It’s been a little over a week since Nintendo’s highly anticipated multiplayer paint-shooter released on the Switch and the No Salt team has already put dozens of hours in the neon splattered world of Inkopolis. Splatoon 2 may very well be the epitome of the game development tropes that Nintendo has come to be known for: unique and fun gameplay mired in a confusing and oftentimes restrictive framework.
Splatoon 2 offers a variety of game modes: a fleshed-out campaign, the original turf war, a ranked queue with 3 rotating rule-sets, a new league battle mode, and Splatoon 2’s spin on a horde mode, Salmon Run. As an original Splatoon fan, I can attest that the gameplay is as tight and as fun as ever. The original turf mode, which focuses on inking the actual terrain of the map, is still the bread-and-butter mode for short and fast-paced gameplay and with a match time-limit of 3 minutes, you won’t feel stuck slogging through a long loss. Ranked uses a grading scale from C- to S+ and features three unique rule-sets which are all fun spins on the original formula: Rainmaker is a Capture-the-Flag style mode where each team fights over the Rainmaker, a golden fish bazooka, in an effort to dunk it on the enemy team’s podium near the enemy base; Tower Control is a reverse tug-o-war style mode where both teams fight to control and steadily push a platform towards the enemy base; and Splatzones is a mode where each team dukes it out in order to paint over and control outline sections near the center of the map. League mode uses the rule-sets present in ranked but is specifically for two-man or four-man queues and is only unlocked once you gain a rank of at least B- in any of the ranked modes.
The campaign is fun and wacky and uses a variety of environmental interactions which give a unique experience to the player outside of its more multiplayer focused game modes. You, the hero dubbed Agent 4, work together with famed Squid Sister Marie in an effort to track down the missing Callie. The campaign is divided up into 5 separate zones with many distinct stages, with unique playthroughs dependent on the player’s current weapon loadout. The story isn’t especially interesting but the level-design is challenging and fun and the bosses are interesting and memorable if not a little horrifying in design.
The real kicker that makes Splatoon 2 standout from its predecessor is the new horde mode Salmon run. In Salmon Run, the player interns for the less-than-reputable seeming Grizzco Industries and is responsible for working in a team of 4 to gather golden salmon eggs that drop from a plethora of unique Salmon-inspired bosses over 3 separate waves. Each run will net you points which unlock money and Grizzco-unique rewards such as gear and food tickets which you can redeem at Crusty Sean’s food truck for helpful boosts.
Between games, you may find yourself browsing wares at the local clothing shops to keep your style fresh, checking out the often fantastic artwork of other Inklings in Inkopolis, or even playing a game of fake DDR on the arcade machine.
With Splatoon 2, Nintendo delivers solid and well-crafted gameplay. Unfortunately, a lot of decisions made outside of the actual gameplay itself hinder my ability to full enjoy it and demonstrates in a lot of ways how Nintendo is out of touch with how players want to actually play their game.
Overall the biggest issue I have with the game is how Nintendo structures our ability to play with other friends. In Turf War, I am only able to queue into a game alone and hope that my friends join into a lobby with space for them. Even with that out of the way, there is no guarantee that I will be placed onto the same team as them. Over the course of maybe 30 or so games I have only ever been placed onto a team with two other friends maybe 3 or 4 times. Many have voiced justifications for this system stating that being paired up against other teams of randomly assembled players would be an unfair advantage but this feels like a poor solution compared to maybe an internal system that matches groups against other similar sized groups. In ranked queues, I am only able to queue alone which seems like bad design especially considering multiplayer competitive games like Overwatch already have algorithms that match teams of a similar group composition against each other. While many may point to League mode as the solution to the group queue issues for ranked, the restriction that only players ranked B- or higher along with the fact that you can only queue as 2 or 4 makes it far from an ideal solution to what is an already solved problem.
Salmon Run, one of my favorite modes in Splatoon 2, also features a few irritating restrictions as well. While you are able to queue with up to 4 friends online in Salmon Run, the mode has the online matchmaking option available only at specified times, otherwise players can only host lobbies locally with friends in order to play. The array of weapons which are implemented change up with each new time table and can be an interesting way to try out new weapons, but can often times be frustrating with more nontraditional weapons.
Along with these grievances are a few more quality-of-life issues such as being unable to back out of a lobby once the countdown starts, being unable to change weapons while in lobby without having to exit, and being unable to skip Pearl and Marina’s special announcements about new map rotations.
That being said, the game is a ton of splatting fun and has the potential to maintain longevity if Nintendo fixes these addressable problems. Whether that will come to pass… we’ll just have to see.
(Note: the Nintendo Switch Online app is awful and you are better off using alternate programs such as Discord or Skype.)