Platforms: Nintendo Switch
I wasn’t sure about Splatoon 2. I hadn’t played the first (like most I didn’t own a WiiU) and the gimmick of painting over killing seemed almost too passive. I’m happy to admit how wrong I was. Splatoon 2 is a fantastic mesh of unique ideas and style, even if it is sometimes held back by foolish decisions.
The goal of a standard Turf War match is simple: paint everything in your team’s color. Over the course of three minutes a controlled chaos ensues, as each team battles for neon supremacy. Killing other players is an option, and at times vital, but it honestly feels like an annoyance getting in the way of painting. I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to watch an opponent paint an area just to swoop in after he leaves and change everything back. Every player can also switch into their squid form and speed across their own team’s color. This adds even more incentive to painting as mobility is key. The weapons have enough variety to suit most play styles though I would prefer if they were all unlocked from the beginning instead of one per level.
Outside of Turf War Splatoon 2 offers a few different options. The ranked playlist switches up the game types. They are basically different takes on classic modes like CTF and Zone Control. I enjoyed these modes but because they seemed to focus less on painting, and more on combat I never played more than a few matches at a time.
The single-player campaign is a fun mix of combat and platforming challenges. Many levels force you to use a specific weapon which was certainly frustrating when it happened to be one I didn’t much care for. Luckily each level is not particularly long with a late rail-grinding centric one being my favorite. The boss fights were all top notch with the final one being a memorable fast-paced battle for survival.
Finally the newest addition is Salmon Run, a wave based mode. Over the course of three waves a team of four must fight swarms of enemies and boss characters to collect eggs. Meet the quota and you move to the next wave. Miss it and the game ends. The boss designs are all specific to this mode and help to keep teams on their toes as they swim across the map trying to stay one step ahead. Even without voice chat (don’t worry, I’ll get to that) the simple commands were generally enough to keep everyone on the same page. I don’t typically care for this game type but the short matches actually turned me around and made this my go to non-Turf War mode.
Surrounding all of this is the unbending commitment to its own brand of style. Clothing is a huge part of the experience as it not only gives you perks, but it also lets you look ridiculous in many great ways. Decking my Squid Kid out in some new threads before hopping into the lobby became a wonderful game all in itself. The soundtrack is a weird, bad-in-a-good-way punk concoction. The character designs are also great with plenty of clever takes on bipedal sea life. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the writing. Puns have never been my thing so a lot of the humor fell flat for me. That is obviously going to come down to personal preference but you have been warned.
The fact that every gameplay option in Splatoon 2 ranges from good to great makes the structural decision-making around the game even more baffling. The biggest head-scratcher is the lack of in-game voice chat. To talk to other players you must each download a phone app. The phone app will kick you out of chat if you close it to do anything else. That means even checking texts is out of the question. That would have been unacceptable five years ago let alone in 2017.
Even after voice chat, plenty of other decisions make you question if anyone at Nintendo knows what an online game is. Maps only rotate in two at a time, every two hours. The big, new addition Salmon Run is only available on a specific days at specific times. You can’t switch your loadout or back out of matchmaking once started. It is honestly incredible all of these thing were seen as okay and sour an otherwise fantastic game.
Despite Nintendo’s best efforts, Splatoon 2 is still an absolute joy to play and oozes a style that it isn’t afraid to throw in your face. It is mired in poor decisions, but the core gameplay is so strong that once I get into a match I forget all about it. For three minutes at a time the fact that I can’t voice chat or have had the same loadout for who knows how long doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I have to paint.