taken out to bring him down to your level. The Steelhead forms a giant ink bomb on its forehead and it must be destroyed before it launches it at your team. There are eight bosses in total and each round will see many of them make an appearance. Maps will also take place during the day, night and during a nasty fog that limits visibility to a large degree. The most bizarre thing about Salmon Run is that it is only available for online play at certain times in the day, but fully available at all times should you and three other friends just want to play together.

Matchmaking is by far the biggest misstep in the game and is so painfully bad that I am surprised that the game released like it is. Say you want to join a match with a friend to then play online with a bunch of random people to fill up the eight player lobby. One person will need to join the lobby and then the other player (and this is assuming it’s just one other player joining..) will click on the friend’s tab and then join the match. If, however; there is no room, that initial player then needs to play a whole round to go back into the lobby and hopefully a space has freed up. Now, imagine if there were two or three other friends that wanted to play too. Sure, you can make your own lobby to play by yourselves, but if you are wanting a full four on four match, you’ll need to do the above method, or have 7 other friends.

To make matters worse, in order to back out of a lobby you must go through a whole round to exit the lobby at the end of said round, you cannot exit out while waiting for a game to start and leaving in the middle of a match can lead to a soft ban. This is one example of how Nintendo just doesn’t understand or pay attention to what works elsewhere. The voice chat options are also a mess as it requires making a special room in the Lounge in-game and then downloading the Switch App on your phone. You then need to have your friends join that special room and then plug your headset into your phone and invite everyone from there. It’s a convoluted mess and should you use other aspects of your phone like accepting a call, checking e-mail or looking up a Splatoon 2 help guide, it will shut off the voice chat and you’ll need to start it up all over again. If you want further proof that Nintendo has no idea how voice chat should work, Google the instructions for using their squid-shaped adapter with their Splatoon 2 headset.

Splatoon 2, much like its predecessor, has a single player campaign that will see you as the chosen squid, meant to save the day. Turns out that the Great Zapfish has gone missing, and Callie, one of the Squid Sisters, has disappeared as well. While the story itself is fairly bare, the narrative points that do pop up from time to time are quite fun, ending in a final confrontation that is one of the best boss battles I’ve ever played. The campaign levels are tiny little hub worlds that require a bit of exploring to discover the stages themselves. Many of these are actually more fun to play around in that some of the stages themselves, especially the final zone.

The controls for Splatoon 2 are worlds better than what Nintendo gave us the first time around and this is mostly due to the fact of having more control methods opened up via the Joycons and most importantly, the Pro Controller. I’m still not a fan of the motion controls the game starts with by default and upon turning them off, the game was far more enjoyable. I do however wish that you could press a button to turn them back on for some small tiny adjustments while aiming. Based on the current setup, the top L button is not used and it’s one of the few buttons that doesn’t seem to have any commands attached to it. If Nintendo was to patch in support to swap from motion control to standard controls at the touch of a button, this could have a huge impact to finesse some of your aiming.

Splatoon 2 shows that you can’t spell frustration without f-u-n and several of the levels can lead to some pretty cheap deaths. While the level design for the better part of the game is quite good, and some levels border on great to fantastic, there are a few gameplay mechanics that really got on my nerves. Some of the platforming can be frustrating due to the responsiveness of your jumps, or how easy it is to accidentally slide off the map. The camera can be a bit of an annoyance, even if it is better than most games, it still requires you to manually move it around consistently.

My biggest issue with the game is the requirement to use certain weapons on certain stages. As I wasn’t a fan of a few key guns, the requirement to have to use them really made me dislike many of the stages I really wanted to enjoy. I could never aim the charger rifle well enough or fast enough, the chaingun felt too slow, and I just couldn’t get to like the large paint roller. The levels that included the paint bucket, brush, single and dual pistols were really enjoyable and just downright fun. It was rare in any of those stages that a jump wouldn’t connect or that I was annoyed by something in the game, and this is due to the levels being built around how the guns worked themselves. There are stages where it’s your choice what to use, and if you think I picked anything but the dual pistols, you’re dead wrong.

Splatoon 2 is a gorgeous title that fully takes advantage of the Nintendo Switch. It’s not leagues better than the WiiU original, but there are far better animations found all over the game. The bright colors and overall designs are unlike really anything else on the market, let alone for a 3rd person online shooter. The menus are just as bright and colorful and frankly, the game is just visually solid all around. The music is really catchy and I dare you to not hum it during a match after immediately hearing it. The voices in the game are your standard Nintendo gibberish, and that’s unfortunate as many of these characters could really benefit from full on voice acting. which is a strong case for many games in Nintendo’s library.

While Splatoon 2 doesn’t feel like a full sequel to its predecessor, it’s been refined to the point where Nintendo has a steady vision for what they want from this franchise. It still suffers from many of the issues the first game had with its matchmaking, and the voice chat system that Nintendo has implemented for the Switch is frankly, bonkers. The game has some incredible ideas that for the most part work extremely well, and apart from certain weapons being forced on you during the campaign, it is still a blast to play through. There is an unfortunate difficulty spike with certain levels that can be a nightmare to complete without raging out and throwing your controller or yelling at the screen after a dozen cheap deaths, which can result in your whole level progress restarting.

While the frustration is minimal in the grand scheme of things, Splatoon 2 is a very engaging and fun game that has a remarkable charm to it. The inklings are well animated, and the vast array of clothing can make for some very interesting combinations. The addition of Salmon Run is what really sold this new version for me as it can be a truly fun experience even if you are failing miserably at it. I’ve had matches where my whole team would get wrecked within a minute of starting up a round and we’ll shrug it off and continue on, ready to take on the next wave.

Splatoon 2 was played and reviewed with a purchased retail copy for the Nintendo Switch. All screenshots were captured on the device and formatted to fit this review.

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