It's probably my tenth time trying this Flappy Bird-esque level in Splatoon 2's new Octo Expansion. It's the third checkpoint for this entire level, and I'm standing upon a slowly moving car. I shoot at a fan to propel it upward, dipping in between spilling pillars of death ink. Along the way, enemies pop up to buzz around, trying to splat me at every turn. I've realized I made an error entering this level: my chosen gun (the Blaster) was horrible for this particular portion. Eventually I gave up, re-entered with a different weapon, and passed the section with flying colors.
I don't know who hurt the team behind Splatoon 2 that they felt the need to cook up the most diabolical levels known to Inkopolis, but someone definitely did. For a good chunk of this week, I've been playing through Splatoon 2's new Octo Expansion. I already "beat" it technically, unlocking Octolings in multiplayer and all that. But I'm stubborn, and I've told myself that I will complete all 80 of its levels, which aren't required for campaign completion.
In summation, Splatoon 2's Octo Expansion has been kicking my ass. It's an interesting expansion, because it's the first paid DLC for the series. It brings Octolings and the characters from the first Splatoon to the forefront. You play as an Octoling, rather than an Inkling, for the first time in the series. This Octoling isn't evil like the rest though, they have amnesia and start to work with Cap'n Cuttlefish to find Agent 3 from the first Splatoon, and emerge from the eerie subway system back to Inkopolis.
It's surprisingly lore-heavy for DLC, explored through strange haikus, plot points in the campaign, and the characters you meet along the way. For instance, for each new subway line unlocked, new deep sea critters appear on the train. As an Octoling, you're submerged in the deep sea too, obviously, far below Inkopolis. The levels you ink across have all sorts of familiar things from humanity's past, like giant floating bubble gum tape. The levels are also hard as hell, something that feels new to the series if you're not all the way in Ranked Mode's S-tier.
Both Splatoon games' single-player campaigns are fun, but are relatively on the easy side. The Octo Expansion changes that. The majority of the levels are challenging, sometimes so much so that it borders on tedium. Every mission has a quirk, like a set of levels where you have limited ink to make your way through it, or one where you don't have a weapon at all and just have to dodge whatever comes your way until time runs out. Luckily Octo Expansion is constructed in a way that allows for freedom in your approach. If you get stuck on a level you can head back to the subway train, pull up your map, and dive into another level. The more you progress on the tracks, the more subway lines you unlock, and the more levels are available to you. (And the more exclusive gear you unlock, like some cool Octoling shades.)
It's the actual difficulty in Octo Expansion that's caught me off guard, even after playing a demo of it weeks ago. I naively assumed that those levels were just plucked from harder points in Octo Expansion's campaign, not knowing that, well, it's basically all that. I imagine it will be a bit alienating for some players, even though it does have a Grand Theft Auto-like skip function if you lose a couple of times. (In this, Marina "hacks" into the mission to give you a pass; it allows you to unlock whatever level comes after it in the subway line, but you miss out on the lore haiku "Mem cake" reward).
They're not all brutally punishing though. Some levels are easier, like shooting out crates to replicate a statue nearby, or grinding along rails and popping balloons along the way—and there's a lot of grinding in Octo Expansion, the most fun mechanic in Splatoon 2's single-player offerings if I'm going to be honest.
Splatoon 2's Octo Expansion, though it does have flaws in some levels being a touch too tedious to be enjoyable, spotlights the underrated side of Splatoon. It shows that Splatoon can be a clever puzzle-platformer, and it can swing some challenge too. Still, it is a little defeating to waste away in-game currency for retries. And that's one of the DLC's biggest faults: that levels require an entrance fee to try and retry levels; if you fumble a lot, that currency drops quick.
Plus, it's the most story-driven outing for the series yet, if learning more about the Octoling and Inkling ongoing feud is your jam. As for the expansion itself, I imagine it'll keep kicking my ass for a long time.