By Izzy Harper
Ever since the first game in the series released in the late spring of 2015, Splatoon has met great success as one of Nintendo’s newest intellectual properties. By the end of 2016, it sold over 1.5 million copies and received numerous awards, including Game of the Year in the Japan Game Awards of 2016.
Though it became very familiar with those in other countries, it didn’t seem to live up to the recognition that Super Mario or The Legend of Zelda had as franchises. But when the sequel released in July of 2017, it essentially blew the original out of the water with new content, modes, and customization.
The Splatoon series has had its fair share of comparison to shooter games in the mainstream that have realistic, gritty, and gory visuals. And though this aesthetic isn’t necessarily low-quality, the genre has been re-hashed over and over so much so that it’s hard to tell franchises apart. Splatoon gave a more family-friendly, brightly colored, and good-vibes approach to the genre, and, surprisingly, it executes this phenomenally.
The first game has themes of punk rock, with noticeably less saturated colors than the sequel, and a lot of thrashing guitars in the majority of its soundtrack. Splatoon 2 has a looser, experimental theme, with more neon color schemes, jazzier music, (with many other genres touched on in its own way!) and culture shockingly in touch with today. You won’t find that kind of characterization from many corporations (why would you want to stick an anime girl on your weapons?)
The main, unchanged mechanics of the game are simple. Instead of just traveling forward, the ink that you shoot, fling, or throw from your weapon is bound to land on the ground or on a wall. Your player character, the inkling or octoling you control, can shift from humanoid form to its respective cephalopod form, to swim and maneuver more quickly than on foot. It even allows you to scale walls!
These mechanics are recontextualized in many modes, but strategies are better learned from experience than being told. The game has a nice, smooth learning curve when it comes to accumulating in skill.
Splatoon 2’s music is nothing to scoff about, either. Nearly all of the tracks in the game are performed by fictional, in-universe bands and artists with distinctive styles that match whatever part of the game that fits. Its “main” band, Wet Floor (which seems to replace the last game’s Squid Squad), makes songs with the same rock appeal of the prequel but with an added funky and head-bobbing (rather than head-banging) flair. Other bands like the Bottom Feeders bring Celtic Rock into the game’s multiplayer music pool, and Ink Theory brings Punk Jazz as well. But most uniquely, the mysterious group Turquoise October scores the game’s single-player campaign, in a way that captures Splatoon’s weird environment and aesthetic perfectly.
The aforementioned campaign, while fun and visually pleasing, lacks difficulty, and doesn’t pack much in story besides its beginning and end with a lack of clear rising action. This may be because of the fact that you can play the levels of each world in any order, before their bosses.
This flaw is, however, handled in the game’s Octo Expansion, offering a new set of innovatively designed levels, fully animated cutscenes and the convenience of simply having to beat every level to achieve completion, and not with every single available weapon. Of course this comes at the extra price, but the content is very worth it.
New to Splatoon 2 is its wave-based survival co-op mode, Salmon Run, where you fight hordes of salmon infantry, collecting their Power Eggs for a company called Grizzco, which claims to use them as an alternative power source for Inkopolis. This may be the most fun, non-competitive experience you can get out of the game, with the Salmonid forces becoming greater in numbers, boss enemies following suit, egg requirements becoming more demanding, and your general pay grade increasing as you play and win. Some players even prefer this to the game’s multiplayer versus modes.
Regarding the multiplayer experience, it can vary from chaotic fun, to unbearable difficulty. Splatoon 2’s variety and creativity of weaponry is unmatched, and it’s very exciting to see the different arms of both your teammates and opponents, from a fishing rod-shaped sniper, to a crushing paint roller that collapses into a swiss army knife, a bathtub that lobs bouncing bubbles, a soda can grenade that you cook by shaking, a literal sprinkler that sprays ink to claim territory, a toy launcher that attaches to your back to constantly throw them, and an ink propelled jetpack that launches high power blasts! Gameplay with all of these is frenetic and requires much quick thinking, especially in higher-ranked environments.
But the main issue with the multiplayer is Nintendo’s lack of dedicated servers, which makes games prone to lag. And since this is a game targeted at children, it’s unlikely that kids will ask their parents for an ethernet attachment to their Switch, if they even recognize that it’s worth the money (it is!).
Regardless, Splatoon 2 delivers a great experience, both casually and competitively. It’s not for everyone, specifically those used to traditional shooters without motion controls, but every theme, every splash of color surrounding it is a banquet for the eyes and ears. This goes with hope that games in the future will draw less attention from being hardcore and hyper-realistic, and more attention to its original purpose— to be fun.