When I think of pop music—the self-aware, unabashedly cute type akin to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Carly Rae Jepsen, and others—I think of all things bubbly. I imagine strawberry Calpico sodas, bubblegum, pastel colored anything, chunky sneakers; things that in my eyes would be classified as cute in the simplest way. Usually somewhere in those pop music-soundtracked thoughts, I think of the squid kid-ruled, hypercolorful post-apocalypse of Splatoon too.
Like good pop music, Splatoon 2 burrows itself into your brain and it's hard to knock out. It's a game you launch for a single match, only to find hours effortlessly slipping by as you splatter brightly colored paint across turf. It's absorbing in all the ways you imagine it might be. Maybe that's because of its laser-focused, non-violent gameplay. Maybe for its upbeat tunes, or its incredibly stylish, customizable outfits. Maybe it's because Splatoon just feels nice to play, whether you want to paint every little spot green, or enjoy inconveniencing your competitors with splats (Splatoon's version of "kills"). Even with all that, Splatoon 2 is also a whole lot more of the same. But it made me think: if something's not broke yet, what's the point of fixing it?
When the first Splatoon inked itself onto screens in 2015, it was indescribable. It was a multiplayer shooter strangely from Nintendo, a company that rarely explored unestablished IPs. It was a multiplayer game that worked against the expectations of what classified the genre. Your goal was to splatter paint onto surfaces, not to kill your enemies with violent finesse. It was sugary sweet, neon in tone and color, and kid-like in nature, right down to its freshly established squid pop music. It had a catch though: Splatoon was flawed at its start. It hardly offered anything at all: just a handful of stages, a single mode and a fleeting campaign. It felt bare, even if it was promising.
Over time though, Splatoon matured. It got a Ranked mode shortly after launch, and within it objectives that weren't just about inking turf. It got plentiful stages, more gear to outfit your inkling character with, and more weapons. By the end of Splatoon's year-long update cycle, the game was a whole different beast than what came before: it felt like a fuller, more realized game. It wasn't just a teaser of what's to come anymore.
Splatoon 2 feels like that. If you played Splatoon in the years after its initial release, then you've basically played Splatoon 2 as well. Splatoon 2 doesn't quite feel like a sequel, but more like a reimagining. A second chance. A reboot, even. It's Splatoon for the crowd who never owned a Wii U or didn't stick with it past its bumpy launch, and the players who just want an excuse to play it again. It's Splatoon as you knew it by its end, with all the updated polish and a new horde mode tacked on for kicks. (A few of the maps in the new release are even the old ones, with a few minor changes.) It's exactly the game you expect it to be; if you weren't a fan before, I doubt Splatoon 2 would make you a convert.
That said, Splatoon 2 is the best Splatoon's ever been. The single-player campaign is a breezy one, but one of immense replayability between the various weapons you get access to throughout. There are lovely secrets to uncover even in the social hub of the game; like a seedy back alley sales-urchin who rerolls slots on your gear, or the full-blown rhythm game residing next to a Dance Dance Revolution-like cabinet, or even a food truck owned by a giant tempura'd prawn who sells you temporary boost items. Splatoon 2's hub teems with life somehow even more than the original's did, accentuated by fan art drawn in-game (once alive in the Miiverse, now in its own ecosystem here).
There are also far more maps at launch than there were for the original Splatoon, in addition to two exclusive ones for the game's new horde PvE mode. So even at the start, players aren't starved for multiplayer content (with more on the way via future updates). Instead of cycling maps every four hours, it's been shortened to two hours. Maps change in and out of rotation between Turf War, Ranked, and League mode (a mode that unlocks once players hit Rank B-) frequently now, fixing some time-constricted frustrations from the original game.
But with Splatoon's updated fixes, remain some frustrations. Matchmaking in Splatoon 2 is still a pain, as it was in the original game. To play with buddies you have to join a friend if they happen to be in the matchmaking process, with no option to group prior. Sure, when the mobile online app goes live at launch, matching up with pals will be less of a frustrating experience. Yet even then, venturing to something completely untethered to the game itself is annoying on its own. Y'know, because you could always just have proper matchmaking in the game (like most games do).
It's the latest headscratching decision in Nintendo's ongoing odd approach to online gaming. It reminds me of the Wii U's original edition of Mario Kart 8, where you could only chat in the matchmaking lobby in-between races, and never during. (I guess nowadays at least Discord exists—but that doesn't fix in-game matchmaking fumbles.)
The single-player campaign offers a few more flourishes that aren't present elsewhere. For instance, in some levels inklings can grind on rails, some even lending themselves to Sonic Adventure 2-esque levels of primarily grinding. The single-player's main purpose is essentially the same as the original: to get players used to the tricky diversity of weapons that the game offers in its multiplayer, from dual pistols to a giant umbrella that also acts as a makeshift shield. In the end, the campaign shines in its creative boss fights and the inventive ways it spins the 3D platforming genre, even if it's not as legitimately surprising as the original's campaign.
The most "new" thing in Splatoon 2 is also its most jarringly different: its horde mode. It's called the Salmon Run, and it's quite a grimy, muddy place. Salmon Run is sapped of color and of chipper, charming characters (this is including your "boss," a mean being who barks orders at you while doing none of the work). Your standard gear is swapped out for a trucker hat and other work-practical wear, your well-worn stylishness going out the window. You begin the mode fittingly as an intern—the lowest of the low—as your pay grade increases and decreases with each round won or lost. It's bleak, reflective of the reality outside of the fresh inktopia of Inkopolis. It's also you, an inkling, being taken advantage of to an unsavory degree. It's so acutely dissimilar from everything else shared in the vast world of Splatoon, that it's borderline unsettling.
The special mode has you team up with three other inklings (ideally, if there are enough to squad up) to combat AI-controlled gross-looking salmon and collect their eggs. There are quotas of eggs you need to collect during the three waves, and each wave gets progressively harder. After a couple rounds though, even with seven different "boss" salmonoids inking their way to shore, the mode grew repetitive. It's a nice addition, rounding out Splatoon 2's single-player campaign and standard PvP modes, but with only a couple enemy types and the boss types eventually being familiar sights, it becomes easy to avoid getting overwhelmed even when you're short on inkling companions. Hopefully with updates and additional maps, the PvE mode will feel more fully fleshed out in the future.
The first Splatoon hardly had room to grow an audience. It was born as an exclusive for Nintendo's worst selling console (only $13.5 million Wii Us sold globally) and only sold 4.76 million copies as of February 2017. However small, its existent fan base was fervent and dedicated. I can only imagine Splatoon 2 stoking the fire, and causing the fandom to explode as more players actually get their hands on the game.
As for me, like a good pop song being woefully addictive, I'll likely be singing Splatoon 2's tune well past its launch. While I was initially dissappointed by how familiar the game felt, I still got a big goofy grin as I splatted my way to victory time and time again. It amounted to some of the most fun I've had in any multiplayer game in years. Probably, to be honest, since the last time squid kids splashed paint onto my screen. In the meantime, when Splatoon 3 inevitably hits in a few years I hope something spices up the tried and true splatting formula now that more than the twenty people who owned a Wii U can finally give the charming, innovative shooter a spin. Until then, as Pearl and Marina would say, Splatoon 2's off the hook. (That's slang for cool, I think. Don't ask me.)
Splatoon 2 is already beefier in terms of things to do than the original, and with a quick map rotation eases some of the first game's frustrations.
The music's just as memorable—if not more so—in this colorful sequel. And heck, there's even a rhythm game for players to enjoy if they want to spend more time with its squid pop.
Splatoon 2 looks great both in portable and docked. Though I did notice some framerate issues when docked and playing on my television, but it was nothing too painful. <em>(Note: I did play Splatoon 2 primarily handheld, which I actually recommend.)</em>
Splatoon 2 doesn't add much to shake up the splat-paint-everywhere formula, but I wonder if it needs to at this point. Splatoon 2 is a much stronger game at launch than its original ever was through its whole lifespan, and for that, is easily one of the best games one can own on the Switch.