Splatoon 2 landed about a month ago and completely took over my gaming life. After well over a hundred and fifty hours of play I can say with certainty that it has been well worth it. Not only are the well known multiplayer modes very fun and with enough variety to not get tiresome, but the new Salmon Run horde mode and returning single player campaign also stand out on their own; adding a lot of value to this single package.
Single Player (Octo Canyon)
Being a game primarily focused on the multiplayer experience, I was very surprised by the single player campaign. Even though some might see it as a glorified tutorial, it is so much more. Each of its twenty-seven stages focuses on a different theme or mechanic while still slowly layering the intensity of the challenges and mechanics learned in previous stages. Most of the stages within the first two mini worlds will primarily focus on the Splattershot Jr., a basic version of the iconic standard automatic Splattershot. But, soon after, the player’s arsenal starts to grow through stages that specifically require other weapons and are built around those weapons’ mechanics. It might be tutorial-esque, but is highly effective.
If the variety in level design and theme was not enough, Splatoon 2’s five bosses crank up the creativity and challenge even further making for some of the most memorable parts within the whole experience. The first boss alone is a giant toaster attempting to knock the player out by quickly extending horizontal columns of freshly toasted bread. These same columns are then used by the players, through inking and squid jumping, to make it to the top of the toaster, where the boss’ weak point is located.
Although the gameplay is solid, the story and lore provided through the journey are nothing too exciting and mainly serve to provide just enough background to give purpose to the experience. However, the dialog and banter between the helper NPC’s was witty enough to keep me smiling throughout the adventure.
I highly recommend both veterans and newcomers to the series play through this mode at least once. Newcomers will gain general knowledge and practical experience with most of the different weapon types in the game, including the new umbrella weapon type, while veterans can treat the experience as a fun refresher course.
I myself have already played through the entire campaign three times in order to unlock some of the single player weapons for use in the multiplayer modes. Because of how weapons differ from one another, playing stages with different weapons felt new and fresh each time. And, do not fear, stages and the boss designed around the long range Charger do get adjusted slightly so that shorter ranged weapons can still complete them without too much pain. This was a relief!
Going Online (Standard and Ranked Modes)
On the online multiplayer front, Splatoon 2 offers several modes. The first one players are introduced to is Turf War, the games “standard” multiplayer mode. This mode pins four against four in a battle for which side will have more ground inked their color by the end of the three minute match. I found this mode is an ideal entry point into multiplayer. It allows players to still rack up a lot of points and aid in the success of the team, even if no enemy Inklings are engaged or splatted during the match. Knocking out opponents is still useful as it causes Inklings to explode into a large puddle of your own color and keeps them out of the battle for a few seconds which can allow your own team to temporarily outnumber the competition and push for more ground.
Many will argue, and I do not entirely disagree, that how a team performs in Turf War is generally meaningless until the last thirty seconds of the match. Personally, even though that can be the case in certain matches, I never found the three minute rounds to ever feel “drawn out” or boring.
Once players have earned enough experience points in Turf War, the three ranked “more competitive” modes become available: Splat Zones, Rainmaker and Tower Control. In Splat Zones, teams battle for control over one or, sometimes two, small areas in the center of the map. Whenever a team has full control of the zone, by having it fully inked, a counter will decrease every second. The first team to run their counter all the way to zero wins by knockout. Otherwise, the team with the lowest remaining time when the round is over gains the victory.
Rainmaker and Tower Control work slightly different in that teams will battle to move the Tower or Rainmaker from the center of the stage towards the opposing side of the map. Whichever team gets the objective into the end zone, wins by knockout. Otherwise the team that got closest by the time the round ends wins. The twist, of course, is that both teams are fighting over the same objective, leading to constant tugs of war.
The ranked modes differ greatly from Turf War in that they force players to pile on in specific areas of the map, leading to a lot of mayhem and forcing players to be constantly on their toes. What is not initially evident is how much strategy can go into winning on these modes. Being new to Splatoon, I am still learning about all of these and some can feel counterintuitive at first. For example, instead of rushing the objective at the start, focusing on splatting opponents can be more beneficial. If enough enemies are taken out at one time, it makes it easier to push the objective forward before the enemies can retaliate.
All modes (Standard and Ranked) reward players with experience points. Beyond experience points, ranked match victories will slowly increase a player’s rank within that mode (Splat Zones/Tower Control/Rainmaker). The catch though is that if players lose too many times in ranked mode, they will either lose all progress within the current rank or, even worse, get ranked down. It raises the stakes if you care at all about ranking and can sometimes feel frustrating since, no matter how awesome you may or may not be, how good the team you get paired up with will potentially dictate the outcome of the battle.
Let’s League! (League Mode)
Where Rank mode only allows players to queue up individually and get teamed up with “randoms”, League is the place to go for players looking for preformed team competition. Players can queue up in pairs or full four player squads and will get pit against groups queued up in a similar fashion. After, at least, seven complete matches, a team will receive a ranking score based on wins, loses and the rank of teams faced. At the end of the rotation, all teams that participated will get ranked and given a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal if they ranked high enough. Each rotation lasts two hours, at which point all league rankings are reset. This happens at the same time as the stage and mode resets for Turf War and Ranked. It may not reward much more than experience points and bragging rights, but it seems to be where competitive teams go to test their skills.
Playing league with more experienced friends has proven to be extremely helpful in learning more about “real” team dynamics and strategies for the different game modes. It is also the one mode in the game where there is no real penalty for losing since Ranked mode rank is not earned or lost in League matches.
Grizzco Is Hiring! (Salmon Run)
Players needing a break from competitive multiplayer but still wanting a team based experience now have a new option: Salmon Run. In this mode, a team of four players gets transported to special zones where they fight off waves of Salmonid minions and a plethora of their bosses. The objective is to survive three increasingly harder waves of enemies while collecting, at least, a specific quota of Golden Eggs per wave. These eggs are only dropped by the boss Salmonids of which there are several kinds, each with a different mechanic on how they must be defeated. Between this and the fact that players will be given a different random weapon during every wave means that players have to quickly adapt and take different roles depending on what weapon they draw and what Salmonid bosses are spawning. Players that are splatted can be revived after a few seconds but, if all are down, the run ends in failure.
At the end of the run, players will get rated based on whether or not they were successful and how many Golden Eggs were collected in total. The points payed can then be used to obtain rewards. Just like leveling and ranking, after certain thresholds, players will increase their Salmon Run rank, which increases how much they get payed each time but also increases the difficulty of subsequent attempts. But, if a run is terrible enough, players will actually lose ranking points and can even get demoted to a lower pay grade.
This mode is amazing for many reasons. One, the weapons available during each period are different and, like I said, players are given a random one for each wave. This forces players to try out weapons they might not normally play with and get a feel for them. In general, this allowed me to discover a few nice weapons that I may not have tried otherwise. The challenge is significant too. At higher promotion levels, the Golden Egg quotas per wave are increased and the frequency of Boss spawns is too. This means that teams that do not stay on top of things will get quickly overrun. Then, there is the rewards! These range from standard currency to food and drink tickets, to straight out ability chunks and Salmon Run exclusive gear. In general, it should only take about an hour of average gameplay to reach the first “good” reward per open period and is usually well worth the time.
The general complaint about this mode is that it is not always open. There seem to be about three to four 24 hour periods when it is available per week. Personally, I am not too bothered by this as it allows me to focus on Standard and Ranked modes when it is not available. Otherwise, I might be spending the bulk of my playtime Salmon Running since the rewards are well worth it and it can be a lot of fun. My personal complaint about it has to be the lack of voice chat when playing with “randoms”. Some of the Salmonid bosses really benefit from coordinated attacks and the lack of communication is very noticeable. At this point, being at the highest rank, I have relegated myself to mostly playing Salmon Run when there are friends available to play with to lower the chances of a losing streak and getting demoted.
Weapons For All
Moving on to weapons, Splatoon 2 sports a nice variety of them with a good gamut of gameplay and style differences. Players are started out with a standard shooter type weapon with average inking and damage capabilities. But, once they start reaching certain levels, new weapons will become available. Some follow classic tropes like the Splat Charger, which serves as the sniping weapon in Splatoon. Other weapons sport higher firing rates and shorter ranges, serving the role usually taken by shotguns.
Then, there are weapons like the Splat Roller and Octobrush. The first is quite literally a giant paint roller that players can roll over the ground for faster turf inking and splatting opponents, if one happens to get rolled over. Roller players can also flick the roller for a wide spread short-range attack or a thinner spread longer-range attack. Pretty versatile for a single weapon. The second weapon I mentioned, the Octobrush, is a giant painbrush that players can also run on the ground, similar to the roller but with a thiner line. It can also be swatted laterally very fast for a wide arc of paint at a short to medium range. This latter attack is the preferred method of use and can potentially splat one to multiple opponents very quickly. Yes, in a “shooter” type game, there are melee-like weapons that can hold their own!
If shooting ink or using classic painting equipment are not their style, players can also employ weapons like the Slosher, a bucket of paint that players can fling for decent damage, inking potential and range. The flung paint also arcs well which allows skilled Sloshers to take out enemy Inklings standing in higher ground.
A new addition in Splatoon 2 is the Splat Brella. This umbrella has the range and spread of a standard shotgun and it’s interesting gimmick is that players can open the umbrella to block enemy attacks. Even though they cannot shoot while the umbrella is open, I have seen players use this weapon with devastating results, both in a one on one setting or serving as shields for other team members.
All these are just a few of the primary weapons in Splatoon 2. Keep in mind that each weapon type also has variants, like an alternate version of the standard shooter with longer range but slower fire rate. Each of these different weapons is “kitted” with a specific secondary weapon (usually grenade type items) and a Special, which can be used during combat when enough turf has been inked and the Special meter is full. This encourages players to experiment with different primary weapons until they find the kit that best suits their play style.
Dress To Impress
Last is character customization. As Inklings level up, they gain access to more and more clothing options that rotate daily across the game’s multiple shops: head, body and feet. Gear has a randomly assigned primary ability and up to three secondary slots that get a random ability rolled as players gain experience points while wearing said gear. These abilities range from reducing ink consumption while shooting, to moving and or swimming faster, to more niche abilities like re-spawning faster or being undetectable while swimming. These really cater to a variety of play styles and weapons.
Players looking to fine tune their gear have a nice amount of options on how to do so. Like I said, whenever gear gains enough experience, one of its additional slots gains a new random ability. This randomness can be controlled one of two ways. The first way is through drink tickets. These increase the chance of players rolling the ability on the ticket within the next twenty matches and can be obtained through single player and Salmon Run. The second way is just to wear gear pieces of the brand that favors that ability. Yes, gear in Splatoon 2 has one of several brands, each with its own “highly likely” and “less likely” ability.
Now, since luck is not perfect and rolls do not always match exactly what players want, there is an option that sort of works off of the previous two. Players have the option to pay Murch (and urchin inhabitant in the hub area) to have all the secondary abilities on a piece of gear “scrubbed”. This returns the piece of gear to only having the primary stat but players gain any scrubbed abilities as “ability chunks”. These chunks can then be used to add specific abilities to any piece of gear. Sounds easy enough. The catch is that it takes between ten and thirty chunks to add a single ability! This means players looking to go this route have a considerable amount of grinding ahead of them. Luckily, all competitive modes grant experience points so players should always be able to “work towards gear” as they go about their normal online play. Just keep an eye on your wallet as scrubbing gear costs 20,000 gold each time, regardless of whether the piece had one or all three abilities to scrub. Players that put a lot of hours into the game will probably be okay paying this amount on a consistent basis. Others may struggle to cover this cost on top of buying new gear and weapons. Make sure to use any “money up” food tickets as these will increase money earned after matches.
It is hard to capture what makes this game stand out in just plain words. I expected to enjoy it. I did not expect to become so completely engrossed in it. The game mechanics and flow are impressively fun. The variety of weapons and modes keeps the experience always feeling fresh. Even after more than a hundred and fifty hours in the span of a month, I am still “on the hook” with Splatoon 2 and do not foresee dropping it entirely any time soon. The single player experience alone could cover a chunk of the price of entry. With all the competitive modes and Salmon Run on top of that, there should be no question about how much content there is to chew through in this game. Any Switch owner with even an inkling of interest in team based games or shooters, should pick this up, if they have not already done so.