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Splatoon 2 (Switch) artwork

Splatoon 2 (Switch) review

"Some rough edges don't stop Splatoon 2 from offering a solid campaign and a multiplayer mode that keeps giving."

Let's get something out of the way right away: I have yet to play Splatoon on the Wii U, even though I bought it at launch. That means I can't meaningfully compare the new game in the series to its predecessor, but I can address Splatoon 2 on its own merits.

In a very general sense, the series is about squid people. They look about like cartoon humans, but with fish parts in place of hair. Their unique physical makeup allows them to morph into squid on the fly, and to swim through shallow puddles of paint. Not coincidentally, the characters run around with paint canisters on their backs. They use various guns and brushes to spread the liquid all over their world, the better to navigate tricky architecture and to battle one another in arenas. It's basically Nintendo's interpretation of Call of Duty, with an aesthetic and gameplay elements reminiscent of Sega's old Jet Set Radio games. The unique mix of platforming and shooting action works very well.

The game has two main components: the surprisingly meaty and satisfying single-player campaign, and the online battles. The former essentially doubles as a training ground for the latter. I expect that's how a lot of more "serious" players will treat it, if they tackle it at all. I was interested in how the campaign stands on its own, though. I'm not big on online multiplayer stuff in general, and it was important to me that Splatoon 2 offer plenty to do even if servers are down or the competition has migrated to other conquests.

Splatoon 2 (Switch) image

The story, such as it is, takes you on a tour of 5 regions as you search for a missing fish and a squid girl named Callie. The first region features 3 separate stages and a boss battle. Subsequent regions link 6 stages and a big battle apiece, for a total of 27 stages and 5 boss encounters. I spent around 5 or 6 hours beating the campaign, but I didn't grab every collectible or upgrade every weapon. Stages helpfully track performance, and it's easy to jump back to any stage to repeat it later.

At the game's onset, you create a custom character and then you're pushed through a quick tutorial that introduces motion controls. You hold the gamepad with the Joycon controllers attached, and you move it up and down to shift your view on that axis instead of using the right analog stick. It's about the same with a Pro controller. I was able to quickly adapt to the odd setup, and it worked well enough in the opening stages. Then I switched over to the more conventional control scheme and didn't look back.

Stages begin by awarding players three lives. If you run out of lives, you have to start the stage over again. However, there are several checkpoints along the way. Each one you reach replenishes a single lost life, up to the maximum of three. I didn't have much difficulty with most stages until around the campaign's halfway point, and I only had a few failures to my name by the time I reached the end. Even so, I would say Splatoon 2 feels a bit harder than the typical Nintendo outing. If you're not used to platforming and shooting action, you'll probably need a bit of practice to get through some of the final areas, which require fairly precise timing and quick reflexes due to the nature of the various hazards. There's only rarely any scenario that actually feels cheap, though, and there are quite a few moments of sheer exhilaration as part of the bargain (like when you're grinding along rails and blasting airborne enemies, or rushing between points of cover to avoid a distant sniper).

Nintendo has ample experience crafting exemplary platformers, and for the most part Splatoon 2 does that heritage justice. Running along various ledges hanging in space feels great, and the stages are intricately designed to include pleasing vertical challenges. There also are solid puzzle elements, like when you must hit levers to extend blocks and then scamper along them before they retract, and you'll want to look carefully in every corner. Not only does the game look gorgeous, with bold primary colors splashed all over the place and great draw distance, but you could miss precious loot if you don't slow down and take in the sights.

Splatoon 2 (Switch) image

My main complaint with the single-player campaign is the way you're sometimes forced to use weapons that don't seem ideal for the situation. The developers included a variety of implements that stand in for "real" guns. For instance, you can splash a bucket of paint on someone at close range and that's basically the equivalent of a shotgun blast in a game that's not afraid to draw blood. A lot of weapons also possess a secondary function if you charge them, and this gets quite interesting. I especially like the umbrella, which heads forward along a ledge and spreads paint while deflecting enemy shots. But then there are times when--for example--the otherwise useful wide roller bumps against an enemy and sends me toppling off a ledge, or it takes too long spreading paint along a wall and then I can't leap to safety in time to avoid dropping into the abyss. After beating the campaign, I still don't feel like I've come to term with some of the available options.

Naturally, such rough spots don't crop up in the multiplayer modes, which have the potential to be quite the event. The game includes options if you want to play locally with friends, but online battles are clearly the focus.

Like the Call of Duty series, Splatoon 2 keeps track of player levels. Instead of unlocking perks, you gain access to additional weapons and gear. The latter you can level up as you wear it, and the selections you make could improve your character. For instance, you might gain the ability to refill your paint more quickly, or to deal more damage with special attacks. Weapons come in various combinations, with a sub-weapon and grenades offered as part of any kit. As you play, you'll grow more comfortable with your loadout, or you can make some changes and see if things go better for you.

I suck at online shooters, and yet I found that as I played Splatoon 2, I was running into a lot of folks who were considerably worse than me. I sometimes was my team's top performer, and it didn't seem to matter that some players had higher levels than me and better gear. There are an awful lot of rubbish players running around the servers, apparently incapable of doing anything but heading off on their own and accomplishing nothing relevant to the team objective. Quite a few other either abandon matches or lose their connections, which pretty much dooms whoever remains on a given team to a humiliating loss. Playing with strangers on the Internet definitely hasn't improved in the last few years, but that's not the game's fault.

Splatoon 2 (Switch) image

Of course, you can always get a group of reliable friends together for a LAN party or whatever, and in that case I can only imagine that Splatoon 2's online modes would be an absolute riot. The arenas are interesting, offering multiple avenues of attack and points of cover, and there are a variety of objectives available to keep things fresh (though you'll have to level up your character to 10 if you want to try your hand at ranked matches). There also are special events that are only available at certain times, as part of an attempt to give players reasons to return regularly and see what has changed or been added or removed. If you're the sort of player to play online shooters over an extended period, you're in for a treat.

Splatoon 2 is the sort of game I once thought Nintendo would never make: a shooter that offers "team deathmatch" with a cartoon veneer. It looks and plays great, whether you're adventuring through a meaty story campaign or battling with friends and enemies online. It's easy to see why the franchise is such a hot property in Japan and North America alike, and I suggest you check it out soon if you've noticed the buzz and wonder if it's justified. I still like Link and Mario more, but I have to admit the squid people are growing on me.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 27, 2017)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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