Review: Splatoon 2

One of the first games shown for the Switch, Splatoon 2 enjoyed a fair amount of pre-release hype from fans of the first game and new Switch owners looking for something to play after Zelda. And while Splatoon 2 didn’t exactly hit during a release drought, it is pegged to be the tent pole title on the Switch until Super Mario Odyssey hits later this year.

With the original Splatoon’s success on the Wii U, Nintendo had a good core to build on with the sequel. All Nintendo really needed to do with Splatoon 2 was improve on the original’s failings and add new and interesting content. Well, for the most part, Nintendo succeeded here, but some odd design decisions carried over. More on those later; let’s cover the positives first.

The core action in Splatoon is still a blast. The majority of your time is spent in online multiplayer with two teams facing off in an attempt to spread their ink over the combat arena. Your own ink will cover up the landscape, including areas that have already been inked by the enemy. You can engage with the enemy as well, but kills don’t do anything for your score. Winning or losing is based entirely on which team spreads their ink the most. Kills are important, as they force the player to respawn back at their base, but there’s more strategy here than just running out and getting into gunfights.

There’s something uniquely satisfying in having a good run through enemy territory. As you spread your ink, avoid dangerous situations, successfully defend the ink you’ve spread, and allow your teammates to push forward quickly, it’s thrilling in a way that deathmatch shooters can’t quite match.

Matches can yo-yo quite a bit in the short time that they last. A team that looks completely out of it with a minute to go can rally and turn things around. Taking kills away from the win condition makes for an experience that rewards smart play, not solely skilled play. The result is that you end up with a shooter that can be enjoyed by a wider range of gamers, not just the hyper accurate savants with superhuman reflex abilities.

Outside of multiplayer, there is a single player mode that is similar to what we got in the first game. The single player does a good job introducing you to concepts, weapons, and strategies as it ramps up in difficulty and complexity level to level. If multiplayer intimidates you, the single player mode is a great way to hone your skills and learn the ins and outs of different weapons and abilities. And while it’s not a super robust single player mode, there are some great moments in there, especially during boss fights. If you’re not into online multiplayer, however, I wouldn’t recommend picking up Splatoon 2 solely to play the single player mode.

With solid core gameplay on both the single and multiplayer modes, there are still a few design decisions that raise eyebrows. Levels rotate daily, but limiting them to a couple per mode is still goofy. If one of the levels you dislike is on rotation, half of the time you put into the game will be that level. And while the levels are great, there’s simply no way that everybody is going to like every level out there. Maybe Nintendo could mix more options in and allow users to downvote and upvote levels before a match to influence the level selection. The feedback over time could help Nintendo understand which levels are community favorites.

Unlocking items and abilities is still a little wonky as well. Weapons are pretty straightforward, based on your level and available funds, but for a game that relies more on strategy than precision, I wish weapons were unlocked faster or all available from the start. With abilities locked behind progression/luck, weapons should be treated differently. As mentioned, abilities are unlocked through play and through luck. You buy a clothing item that might have one ability from the get go and a hidden ability or two that will unlock as you use it. Those hidden abilities unlock, and what you end up getting is random. Before you build up a good stable of clothing options, you can go through quite a few purchases that turn out to be a bust, causing you to go back and try again…and again…and again to get what you want. Some of this is mitigated by the ability to custom order items, but even that has its roadblocks.

The last real weird thing is how voice chat works. You need to download the Nintendo Online app on a smartphone or tablet and use it to communicate to your teammates, who also have the app running. The app must be open at all times to work. So you’ll need a headset for your phone, the app, and hope that others on your team do the same. It essentially makes voice chat non-existent in Splatoon 2, so coordinating play in a game that REALLY focuses on coordination is very difficult. Future titles are expected to use the app too, which is a disappointment.

Oddities aside, Splatoon 2 is a ton of fun. It has a very casual feel to it, but it can be exhilarating at times. It’s the perfect game for people who don’t have the time to invest to learn complicated game systems, controls, or how the meta develops. With a basic understanding of things, you can do well and have fun in Splatoon 2. That’s not to say that there isn’t some depth to the game. For proof of that, get into the Ranked mode and work your way up. Eventually you’ll see that there is a stark comparison between the hardcore and the casual. But if that’s not your thing, Splatoon 2 delivers a fantastic experience for short and extended play sessions.