Somehow I managed to miss the original Splatoon. Yes, I did own a Wii U, but the critical acclaim over the original Splatoon wasn’t enough to draw me in. The concepts were good, the multiplayer looked inventive, but I never bit. With Splatoon 2 on the Nintendo Switch, I decided to splat down and become my inner squid; finding a great game with some painfully annoying quirks holding it back.
Splatoon 2’s main draw is it’s multiplayer. Mechanically speaking, Splatoon 2’s gameplay is superb. Gameplay is focused largely around ink, it is how you attack, traverse, and serves as your safe haven to heal and recharge ammo. All multiplayer modes focus around this mechanic in different ways and create interesting dynamics typically not shown in multiplayer shooters. For example in most shooters, concepts such as controlling an area are typically done through presence, that being a player is actively there to enforce your teams’ control. With Splatoon 2, ink serves this purpose in conjunction with player presence. As your ink is used in a variety of functions, it is important to be near your ink to properly attack your enemies. Without it, you might as well be a sitting duck. This results in players needing to claim areas they are headed towards with their ink, should they hope to have a fighting chance against an enemy, making battles less about killing enemies, but rather a constant back and forth of ever changing borders. It creates an interesting and enjoyable dynamic by adding a level of strategy in a type of game that rarely cares about such things.
As you play through multiplayer your character will level up, earning coins and experience in the process. These points serve as Splatoon 2’s main way of gating gear and weapons. Weapons unlock for purchase the higher level you become (a game design choice I have continuously disapproved of). The problem is, it’s counter intuitive in a multiplayer focused game. Gating items behind leveling create a scenario where the player is stuck using a weapon that isn’t perhaps best for them. When I first started playing, I was quite annoyed that dualies were not available to me. Resulting in me having to play with a weapon that I simply did not care for until I could level up enough to use the weapon I preferred. The irony that once I could use the weapon I preferred, I was able to earn experience and money far quicker, allowing me easier access to other weapons.
Multiplayer suffers from several like-minded issues as described above. There are simply too many scenarios where there is a gate in content or an inability to do something you should be able to. The worst offender of this being Salmon Rush. Salmon Rush as a game mode, is a fantastic take on horde mode in the Splatoon 2 universe. You are tasked to work as a team to fight off the ever growing hordes of Salmon looking to kill you. The enemies are varied, the bosses provide a nice challenge, and the gameplay manages to mesh perfectly with the other mechanics of Splatoon. What doesn’t mesh, are the arbitrary times. When I first booted up Splatoon, I noticed Salmon Rush was available to play. I had already known there was a time frame associated with playing, but didn’t figure it would affect my ability to play the Salmon Rush that much; I was wrong. Since owning the game, I have yet to see Salmon Rush available to me to play. It remains a game mode completely blocked off to me due to my schedule and preference to play Splatoon 2.
Luckily when there is no Salmon Rush, there is at least single player. Single player takes a slightly different turn, making the focus more towards puzzle solving. Many of the levels involving using your weapon or ink in a creative way to destroy enemies or finding some of the collectibles in each level. Surprisingly, once past the first handful of levels, Splatoon 2 achieves this quite well. Many levels have unique or fun mechanics that are not present anywhere else in the game. In one of the earlier levels, you are tasked using inflatable ink tubes that create a path of ink when you hit them. All the enemies and level design are made with this in mind, requiring you to use them to defeat your enemies and move forward in the level. This keeps Splatoon 2’s single player a nice fresh departure from multiplayer, it’s just unfortunate that none of these concepts are seen in any of the multiplayer maps.
Splatoon 2 is a game whose mechanics and gameplay provide a fun and well-refined experience. However, all the layers surrounding that gameplay are a constant barrage of design choices that are counter intuitive to the player’s enjoyment. Making a game that is enjoyable when actively being played, but a chore outside of that.