Splatoon 2 (Nintendo Switch) Review

From the moment I first experienced the franchise, I’ve considered myself an avid fan of Splatoon. The first entry on the Wii U is undoubtedly my most-played title on the system. In fact, because Wii U online play is still free, I find myself coming back to classic Turf War every now and then despite owning a Switch.

With all that in mind, you can bet your gosh darned beard I was tickled pink when I received a copy of Splatoon 2 for my 20th birthday. After years of not purchasing it due to pure negligence, I was granted with the opportunity to experience the flashy sequel to one of my favorite Nintendo franchises of all time. How flippin’ cool is that?

Now that I’ve had half a semester of college to experience the squid-based combat all over again, I’m here to report Splatoon 2 holds up to the pristine standard set by its predecessor. Does my glowing appraisal signal that you should pick up a copy right here and now? I guess you’d better read my review to find out, kiddos.

Gameplay

If you’ve played the original Splatoon, you’ll know exactly what to expect going into Splatoon 2. This sequel takes the family-friendly, third-person shooting formula that worked so well and serves up even more of it.

For the newcomers among us, the premise is pretty simple. The weapons in Splatoon fire not bullets but colored ink. You’ll spend the vast majority of your playtime shooting said ink at opponents to eliminate them or spraying the ground to accrue more “turf.” Treading in the opposition’s ink is harmful to your health.

Adding to the fun are sub-weapons and specials. Sub-weapons, ranging from bombs to sprinklers, consume more of your ink reserve in exchange for dealing more damage. Specials, which are charged up by covering turf, will wipe the proverbial floor with your fellow inklings if you time ‘em just right.

Shooting isn’t all you’ll do, though. Inklings, the squid-kid hybrids proudly adorning the box art, possess the unique ability to swim through ink plastered on the various vertical and horizontal surfaces making up a given map. Of course, as I established, you can only wade through ink of your own color.

Even refilling your ink takes advantages of the inklings’ swimming ability. Unlike most shooters, where reloading is as simple as pressing a button and waiting out an animation, Splatoon asks the players to dip into ink until to reacquire the oh-so valuable resource. You don’t even have to remain stationary during this process.

With the underlying mechanics out of the way, the question remains: What’s will you actually do in Splatoon 2? Well, the main hook is the online multiplayer, which overs up a plethora of modes for your playing pleasure.

Turf War sees two teams competing to cover as much of the map as possible in their own ink before the 3-minute timer hits zero. This is fantastic introductory mode that stays fun regardless of your skill level.

Ranked battles, which group you with players of similar skill level, encompass three modes: Splat Zones, Tower Control, and Rainmaker. In Splat Zones, your goal is to maintain total ink coverage of a designated plot of the map longer than the other team. In Tower Control, you have to ride a moving tower from one end of the map to the other. In Rainmaker, you must haul the titular Rainmaker weapon to the enemy’s base.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with all of these modes in the first Splatoon. I suppose the only problem is none of these modes are new in Splatoon 2. An additional ranked battle mode or two would’ve been a nice bone to throw to longtime players.

The good news is Splatoon 2 smacks us with an extra treat in the form of Salmon Run, which sees two to four players working together to neutralize hordes of Salmonids while gathering Golden Eggs. My brother and I played this together via local wireless and had a ton of fun. This may even make up for the lack of new ranked modes.

Splatoon 2 takes everything I love about the third-person shooter genre and melds it with a savory helping of “Nintendo charm.” Does it completely reinvent everything the first Splatoon brought to the table? Not at all, but I’m not complaining.

Content

The amount of content you get to experience in Splatoon 2 is entirely dependent on whether you have a Nintendo Switch online subscription. I, as a non-subscriber, was locked solely to the single-player campaign. This was (mostly) satisfying enough for me.

According to my Nintendo Switch play activity, I’ve spent “10 hours or more” with Splatoon 2. Nearly all of that time was dedicated to completing the single-player campaign. I spent some time knocking out additional completion criteria, so a no-frills playthrough would have most likely been slightly shorter.

What is that completion criteria, you may ask? For one thing, you’ll need to collect all the scrolls, and “sardinium” hidden throughout the overworlds and individual levels. Especially eager players will also need to complete every level with every weapon. (Spoiler alert: There are nine weapons.)

In my experience, the main collectibles weren’t terribly difficult to uncover, but there were some I missed on my first playthrough. The real time sink comes in the form of completing level multiple times. My tolerance for repetition happens to be higher than most, which would explain why this prospect actually excites me.

I fully intend to jump back in and complete everything Splatoon 2 has to offer once I’ve beaten some other games currently cluttering my backlog. The single-player campaign was so engaging—and the completion criteria so attainable—that I can’t possibly see myself disregarding the tasty leftovers.

Obviously, you can’t play online multiplayer without an online subscription, but Splatoon 2 makes some concessions for those of us living off the proverbial grid. All the multiplayer modes (including Salmon Run) are accessible as long as everyone playing has their own Switch and game card. Provided at least one of your buddies meets those requirements, you can enjoy these modes to your heart’s content.

The splitscreen multiplayer mode from the first Splatoon does not make a return in No. 2, which honestly isn’t that big of a deal. Although I enjoy content for the sake of content, those balloon battles lost their luster super quick.

If you have an online subscription or plenty of friends, Splatoon 2 may very well provide you with hundreds of hours of fun before the servers inevitably shut down. If you have neither of those things, I think you’ll get just enough mileage out of the single-player campaign to feel satisfied with your purchase.


Controls

I think we can all agree solid controls should be a top priority in any competitive multiplayer title. Fortunately, Splatoon 2—decked out with its pristine set of fine-tuned commands—doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

Movement throughout the multitudinous maps of varying horizontal and vertical dimensions is remarkably smooth. Thanks to the consistent physics and weighty avatars, I never had any trouble swimming along inked walls, even when taking daring leaps of faith from one platform to another.

Shooting feels fantastic. Unlike other shining examples within this genre, Splatoon 2 doesn’t actually allow the player to aim down the sights. Instead, you’ll use the Switch’s gyroscopic motion controls and the right analog stick in tandem to line up your reticle with your target. This system works every bit as beautifully as it did on the Wii U.

Oh, by the way, you don’t have to use the motion controls if you end up hating them. Not only that, but you can adjust the sensitivity of the motion controls and analog sticks to fine tune your play experience. You can also invert the X- and Y-axes, which is something I’ve slowly but surely become less comfortable with as the gaming industry has moved away from that as the default.

Like the first Splatoon, I feel the inklings walk just a touch too slowly, but I suppose that limitation is intended to encourage swimming through ink. At this point, I’m honestly just being nitpicky. Splatoon 2 controls like a gawdern dream.

Graphics/Presentation

Splatoon 2 looks every bit as crisp and colorful as its Wii U predecessor. That being said, the few graphical improvements made to this entry aren’t so drastically noticeable that I was blown away when I first booted up the game.

The already pleasing art style is practically identical, and rightfully so in my opinion. Based on the iterative tweaks seen here, the creative masterminds behind this eye-popping world likely understood the age-old adage proclaiming, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

I can at least say the artists have sprinkled a plethora of new character customization options into the mix. Sadly, only Nintendo Switch Online subscribers are privy to these dazzling delights, as you’ll need to level up in online battles to unlock them.

The UI changes are so minimal you may not even notice, particularly if it’s been years since your last go at Splatoon. Even so, I’d say the few adjustments made improve the overall experience. Could I tell you what those adjustments are off the top of my head? Nope.

Here’s the biggest improvement you may notice: Splatoon 2 outputs in 1080p at 60 frames per second in docked mode, versus the 720p reached by the original. Granted, Splatoon 2 is capped at 720p in handheld mode, but I don’t consider the downgrade too egregious on such a small display.

The story serves as a quality continuation to existing lore. Those who are diligent enough to collect all the scrolls in the single-player campaign will dig up a rather enigmatic tale of inkling civilization. The actual cutscenes, triggered at various intervals throughout the story, are composed merely of looping shots and scrolling text, though.

Those who really dig sleek presentation should purchase the special release containing a bonus strategy guide. While I unfortunately don’t own this version myself, I have the Super Mario Odyssey release containing a bonus “traveler’s guide” and cherish it very dearly. You’ll pay $60 either way, so you may as well get some extra paper in the package.

Because so much is recycled, the visuals in Splatoon feel somewhat tired but not completely uninspired. Basically, if you liked No. 1, you’ll like No. 2. I happen to like the presentation so much that I can overlook the glaring similarities.

Sound/Music

Carrying on the impeccable legacy of its predecessor, Splatoon 2 brings to the table one of the funkiest soundtracks and some of the quirkiest sound effects to ever grace gaming. But really, did you expect any less from this franchise?

Composed by Toru Minegishi, Ryo Nagamatsu, and Shiho Fujii and performed by the fictional idol duo “Off the Hook,” the soundtrack can best be described as an upbeat pop/rock/electronic blend, which serves marvelously to back the frenetic gameplay. You may very well find yourself bopping along to the beat in the midst of battle.

Compared to the first game, Splatoon 2 decidedly leans more into electronic than rock influences without sacrificing any quality. The musical stylings of Off the Hook are distinct enough from previous headliners the Squid Sisters to keep things fresh. (Ha, Splatoon pun.)

If you love Splatoon music—as many of us do—you’ll no doubt enjoy the brand-new rhythm game found in Inkopolis Square. I’ve spent very little time with the mode to date, but I’m still tickled the entire slate of songs is accessible in some capacity. (The official soundtrack CD sure as heck ain’t cheap, folks.)

The sound effects are more or less ripped straight from the first outing, but I sure as heck ain’t complaining. Yuki Tsuji does a phenomenal job bringing the inklings to life once again, and the sloshes and plops of ink are as vivid as ever. Heck, even the menu tones have a subtle charm to them.

Don’t take my word for it. You can listen to the soundtrack for yourself at this link.

Some might say Splatoon 2 is more of the same. I won’t argue the title doesn’t bear a striking number of similarities to its forebear, but I will argue these similarities are largely justified. Even as someone who play the living tar out of the first Splatoon, I never considered Splatoon 2 a complete copy-and-paste job.

If you’re brand-new to the series, I can’t begin to recommend Splatoon 2 enough, even more so if you enjoy third-person shooters. No, this isn’t the most traditional shooter in the universe, but I think that’s exactly what makes it so compelling. I highly doubt you’ve played anything quite like Splatoon before. I know I hadn’t.

The bottom-line? Splatoon 2 is a phenomenal first-party Nintendo offering. By now, I suppose you could wait for the third outing to hit store shelves in 2022, or you could pull the trigger right here and now. As for me, I can’t wait to dive deeper into the squidkid lore when the next installment inevitably becomes an integral part of my game library.

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