I associate Splatoon 2 with all things colorful and fun. It's relatively easy to play—provided that you're not serious with its tense Ranked mode. The goal is simple: just paint everything you see and don't worry too much about racking up kills, or "splats." As I once wrote in the past, it's like a pop song brought to life. It's cheerful, stylish, and pleasant.
But Splatoon 2's upcoming Octo Expansion, which is making the usually-villainous Octolings playable for the first time in the series, is taking on a darker approach. The music that thumps through the subway station's walls is grittier than what's usually found in Splatoon. For comparison sake, it's like it's taking cues from the early work of electronic musician Grimes, rather than her poppier recent work. Each level's difficulty, too, seems ramped up from what's in the base game's short campaign.
And the Octo Expansion features a helluva lot more stages. The base game of Splatoon 2, though it has replayability with different weapons, has only 32 missions. The Octo Expansion has 80 stages, though not every stage is required for "completion" of its campaign—they're merely there for the extra challenge, should players choose to tackle it. While I didn't get to have a look at the expansion's map during my demo with it, I did get the impression that with this structure in mind the Octo Expansion might be a lot less linear than Splatoon 2's original campaign (which allows you to tackle individual levels in any order, but requires you to beat each before facing the boss and progressing to the next world).
The stages I played were all unique and challenging in their own ways, compared to the game's original campaign that I admittedly had little trouble with at any point. In one encounter, I was armed with a Tri-Slosher bucket and found myself approached by two flying enemies. Without thinking, I splashed paint upwards in their direction. It was here that I realized an unfortunate truth: the floor beneath me was all breakable crates. By tossing paint aimlessly, I was potentially spelling doom for my Octoling. This realization was honestly unexpected—and compelling for what other sorts of challenges I'd face in future stages.
Other stages I tested out included one with an infinite Inkjet ability (like the Inkjet special, only elongated for traversing an entire level), powered by an ever-recharging boost. One had me equipped with the sniper-like Charger, as multiple enemies on platforms spun around, shooting at me continuously. I could rotate them myself with a target on either end of the small platform, but it was easy to get overwhelmed. Another stage had me pushing a giant ball around a narrow platform, with enemies facing my Octoling all along the way. The stage reminded me of another game in particular: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Specifically, it reminded me of its many ball-moving puzzles. A representative from Nintendo tells me during my demo that this observation is no coincidence—some designers who worked on the shrines from Breath of the Wild also worked on the Octo Expansion.
Aesthetically, the new stages are trickled with familiar gadgets. In one level, a giant discarded Game Boy was floating in the air. In another, there were old discs. As the Splatoon universe technically takes place long in the future where humans are extinct, it seems that the Octo Expansion might share a little bit more about humanity's fate beyond the lore-heavy Sunken Scrolls collectibles from the past campaigns. Or at least, we'll just see what all our un-recycled junk is like in the context of Splatoon 2.
The campaign also features a number of other surprises for veteran Splatoon fans, such as an appearance from Agent 3, the hero Inkling from the first Splatoon's campaign, and Cap'n Cuttlefish, who was the host of the original game's campaign and has been conspicuously absent from its sequel. Players will also learn more about the origins of Splatoon 2's idol stars Pearl and Marina, and probably other creatures too. In finishing the campaign, players unlock the Octoling characters for the game's multiplayer mode as well.
And it all ties together swimmingly. The heightened challenge. The darker atmosphere. The weirder music. For players who have been hungry for a more interesting campaign in the Splatoon universe, it's looking like Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion might finally be it, while building on its quirky version of a human-free post-apocalypse.
I wouldn't blame you if you never got around to finishing Splatoon 2's base campaign. While it's fun enough and introduces a host of interesting campaign-only gimmicks (Grinding! Boss battles!), Splatoon 2's primary strength has always been in its multiplayer—whether your favored mode is the relaxed Turf War, the competitive Ranked, or even its PvE mode Salmon Run. The new expansion announcement did spark a huge spike in the completion rate of Splatoon 2's single-player campaign though, according to a Nintendo representative, as if the player base collectively remembered that they never got around to finishing the main story. That's probably a good thing too, because judging from just the few stages I played as a person who plays Splatoon 2 nearly every day, they're going to need the extra practice. And heck, I will too. I never was good with that Charger gun.