SPLAT’S THE ONE
when the first spot of ink from the fast-firing, but comparatively feeble, Splat Dualies hits you and you instantly perish. Still, after more than 50 hours of play we’ve not encountered any teleporting Inklings, nor have we seemingly survived any close-range splat-offs only to suddenly explode three seconds later.
There’s a stronger consistency to the map design, with fewer obvious gimmicks, notwithstanding a platform that moves between vertical and horizontal positions on Sturgeon Shipyard. Whether you’re playing on Starfish Mainstage (a concert venue) or The Reef (a hangout spot surrounded by fashion emporiums) you’ll have plenty of room to build up your special meter between your base and a central area around which the fiercest exchanges take place. Outside routes offer alternative angles of attack from a head-on assault on the main control zone, which makes them a little tougher to hold. On Humpback Pump Track, you can win by inking the bumps and dips of the track that runs around the edges, without having to risk a leap to the hill in the middle. The two huge slopes leading to the central platform in extreme-sports venue Musselforge Fitness are rarely painted the same colour. It’s harder for snipers to keep teams pinned down, even on the returning Moray Towers, with ink rails letting you zip between those long ramps. And a revamped Port Mackerel now lets you avoid lanes patrolled by Splatling players with ink sponges that let you leap across the forklifts and cargo containers instead.
A host of new specials also helps make last-minute swings more likely. Rain from an ink cloud doesn’t do much direct damage, but could weaken enemies enough to make them easier to finish off. A rush of curling stones – launched by a device resembling the Nintendo Like the first game, the singleplayer Hero Mode is over in a brisk few hours, but its fiveworld campaign is more diverse and accomplished, offering an assured blend of shooting and inventive traversal – not least in the hub levels, where locating the stages is part of the fun. Its story is linked to the result of the first game’s final Splatfest, and features the two Squid Sisters: Callie is missing, and Marie charges you with finding her. For the most part, this simply recasts Marie as your handler, advising you on how to deal with trickier hazards, but that all changes in a final encounter, though it struggles to live up to the original’s extended climax. Still, an outstanding credits sequence should send you off with a smile. The Inkjet seems like one of the most powerful specials at first, but it makes you a target for players on high ground. We prefer Tenta Missiles – head back to base and you can usually lock on to all four opponents Ultra Machine, a delightful deep-cut reference – will not only flush out dug-in enemies but might also swing the result on the buzzer, as they slide out in all directions before bursting. And then there’s the Splashdown, an AOE attack that’s essentially a messier version of a Titan’s Fist of Havoc in Destiny and every bit as satisfying. Activating it mid-Super Jump to slam down and kill an entire team in Splat Zones is the kind of moment that makes you wish for a replay function.
Perhaps that’s one for a future update – and if Splatoon’s generous content rollout is anything to go by, you can reasonably expect this to grow substantially. Two more maps – a galleon and a skate park – are on the immediate horizon, and we wouldn’t bet against them being available as you read this. Splatoon started with five maps and finished with 16; we have eight to begin with here, and it would be a surprise if the sequel didn’t at least match the first game’s tally.
Evaluating what might be is a fool’s errand, of course. We can only judge what’s in front of us, and in truth there’s little with which to pick serious fault – beyond, perhaps, a lack of ambition, the difficulty of teaming up with friends in Turf War (you’ll be put on opposing teams as often as not), and the inability to exit lobbies without quitting the game. Still, if the thrill of the new is gone, old pleasures remain: the exhilaration of the final-minute countdown as the music increases in tempo, or the ice-cream jingle of the Tower as it advances into enemy territory. Crucially, that infectiously exuberant spirit is undimmed. More of the same? For once, that’ll do nicely.