Spla­toon 2

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EDGE - - GAMES - De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Nin­tendo (EPD) For­mat Switch Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Sum­mer

Spla­toon was the big­gest tri­umph of a trou­bled era – or, per­haps, the right game on the wrong con­sole. By em­brac­ing Wii U’s ec­cen­tric­i­ties it found an au­di­ence, par­tic­u­larly in Ja­pan, where it en­joyed an at­tach rate of 45 per cent. Nev­er­the­less, the com­mer­cial strug­gles of its host hard­ware pre­vented a bril­liant game from be­com­ing an even big­ger hit. A se­quel on Switch, in the­ory, of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect that is­sue, but brings with it ad­di­tional pres­sures. This is, by Nin­tendo stan­dards, a quick-fire fol­low-up, only two years on from the orig­i­nal. And this time, the sur­prise fac­tor is gone. How, then, does a se­ries that en­cour­aged us to ‘stay fresh’ con­tinue to do just that?

That bur­den falls on the shoul­ders of pro­ducer Hisashi Nogami, who ad­mits he couldn’t have fore­seen the orig­i­nal’s re­mark­able suc­cess. Its per­for­mance in Ja­pan was par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing, since mul­ti­player shoot­ers aren’t nearly as pop­u­lar as in the west. But this was a game de­fined more by its dif­fer­ences to its peers than its sim­i­lar­i­ties. That’s be­cause, Nogami tells us, his team didn’t ac­tu­ally set out to make a shooter. “We felt that one of the big­gest rea­sons so many peo­ple played Spla­toon was be­cause even at a glance it looked like a lot of fun,” he tells us. “Even just watch­ing over some­one’s shoul­der, look­ing at the screen while they play, you can tell what’s go­ing on and know what you need to do. It makes you want to reach out your hand and tell them to give you a turn.”

Word of mouth kept Spla­toon in the Ja­panese soft­ware charts for some time, with Nogami sug­gest­ing that many play­ers were in­spired by videos posted by early adopters. “But of course, the real fun of Spla­toon comes once you start,” he says. “It makes you want to get bet­ter and to be­come a stronger player. I think that’s why so many play­ers en­joyed the game.” And its pop­u­lar­ity has spread well be­yond the tra­di­tional on­line-shooter fan­base. “We’ve heard from peo­ple say­ing they’ve never been so en­gaged in a game since their child­hood. We’ve even heard from par­ents who told us they started play­ing af­ter see­ing their child play and be­came hooked.”

Still, there’s an un­spo­ken ac­knowl­edge­ment that Spla­toon 2 is an op­por­tu­nity to reach a wider au­di­ence, and Switch’s strong start sug­gests it’s likely to suc­ceed. But Nin­tendo’s con­scious de­ci­sion not to re­veal too much of the game so far has raised ques­tions over whether it jus­ti­fies its sta­tus as a se­quel, rather than an en­hanced ver­sion of the orig­i­nal, sim­i­lar to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The pub­lisher’s ret­i­cence, Nogami ex­plains, is sim­ple: his team is in the mid­dle of de­vel­op­ment, and the re­lease date is a lit­tle

way off yet. “We also don’t want to go ham­fist­edly giv­ing out new in­for­ma­tion only to cause con­fu­sion,” he adds. “In­stead we’d like to in­tro­duce things one by one, once we’re in a po­si­tion to be able to prop­erly con­vey them.”

In­deed, for Nogami, see­ing the game steadily grow in the weeks and months af­ter launch was a key fac­tor in Spla­toon’s longterm ap­peal. “In this new game, play­ers will again be able to en­joy see­ing the game grow and ex­pand over time, while hav­ing fun with the new weapons and spe­cial weapons as well as the new modes and play styles,” he says, in­sist­ing, “There’s plenty of value even for peo­ple who had the last game.”

Some old maps will be re­turn­ing with new fea­tures, in­clud­ing sniper haven Mo­ray Tow­ers, but there are at least four new ones, of which two were show­cased dur­ing March’s Global Test­fire. It was a typ­i­cally Nin­tendo kind of on­line beta, spread across six hour- long slots but the re­sults were very promis­ing. Both Mus­selforge Fit­ness and The Reef are com­pact maps, lack­ing ob­vi­ous gim­micks, but that only makes them ideal as in­tro­duc­tory stages. A third stage is set at a gig venue, while an­other takes place on a BMX track: th­ese more un­ortho­dox maps are the other side of the coin.

Nogami prom­ises play­ers “a lot of di­verse weapons”, but just one main one’s been shown so far. The Splat Dualies are light­weight twin pis­tols that give your Inkling some ex­tra ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity, cour­tesy of a dodge, which lets you leap for­ward to close the dis­tance to an op­po­nent, or to sidestep in­com­ing ink. Its sub-weapon is an ex­plo­sive curl­ing stone that bounces off walls, let­ting you duck be­hind cover and an­gle shots around the cor­ner to det­o­nate or flush out en­trenched op­po­nents. Fill your spe­cial me­ter, mean­while, and you can ac­ti­vate a jet­pack that lets you hover above the arena, fir­ing globs of ink from range.

There are sub­tle dif­fer­ences to fa­mil­iar weapons, too. Charger weapons now let you hold that burst of pent-up ink while sub­merged, let­ting you pop up and quickly re­lease a pow­er­ful shot. Rollers now flick ver­ti­cally mid-jump, the ink spread nar­rower but over greater dis­tance. Its spe­cial is an area-of-ef­fect at­tack with a wide ra­dius, but your Inkling is briefly vul­ner­a­ble in the se­cond be­fore they splash down. The Splat­ter­shot re­mains a fine all-rounder; this time, it’s bol­stered by a pair of mis­sile launch­ers, which auto-tar­get any­one caught within their large ret­i­cle, though pro­jec­tiles are eas­ily avoided if you watch their shad­ows on ap­proach.

An­other, more sig­nif­i­cant change is less of a prob­lem than you might think. Press­ing X to bring up the map only causes a few is­sues at first, be­cause our mus­cle mem­ory from the orig­i­nal (and more re­cently

Zelda) means we keep con­fus­ing it with the jump but­ton. Af­ter a brief ad­just­ment pe­riod, we no longer miss glanc­ing down at the GamePad dis­play for a top-down over­view, since D-pad short­cuts let you quickly leap to your al­lies’ aid or re­treat to the spawn point.

With no dis­con­nec­tions dur­ing any of our ses­sions, and al­most no no­tice­able lag, the Test­fire sug­gests Nin­tendo might have – fin­gers crossed – solved the orig­i­nal’s net­code is­sues. Though with just two maps, one brand-new main weapon and a sin­gle game type, we’re left with as many ques­tions as an­swers. Hap­pily, Nogami is able to an­swer some of them, in­clud­ing the rea­son be­hind the team’s de­ci­sion to limit the map ro­ta­tion to two at a time. “We feel that part of the game­play is ac­tu­ally se­lect­ing which weapons would be best for that com­bi­na­tion of two maps,” he ex­plains. “In Spla­toon 2, the maps ro­tate ev­ery two hours, so it’ll be a much faster cy­cle than the pre­vi­ous game.”

Af­ter teas­ing the new wave-based co-op mode Salmon Run (see ‘Leap skills’) and a sin­gle­player cam­paign called Hero Mode, Nogami cheer­fully re­it­er­ates his ear­lier mes­sage: “Once we’re in a po­si­tion to give more in­for­ma­tion about it, we’ll be sure to let you know!” The slow drip of de­tails might be frus­trat­ing, but Nogami and his team have earned the ben­e­fit of the doubt so far. And, we con­cede, it’s one way to pre­serve that cru­cial el­e­ment of sur­prise.

“Play­ers will again be able to en­joy see­ing the game grow and ex­pand over time”

Spla­toon2 pro­ducer Hisashi Nogami also di­rected the first three An­i­mal Cross­ing games

New game, new hub. The orig­i­nal Plaza is re­placed by Inkopo­lis Square as the In­klings’ hang­out. One new ad­di­tion is an as­sis­tant for back-al­ley trader Spyke, who will re­move abil­i­ties from your gear for a fee

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