Movie Sleuth Gaming: Splatoon 2 - Reviewed

Modern competitive multiplayer games have not been my jam in the years since I started writing and taking games more seriously. I have sunk many hours into League of Legends, Overwatch, and various Smash Bros. titles at a decently competitive level, but they never stick around in my regularly-played catalog. Like clockwork, I always hit my frustration breaking point before I actually lose interest in the game, and try as I might I haven’t been able to break myself of this habit. 2015’s Splatoon was a rare breed in that it rebuffed this trend of mine, and the Sequel has hooked me again. Despite some unfulfilled potential and puzzling Nintendo decision-making, I haven't been able to put Splatoon 2 down.

For the uninitiated, Splatoon 2 is new third-person shooter sequel from Nintendo based around a future of squid people and ink-based combat sports. What little story there is plays out in a silly fashion, but the important part is this: Squidkind’s favorite pastime is beefin’ over turf with the unique spin of ink-based weaponry. The main online mode, Turf War, has returned from the original Splatoon and continues to be my favorite part of the game. I could write an whole article on how clever the design of making a shooter rooted in map area coverage and not killing foes (“Splatting” as the family-friendly Nintendo calls it). It levels the playing field of aiming and fast-twitch motion by emphasizing spraying the environment, but does it without punishing more skilled players. It has its moments of frustration, as any team game does, but it is still satisfying and fun. I love that your team’s ink coverage is a visual representation of your team’s tacit control of the map, without being a domination or point-control style mode.

For those looking for a more serious challenge, the ranked mode has similarly returned, including all of the modes that were slowly rolled out over the lifespan of the first Splatoon. These modes are exciting and well-balanced, I am glad I took the plunge in playing and ranking up. I took ranked very seriously in Splatoon and I am not feeling exactly the same drive here, but I think that has more to do more with me than the game. They are fun, and made more interesting with the new weapons and maps, but not significantly different otherwise. In both cases of the online competitive modes, the only real downfall of not has to be with connectivity. I have not had a lot of personal issues with disconnects, but after recording some stats of my personal play, about one in five of my matches ended with at least one player disconnected.

In the past I have been quick to excuse Nintendo’s confusing online decisions behind a wall of their ‘conservative Japanese business practices’ and the propensity to make their games appeal to all ages. I adore Splatoon 2 but at this point I am done apologizing for Nintendo’s decisions, especially considering how many things about the game are so great. Even outside of the network stability issues, some of the simple features of modern multiplayer shooters are thrown out the window in Splatoon 2. This does not appear to be to protect a young audience or profit margins, but just because Nintendo seems to not have a finger on the pulse at the rest of gaming. Players cannot leave the queue for multiplayer once they entered, even if the room sits empty. Party-play and voice chat are sequestered to a terrible cell phone app. It all just doesn't make sense.

Pearl and Marina replace the squid sisters as the quippy sea-life mascots of the sequel

Even the entirety of the  Salmon Run mode, a really fun new cooperative mode akin to Gears of War’s horde mode, is only available online at certain times of the day for seemingly no reason. It keeps with the theme of short-session multiplayer, something that I appreciate after horde mode games getting exhaustively long. It also adds a random elements to the enemy types and equipped weapons of each round, something that frustrated me at first, but I ultimately enjoyed. It forced me to try weapons I had written off and its difficulty curve isn’t too steep. It is insanely fun, and for my money, it’s the shining star of the new features of the game, and yet they hide it. The backwardness of these decisions could easily be swept under the rug if the quality of the remainder of the game didn't embolden these bad decisions by comparison. I have still had a lot of fun with the online play, but these decisions and walls the put up for players are needless and inexcusable.

Fortunately, if you find yourself flustered by online play (or being forced to use the goddamn splattling gun in Salmon Run for the 100th time) the single-player mode has also returned in improved fashion. More levels, more new mechanics unique to the single player levels, and more bizarre bosses. A major complaint by many players from the first Splatoon was the limited number of weapon options in the single player, and the subsequent locking of some of them behind the pay-wall of owning Amiibos. Nintendo combats this by having different levels requiring weapons, then after beating it with said weapon, allows you to replay the level with all of the available weapons. I played through it and enjoyed it, especially the boss fights but I still think the multiplayer is the focal point of the game. I liked some of the new ink-grinding mechanics and clever uses of the environment, but if anything they just made me question why more of these mechanics didn't make it into the multiplayer maps. There is some story there, but it really takes a back-seat to the environment, style, and another fantastic soundtrack.

The Splatoon 2 hub-world brings back the Miiverse drawing functionality absent from the Switch as a whole

I loved the style of Splatoon and I am glad to say the aesthetic has not changed, but the visuals have been polished to maximize the power of the Switch. Early in my play, stopped in my tracks just to admire coherence and smoothness of everything, then I just sat in awe when I remembered this was coming out of a 4 inch tablet and not monolithic game console. This isn’t the 4k realism that a fragment of the gaming community gages graphics with, but it knows its style and looks damn good doing it. The emphasis on fashion and style is back, and I enjoy walking around the social space and checking out other people’s gear, graffiti, and having to make the tough decisions between looking fresh and having optimized gear. I am not the most fashion-forward individual, so I surprised even myself with my desire to make my character’s flyness a point on pride.

Splatoon 2 is a great game that is better by its own right than it is as a sequel. I am pleased with the additions they made, new modes, new maps, new weapons, fresh new gear, despite finding myself asking for more and feeling like it’s just more Splatoon. I wish Nintendo would get their online and quality of life issues sorted out, but I still expect to play in many splatfest events and collect many more salmon eggs in the coming months. And considering my history, that’s one of the finest compliments I can give to an online multiplayer game.

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-Justin Wicker