01st Aug2017

‘Splatoon 2′ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

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It’s only been a couple of years since Splatoon washed up on Wii U and became an instant cult hit. A very, very Nintendo take on the arena shooter, it didn’t involve regular “killing”. Rather, the player controlled an Inkling: a humanoid creature with an arsenal of superpowered paintball weapons. The paint could destroy NPCs and enemy player characters. But it was also a means of traversal: painted scenery could be swum through at pace in squid form.

It was a fantastic gameplay hook which remains entirely unchanged for the sequel, exclusively on Switch. There were fears prior to release that Splatoon 2 might be more of an expansion than a full sequel. Well, if that is the case then it’s the biggest expansion I’ve ever seen. Everything here is refined, and all the best parts are built upon. And ultimately, it’s testament to how right Nintendo got it first time around that the gameplay feels so familiar.

As an odyssey of crazy aqua-alien architecture and unhinged ideas, the campaign exceeds the original. Five distinct worlds harbour 32 levels of increasing devilishness – although veterans will never be truly taxed, and there are no difficulty options. Of course, the main draw of Splatoon 2 is online multiplayer, meaning the campaign feels like a huge – and hugely enjoyable – eight-hour tutorial. Fans of the first game will remember the sensational pop duo Callie and Marie, and here the graphene-thin plot involves Marie searching for her missing muse.

There’s imagination and visual humour in droves, and in classic Nintendo style every level is tightly designed and has a wholly different focus. It’s a pity that the final boss – so memorable in the original – is a disappointing slog in the sequel. The hub worlds, from where you access levels via steaming kettles, are more fiendish this time around: five gigantic 3D brainteasers, packed with secrets and bonuses.

The variety of weaponry has been increased, and on your first run-through you will be asked to tackle a majority of levels with a specific gun. This is evidently to accustom the player to different weapon types, which range from a giant flapping paintbrush for melee mashing, to a tricky sniper rifle which, once charged, will leave a long path of paint in its wake. The “Dualies” – a pair of rapid-fire pistols – give the player the option of dodge-rolling, which feels like a welcome gameplay tweak designed to appeal to more traditional shooter fans.

The music is a combination of remixes and new tracks; although to my ears the tunes, while still intricate and propulsive, lack some of the bold brashness of the original game.

Sharpening up from the Wii U’s 720p display, Splatoon 2 uses a dynamic resolution which wavers between 900p and 1080p to achieve a rock-solid 60 frames at all times. The only exception is Inkopolis, the main hub of the game, which runs at 30.

As with the original, you begin in the main square, and each time you log in (provided you are connected to the internet) you’ll get a presentation on the big screen revealing the day’s Battle, Ranked and League Mode rotation maps. In the absence of Callie and Marie we get Pearl and Marina, who deliver much the same banter, albeit with a slightly less catchy catchphrase.

From the Testfires through the first week of release, I have been playing online consistently, and it has always been a solid experience with zero network issues. Finding a full house is – understandably, given the game’s recent release – a breeze.

Turf Wars is where most regular players will spend a majority of their time. This mode is a pure territory battle: splat the most floor space and your team (of four) will win the round. It’s an eminently accessible cycle of one-more-go fun, as you’re thrown into a randomised team for three-minute skirmishes, where enjoyment isn’t bound to success or failure. You’ll level up regardless, and the unlocks come thick and fast. Expect to become sartorially addicted all over again.

In their haste to make Turf Wars a snappy experience without downtime, Nintendo have opted to not allow players to switch weapons between rounds – you’ll need to duck out of the lobby. I kind of understand the logic, but would it have hurt to have given players 15 seconds to make their changes in-lobby, before resuming the action? It’s one of many minor quirks which will hopefully be remedied in a future patch.

The major new multiplayer addition this time around comes in the form of Salmon Run, a kind of co-op zombie mode which sees a team of up to four (be warned: no difficulty scaling!) fighting off hordes of invading Salmonids. These mindless paintball fodder are periodically joined by mini-bosses, each of which can only be defeated using specific tactics. Salmon Run mode is a joy, and becomes furiously tough very quickly. Here’s hoping Nintendo opt to expand upon it – and also remove the baffling limitation that means the mode is only available on certain days.

As you may have heard on that internet thing, Splatoon 2 is the inaugural game for Nintendo’s new online app. Nintendo have essentially eschewed the Miiverse integration and opted for a separate smartphone space. Splatnet 2.0 is a dizzying array of colours, lists and playing stats; plus there’s a neat online shop for spending your in-game currency (don’t worry, parents with credit cards: no microtransactions). It’s fun and feature-packed, and I can see future games making good use of the app, as each title has its own bespoke “room”.

The big controversy surrounds the voice chat implementation. A perfect storm of hardware limitations and family-friendly conservatism has resulted in a fairly gimped experience. The problem isn’t having the app on a separate device; the problem is having the app only on a separate device. On the plus side, if you’re happy to have your phone sitting beside you on loudspeaker while playing on the TV then it works fine. But it definitely feels like an afterthought.

For those who never owned a Wii U, Splatoon 2 will be a glorious introduction to a unique modern Nintendo IP. And unlike Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, I also have no hesitation recommending it to Splatoon veterans – this is a true sequel which, while lacking the gobsmacking newness of the first game, improves upon every aspect (except voice chat) and brings to shore a veritable cargo ship of new content. It’s a total blast, and a no-brainer for every Switch owner.

Splatoon 2 is out now on Nintendo Switch.

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