The Wii U was a rather interesting piece of hardware, if not especially well-designed… or even well-marketed. Nintendo released the ill-fated console in 2012 in direct response to the unparalleled success of the Wii, preempting both the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One by nearly a year. However, without flagship Nintendo IPs like Mario or Zelda to draw sales at launch, the system garnered a tepid reception from critics, fans, and developers alike. As a result, it saw lackluster sales and interest in the console ebbed away. Despite being touted as a successor in both hardware power and spirit, the Wii U was a Wii in name only. More than anything, it was Nintendo’s first flop in years.
That being said, the Wii U was not without its merits—chief among them, SPLATOON, a cult hit and reason alone to own the system. With its charming visual flair and a style of gameplay all its own, SPLATOON was a dazzling burst of color thrown onto the Wii U’s otherwise dreary canvas. It’s no surprise, then, that Nintendo would revisit their newfound rainmaker with SPLATOON 2 on the Switch. And yet, 2 isn’t a cheap attempt to cash-in on the successes of the first; new game modes and balancing tweaks, along with a more fleshed-out single player experience and co-op PvE content, give players more than just a new coat of ink over the fledgling franchise.
SPLATOON 2 is built on the foundations of its predecessor, to be sure. At face value, it draws comparison to other team-centric shooters such as OVERWATCH, but the crux of the gameplay makes it unique, even among the genre elite. Play revolves around teams of four player-controlled inklings (a transforming hybrid of a squid and a kid—a squid-kid, if you will) using guns and brushes to slather their team’s ink across various arenas in a sort of race to cover the most territory, turning competition into a colorful tug of war instead of a traditional deathmatch. It’s Nintendo’s trademark family-friendly “color inside the lines” answer to the gaming world’s assembly line first person shooter experience.
Probably best not to turn on any UV lights
Image Source: Screenshot
Despite its relatively childish trappings, SPLATOON 2 isn’t quite as simple or easy as some might expect. Like ARMS, behind a vivacious veneer lies a surprisingly deep and nuanced competitive game, with ranked game modes for players to master, either solo or with a squid squad (in multiplayer). Furthermore, players can customize their inklings with a vast array of weapons, clothing, and accessories that boost abilities like swimming speed or ink capacity, allowing for creativity in both appearance and specialization. However, with all these options, the game becomes almost dizzyingly complex at times, and the learning curve can be rather daunting.
To that end, the single player Hero Mode is highly recommended to get the hang of the game’s controls. Aside from being a pressure-free method of adapting to the feel of the game, it features some interesting puzzles and boss battles, making it worthwhile for more than just practice. There are even some callbacks to the first SPLATOON in the form of familiar faces that seasoned veterans will recognize, a nice touch of continuity considering how detached the franchise is from a streamlined narrative. Perhaps most importantly, the writing speckled throughout the campaign is chock full of good old-fashioned wordplay and groan-worthy puns that are sure to keep players entertained.
No half-baked puns here, believe you me
Image Source: Screenshot
For the record, I highly suggest utilizing motion controls, since some of the game’s more intricate maneuvers require more coordination to pull off on analog sticks than on the more user-friendly joycon. This becomes especially apparent when transitioning into the game’s breakneck multiplayer matches where a split second can mean the difference between life and death. Matches are bite-size with rounds typically lasting three to five minutes, which is so quick that it is almost detrimental to the overall flow of online play. Even during peak hours, I often found myself waiting longer than three minutes in lobbies for players to join a game, only to be kicked out after an arbitrary time limit expired without others queueing up. Games require a full lobby of eight to start, which means no 2v2 or 3v3 action—so waiting too long can result in everyone getting kicked out and having to line back up. Perhaps this is due in part to the scarcity of the Nintendo Switch at retail, or perhaps it’s simply due to playing at all hours of the night, but it’s definitely frustrating.
For the less competitively inclined, SPLATOON 2 features a new, four player co-op mode called Salmon Run, which acts as the series’s version of Gears of War’s Horde or Call of Duty’s Zombies subgames. Assuming the roles of part-timers for the fishy Grizzco Industries, players are tasked with defeating waves of psychotic, rampaging salmon and collecting golden “Power Eggs” in order to receive various performance-based rewards. It’s a fantastic take on the horde formula, and one of the best things about SPLATOON 2, but home to another unsavory quirk—Salmon Run is only available during certain times of the week. Salmon Run’s limited availability is absolutely baffling and is easily the most disappointing thing about SPLATOON 2 so far, considering that it is good enough to be a draw for anyone who isn’t especially excited to play competitively.
C’mon Nintendo, get kraken on this already
Image Source: Screenshot
Don’t get me wrong, here—I think SPLATOON 2 is por-poised to be a splashing success on the Switch, considering the console’s significant demand and appeal, and I have faith that the inconveniences that mar the online experience will be addressed in time. Despite being around less than half the time, Salmon Run is a blast, and the competitive action in ranked play should be enough to carry the game through its early doldrums, especially with such an active and growing community. Don’t sleep on this one—even with its issues, it’s easy to call SPLATOON 2 the first solid shooter of 2017 and a must-have on the Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch