Splatoon 2 Switch
From ‘stay fresh’ to refresh in two years, then.
Splatoon 2 is an unusually expeditious Nintendo sequel, but then it didn’t have much choice: the first game’s phenomenal success in Japan, despite being hamstrung by the poor sales of the platform, meant a swift follow-up wasn’t so much a likelihood as a castiron certainty. It’s no surprise, therefore, to discover that in real terms, not an awful lot has changed; the whiff of familiarity will be even stronger among those who tuned in for the climactic Splatfest a year ago. But that, you sense, is rather the point. There’s nothing here to upset established splatters, yet it retains the inclusiveness that first attracted so many players to a genre to which they’d never previously warmed. In other words, it’s the kind of incremental sequel that could give incremental sequels a good name.
And, in all fairness, it does obey Miyamoto’s rule – you know, the one that’s seen F-Zero lie dormant since the GameCube era – that any sequel needs a unique hook. Salmon Run is a new wave-based cooperative battle mode, where a shady back-alley business recruits teams of up to four freelancers to accept a high-risk posting collecting golden eggs from spawning Salmonids. It’s a horde variant, after a fashion, set on a small island surrounded by murky seas and foreboding, deep orange skies – a world away from the permanently sunny Inkopolis. The snaggle-toothed, pan-wielding grunts come thick and fast, but are easily dealt with. A range of bosses, from a fish riding a giant mechanical eel to a behemoth who squeezes out fat ink bombs from his head, present a far greater threat. Avoiding them isn’t good enough, since they yield the eggs you need to complete your job. Hit your quota for three increasingly difficult waves and you’re shipped back home; exceed it, and you’ll progress through pay grades rather quicker, unlocking exclusive gear to use in the other modes and meal tickets you can spend in the hub.
Hang about: three waves? Yes, that might seem slight, but anyone who’s played Splatoon will know an awful lot can happen in five minutes. If anything, it’s even more chaotic than the Ranked modes: the top end of the Part-Timer pay bracket (135 per cent) might see you battling five bosses at once; if you last more than 30 seconds at 200 per cent, you’re doing extremely well. At low tide, you’ll be dragged towards the shores, where you’ve less time to react to threats, and are at greater risk of having your prize snatched back and dragged beneath the surface. When the waters rise and the fog rolls in, you’ll be huddled together on a cramped platform, trying desperately to remember to leap the mesh bridge you fell through in the last round to escape that hail of missiles. And that’s before night falls. If the thrills of a good Horde mode are sometimes diluted by length, this compact, concentrated version proves the value of brevity. It’s exhausting, stressful and quite brilliant.
You can host or join a local game at any time, but as with all other multiplayer game types outside the standard Turf War mode, Salmon Run is only available to play at set times – though its schedule is very different from the competitive options. Ranked matches still only give you access to two stages and a single mode, though the selection is now switched out every two hours instead of four. The new League Battle mode – available for set teams who’ve collectively reached the heady heights of B-rank – offers two more, so the best players have six stages available at any given time. There are no such restrictions on Private battles, and in theory, Switch’s success should open those up to a much wider audience; likewise, a new smartphone app will allow you to play and voice chat with friends.
The structure is a little different, then, but the underlying foundations of these boisterous skirmishes are left mostly untouched. There are, however, a range of small interface refinements – tweaks now allow you to see the main weapon every player is carrying at a glance, and when they’re ready to unleash their special; when you’re splatted, you’ll get a glimpse at their gear perks, so you can see why you didn’t spot their approach, or how their bog-standard Splattershot has such stopping power. And, someday, we may even get used to the fact that X no longer makes you jump. At least we got a good look at our teammates’ positions during that attempted leap from the top of Moray Towers.
There’s plenty more where those came from. Splat Zones now let you keep tabs on the objective without having to bring up the map, so you have a better idea of when to rush in and when to hang back and wait for support. Tower Control now forces you to wait at checkpoints for the slowest eight seconds of your life – at least until you arrive at the third and final one closest to the enemy base. The titular weapon in the gridironlike Rainmaker takes greater skill to wield effectively here; it doesn’t take as long to charge, but nor is its explosive burst as powerful as before. There are adjustments to the scoring system, too, with substantial XP bonuses for successive triumphs, in recognition of your current form, or ‘freshness’. And post-match stats no longer reveal just how often you’ve been splatted, replacing that tally with the number of specials you used. It’s a tiny but potentially vital difference, certain to prove more encouraging to those who may have felt sufficiently shamed by their K/D ratio to quit.
Lag is an occasional, rather than a frequent annoyance, and it’s been disguised more cleverly – or differently, at any rate. You’ll notice it when an opponent shrugs off several hits as if they were wearing steel armour. Granted, sometimes they pretty much are; one special gives your whole team temporary protection from a single, normally-fatal hit. But it’s galling
It’s the kind of incremental sequel that could give incremental sequels a good name