At launch, Splatoon 2 already had way more content than the original game. More maps. Swappable hairstyles. New weapons. A broader single-player campaign. A new PvE mode. Despite these additions, Splatoon 2 ended up still not feeling like it had enough to earn its big number two, as I wrote in my review back in July. Even in the face of so many changes, it didn't fix the fundamental issues with the original: that is, just fixing its bonkers matchmaking.
Pure matchmaking (that is, grouping up with friends) is still a mess, but with its big 2.0 update from last week around Thanksgiving, they fixed something that has been heavily criticized since the first game long ago. In Splatoon truly-2.0, I can finally switch my loadout of weapons and gear in-between matches without backing out to the lobby. (Bless.) Even being such a small step, it feels like Nintendo finally sorta-listened to what the community and critics have wanted: a better core multiplayer infrastructure that's fitting for a sequel that improves on its predecessor, to complement the great game that lays in front of it; not something convoluted through apps and other workarounds.
That's not all that changed when Splatoon 2 entered its big 2.0 version. It's a massive update, if the walls of text describing all its tweaks or the trailer of its new additions didn't tell enough. New music. New clothes. New hairstyles. New maps. New Amiibo functionality (an expanded photo mode with inkling Amiibos featuring filters and taking photos on maps). And finally, the ability to change loadouts without backing out to the lobby. In just the coming months, two additional maps and a new mode are on the way. With Version 2.0 and beyond, Splatoon 2 is starting to shape up like the sequel it desired to be in the first place, rather than just Splatoon 1.5.
Unfortunately last week when 2.0 dropped, my Nintendo Switch was out of the house; I had sent it to Nintendo for repairs. (Suddenly after playing Doom, my Switch decided to stop reading any MicroSD card. So it goes.) I wasn't expecting to have it back for at least another week, when earlier this week it surprised me anyways. My Switch was back in my arms, and so was Splatoon 2. Eagerly I dove into the new update, excited to switch loadouts with ease mostly.
What I found was an update that somehow felt more lively than I expected. The new gear (all impeccably stylish, as ever), new hairstyles, and additional shorts and leggings add a bit more customization and flair to players' squid-kids, even more so than the four or so options they were resigned to before. Walking around Inkopolis Square, everyone looked unique; no longer was the plaza a chorus of the same fits repeated endlessly. It looked like an actual place where these fictional cool inklings hang out, all with their own fashion senses and particular styles to guide them by. It felt like what you'd see on any sort of fashionable street, like the boutique-friendly neighborhoods of Harajuku or Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, Japan.
The new music in Splatoon 2 reflects this newfound, almost freeing attitude too. Ushering in two new fictional bands—the alternate universe Dropkick Murphys-like Bottom Feeders and the bebop jazz-inclined Ink Theory—the music soundtracking the battles feels more diverse now, bouncing from the math rock of the base soundtrack to the frenetic jazz of the update's bonus tunes.
The new battle music stands out because it brings a new flavor to the game entirely. Despite being so starkly different (that trumpet though), somehow it all feels right at home in the stylin', hypercolorful world of Splatoon 2. It's like the game is finally reflecting on individual players. Not just cool trends or the kids lining up for streetwear when collections drop necessarily, but the folks that have been paving their own path along the way. The folks who have no style guide, and just wanna do what they personally dig best.
Out of all the many games that released this year (and believe me, there were many), Splatoon 2 has captured my attention the longest, apparently. According to my Switch, I've spent an astounding 125 hours playing it all year, despite falling off in recent months after I owned every piece of gear. With new gear added, a slightly less tedious matchmaking system, and new hairstyles to adorn my squid kid, I imagine my time is newly refreshed. Plus, with two more maps and a new sports-like mode on the way, Splatoon 2 seems to only be growing. Maybe by the end of the year it will finally earn its Splatoon 2 moniker.