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