The first Splatoon game was one that caught my eye the moment it was revealed but as the release date drew closer I started to have doubts. They doubts were strong enough for me to pass on the game in the end. I decided to make amends for that this time round and give the game a chance but those same doubts started to creep in again. After playing the Splatfest demo I even tried to cancel my pre-order. Thankfully I was unable to cancel as Splatoon 2 has surprised me. And then it surprised me again.
Splatoon sees you in control of a kid who can transform into a squid. Or is it a squid that can transform into a kid? I guess it doesn’t matter. As a 3rd person shooter it goes down Nintendo’s family friendly path so there are no proper guns and ammo here – this is paint ball. Well it is squid ink instead of paint but it looks like paint and I’m going to call it paint. In fact, you might see that I consider this to be some kind of modern painting game.
You are thrown into the hub world, Inkopolis Square. Here you will find other player characters hanging around, shops to buy weapons and clothing and the access points to the single player game and multiplayer modes. A lot of options available from the start which might leave a newcomer a little unsure where to go first but it is quickly narrowed down when you discover you do not have any money to buy weapons or clothing and you can’t play any ranked matches yet.
The single player mode was my starting point. Splatoon might be considered as primarily a multiplayer game but the Splatfest demo was enough to put me off the multiplayer modes. I don’t tend to be much of an online gamer in the first place so the single player mode was the focus of my interest, especially since it has been expanded from the first game by all accounts.
As a newcomer, the single player mode is a perfect spot to learn, practice and master the game – I’ve never been a squid before. There is a story to go along with proceedings so this is a little more than just a practice area. The story isn’t deep by any means but Callie, who apparently was a pop star in the first game, has gone missing and it is up to you to track her down. Along the way the weapon shop vender will give you weapons to try out for his research purposes.
The first challenge for the single player mode is to actually get to the levels themselves. There are 5 different worlds each with its own hub. Within the hub you have to actually find and unlock the level starting point. And finding the level entrance isn’t the end of the challenge as some of them will be a test to actually get to. It does add a unique twist to proceedings but can become frustrating when you struggle to reach a level entrance. You will quickly learn that if it is proving impossible then it is your approach that is wrong. Cue the groans when you find the correct path and see how simple it actually is to get there.
To access the level entrances you’ll need to use your squid abilities a lot. As mentioned earlier, it is ink that is fired from the weapons and this ink allows you to essentially paint the environment. As a squid you can swim through this layer of paint. If you paint up a wall then you can swim up to the top. In human form you cannot pass through a fence but in the form of a squid you can swim through. Somehow. You can move around a lot quicker when swimming which leads to bigger jumps. And all of this means you need to coat the place in paint which is a whole world of messy fun in itself.
The aim of each level is to get from A to B, wipe out enemies in your way, make a whole lot of mess and rescue a creature (zapfish?) at the end. It isn’t instantly obvious how this relates to the overall goal but who cares when you can make this much mess and not have to worry about cleaning it up. The levels do a good job of introducing new elements and expanding upon what you have learned before and in order to complete the world you will need to put everything together and battle the boss. And what an interesting selection of bosses. The level of mess gets escalated when they arrive on the scene. Despite there being lots of interesting elements and features, the end result is leaves me a little disappointed. It hasn’t really caught my attention as much as I expected. Surprise number 1.
There is replay value in the single player levels. Firstly there are 2 collectibles to track down in each level and secondly you can approach each level with each of the weapons at your disposal. The game records which weapons you have completed each level with and I’m hoping for a huge reward at the end when I complete all levels with all available weapons.
Since the single player mode hasn’t blown my socks off I decided to try the multiplayer again. I went in full of apathy and came out… well no, I’ve not come out yet. I can’t get enough of it. Surprise number 2. I admit, it took me a while but it has well and truly won me over.
First up for the online player we have Turf War. This is 4 versus 4 in relatively small maps where the aim is to cover more of the environment in paint than the other team. Whether you kill/splat opponents does not matter, you need to coat the place. And this is the crucial point for me. In the likes of Call of Duty I get annihilated by other players and it isn’t fun. In Splatoon you can finish with more points than anyone else without having taken out another player. And I like that. I like that a lot. Some people will charge off to attack the enemy leaving people like me to simply paint.
The maps are perfectly sized so that you can get peace at times but you are never far from the action or the enemy territory. It gets messy, very messy indeed. There is literally paint flying everywhere. The colours are all vibrant it looks great when the splatting really gets going.
There are a nice variety of weapons from water pistol types to machine gun types to more traditional painting utensils like a large roller. Each weapon has a range, fire rate and damage rating so there are plenty of options to find something that suits. Each weapon also comes with its own type of grenade style weapon which you can toss about for extra coverage or to take out other players. These use a lot of ink so you’ll need to swim through the ink to replenish the tank. Swimming doubles up as a stealth approach to surprise other painters. Earn enough points and you can unleash you special power. Again, a wider variety of what you can do here and not all will suit every player.
I was surprised by how short the time frame is in each match but it actually ideal. The short time means it can be fast and frantic as you try to reclaim lost coverage as the counter decreases. At the end of the game the team with the most coverage wins and gets the most points. These points are used to level up. When you reach level 10 the ranked matches open up. In here you will find some Splatoon variants of classic multiplayer modes such as capture the flag.
The other multiplayer mode is Salmon Run which is a co-op mode where you need to work together the defeat enemies and collect enough eggs to pass the wave. This does require a team effort as it is easy to get overwhelmed, especially when the bosses appear. There is no automatic respawn when you die and you’ll need your team mates to ensure you can continue. Some players are yet to realise that though. The difficulty increases as you level up in this mode and it can be surprisingly challenging at times despite there only being a few waves to complete. The weapon you use changes at the end of each wave and is randomly assigned which means you can be left with a weapon you are not so comfortable with.
Playing the multiplayer modes will earn you in-game currency which you can spend in shops. You can change your footwear, top and hat and each option has its own benefits and abilities to unlock. Some will let you move through enemy ink quicker and others will ensure your ink tank refills quicker. The weapon shop lets you try before you buy which is useful as there are a lot of weapons and they can be costly. More weapons or improved variants unlock as you level up.
I’ve had a lot of fun with the game, particularly the multiplayer modes but there are a few frustrations and some peculiar design decisions. At any point there are only 2 maps in rotation. These do vary between the ranked and unranked modes but it does mean you can play the same stage several times in a row. This also means the levels available are introduced as you start the game. This has a little TV show type approach between 2 characters which was novel the first time but cannot be skipped which means you need to sit through it each and every times. It is an unnecessary delay to starting the game. Salmon Run is only available during specific times and like the 2 map rotation, I’m failing to see the logic here. These complaints are not enough to spoil the game but the do seem needless.
I believe it might seem a little familiar to those that played the first Splatoon but that is something that can be thrown at many games these days. I’m certainly enjoying this a lot more than expected even if the single player mode hasn’t caught my attention. On the downside it does appear to have brought out some OCD in me. I like a nice finish to my paint work so I’ll be filling in little patches as moaning about those that are a little more carefree with their application. If only Nintendo would release some masking tape DLC, that would be perfect.
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