Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Splatoon 2 Review - Nintendo Switch
The original Splatoon, when it released on the Wii U back in May of 2015, was a breath of fresh air for a company that previously didn't dive too heavily into competitive games, let alone competitive shooters. At it's core, you had a game that gave you the same satisfaction of a multiplayer shooter but with the childlike wonder of a Saturday morning cartoon. Kills weren't what you were going for but rather the "splatting" of ink over a map to cover the most territory. Throw in some outrageous outfits, creative weapons, and you had a fun game that had quite a following. While Splatoon had it's critics, overall it was well received. With the release of the Nintendo Switch, it was a no brainer that Nintendo wouldn't throw their hat into the competitive shooter scene again with Splatoon 2. With some nice refinements and a couple additions to the game, is there enough here to push Splatoon 2 past novelty and into the mainstream competitive market? After spending two weeks with the game, this is what I'm thinking...
A lot of people picking up Splatoon 2 may not have experienced the original Splatoon game on the Wii U. For that crowd, I'll explain briefly what you'll be doing in this game. In Splatoon, you'll create a character (a boy or girl squid kid) and outfit them with trendy clothing that increase your stats. To get new clothing and weapons, you'll participate in online battles that will increase your level. These matches are 4 on 4 competitive games where your main goal is to paint the map and depending on whether you're doing ranked or not, possibly throw in some other mechanics. Your weapon (and I use that term loosely, since paint rollers and brushes can be weapons) will be the means by which you do this. You'll traverse the map shooting colored ink onto the floor and walls of the levels to cover as much as you can. While you're doing this, the other team is also trying to do the same and this tug of war of paint splatting takes place. You need to watch out as well since traveling in other teams ink or getting hit by the other teams ink will damage you and eventually "splat" you if you aren't careful (being splatted is like dying in other multiplayer games, but in Splatoon 2, you just go back to the start of the map.) At the end of the round, you'll see an image of the map you just played on with all of the ink both teams put down. A percentage will show who covered the most and the team with the higher percentage wins. Seems simple enough, but the real strategy and longevity of the game comes in the multitude of weapons available and how you use them, and as you'll see with each level gained, there's a wide variety of weapons to use.
Splatoon 2 looks and feels a lot like Splatoon 1. That's not a bad thing though. Nintendo created a very high intensity art style with the first game and the second release feels more like an evolution of style rather than a change in course. Colors are more vibrant and the characters all look varied and intricate in their design and wardrobe vs the previous game. This was most likely due to hardware limitations on the Wii U, but whatever the case, it's fixed here. Colors will pop off the screen and the levels as well as Inkopolis Square are incredibly well designed. Just like in Splatoon 1, you'll spend most of the your non gaming time on Splatoon 2's Inkopolis Square where you'll begin each play session. You'll see other players avatars wondering around with a number of shops you can visit regardless of the time of the day you hop on. It's in these shops you'll buy clothes and weapons that not only look cool, but give you stat bonuses. New clothes and weapons are available as you level up in online multiplayer and was one of the single driving factors that kept me playing well into the night. "Just one more level and I can unlock X weapon!"
Along with shops, you'll also find areas of the main square where you can access single player and Salmon Run, two modes that are a welcome additions to this iteration of the game. Single player was available in the previous installment but felt more like a tutorial mode than anything. In Splatoon 2's single player, you take on the role of Agent 4 as you work to stop the Octoling invasion. The levels you'll play through act as a tutorial at first, but eventually spread their wings to become legit levels with serious skill involved to complete. I found that by playing the single player, I was much more equipped to handle my own when i eventually moved over to multiplayer. Movement is key in Splatoon and you'll get more than enough practice in some of the later single player levels. Throw in some truly unique and funny writing, collectibles, and weapon/item progression and you'll see the single player is incredibly well rounded and a very welcome addition to a game that has previously been multiplayer only.
A little past the single player area in Inkopolis Square, you'll see a garage looking place of sorts. Go inside and you'll be introduced to "Salmon Run" the Splatoon 2 version of a Horde mode made popular by Gears of War. In this mode, you and up to three other players will face off against waves of enemies with bosses interspersed within. These bosses will drop golden salmon eggs that you or your teammates need to capture and rush back to a receptacle that holds them, all the while avoiding projectiles and encroaching enemies. Each round is timed and you'll get bonus points for going over the requested golden salmon eggs. If you don't bring enough eggs though, it's game over and the match is finished. This fun diversion from the main multiplayer had me engrossed for a really long time. I only ever played on one map, so I'm not sure if others will be released in the future, but it's a nice palate cleanser when you want to do something outside of regular multiplayer. I would love to see this mode supported going forward though with additional maps and bosses added.
While Splatoon 2 is a good game with it's single player and co-op modes, it becomes a truly great game when you throw in it's competitive multiplayer. As I mentioned earlier, Turf War (as the basic competitive mode is called) has you spraying ink on the ground to fill up as much "turf" as possible to win the match all the while taking out enemies if they impede on your progress. If you go around just focusing on taking out the enemy team, you'll completely miss the point of this mode. You need to balance painting the ground with ink against firing on opponents. Sometimes it behooves you to run away from an enemy if the clock is running down and you can get some last minute ink on some opponent colored areas. What seems like a simple mode quickly pulls back the curtain to show a game that involves some strategy to determine how you'll approach each respawn. As you level up you'll unlock new weapons and clothing you can wear that will increase your stats and give you new ways to attack opponents or fill up the ground with ink. My personal favorite, the paint roller, allowed me to cover a ton of ground while also giving me the ability to roll over enemies to splat them or throw lines of paint at them. The machine gun type weapon was another favorite that allowed me to be a little more offensive in my approach to protecting my inked land. Each weapon also has a special ability that will unlock when you gain enough points (although getting splatted will take a little away.) The special abilities range from a rain cloud that rains your teams ink, a ground pound that shoots ink out and insta-splats anyone in range, and curling bomb that act as grenades while they paint the ground in straight lines. Each weapon has it's pros and cons and weighing them against your playstyle will have you juggling weapons until you find your preferred playstyle. With a group of friends, I could see how teams would be built around comps that allowed one or two people to be the painter, while the others paint and protect them. I'm really looking forward to additional people being online post launch so these types of moments can happen organically.
There is one thing that should be brought up about online play that you will either love or hate - there is no online chat (yet.) For an introvert like myself, I'm ok with it. Typically when I play online games, I don't talk and oftentimes mute other members of my team because people can be absolutely awful when anonymous behind a mic. In Splatoon, the gameplay is simple enough that you don't really NEED a mic to be good, but in some modes I can see how this could be a detriment. For instance, there are three levels of multiplayer modes in Splatoon; the basic turf war match most people will play at first, a ranked match where you need to be level 10 to get in with different gameplay modes, and then a tournament mode. The ranked match, differs slightly from the turf war in that you have three choices to play, Splat Zone, Tower Control, and Rainmaker. These three modes are all different but your weapons and playstyle remain the same. In Turf War, you're able to pretty much run around and do as you please with each team having an equal shot in winning. In ranked, you're going to need a little more skill and a little more knowledge of the game (which is understandable as the mode is locked behind a level 10 requirement.) Communication to handle the additional mechanics will be key as strategy will need to be developed on the fly with changing dynamics of the level. I would have liked a voice chat function to be available for this mode as it would make communicating with your teammates a little easier, but if you have a dedicated group of friends you could use Skype to communicate before getting into a game. Plus, Nintendo has said their phone app will be coming out soon that will allow chat within the game, but the design doesn't exactly sound user friendly. I haven't had any experiences with the app yet, so I can't speak to it, but I did miss the inclusion in the core game itself when it came to ranked matches. A small gripe against an otherwise amazing game, but a gripe I thought necessary to bring up nonetheless.
Splatoon 2 is amazing game that will please a number of gaming archetypes and ages. It's kid friendly attitude towards online shooters will allow parents to rest easy that their kids aren't playing a game around killing (like modern shooters) and the lack of a built in online chat feature will also please parents wary about allowing their children to talk to online strangers. Casual gamers who typically shy away from online games will have the single player and co-op Salmon Run to keep them busy with Turf War waiting for them when they want to take the plunge into Splatoon 2's online mode. The more hardcore gaming crowd will likely dive into all facets of Splatoon 2, but the Ranked mode will be a mainstay for people who enjoy more organized online modes in games. The rotating maps will keep things interesting while also allowing them to get familiar with a set of maps before moving on to another set. All in all, Splatoon 2 is the complete package. Where Splatoon 1 scratched the surface, Splatoon 2 took everything that worked in the first and expanded upon it. If you own a Nintendo Switch, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
*Advanced review code provided by Nintendo