With Switch, Nintendo has come off the blocks sprinting. The console’s momentum hasn’t slowed since it launched back in March.
Breath of the Wild is a serious Game of the Year – hell, Game of the Generation – contender. Arms is one of the most unique and refreshing original IPs in years, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is the best version of an infamous franchise.
Now we have Splatoon 2, which, for my money, is the best online experience Nintendo has ever produced. It’s well polished, feature-rich, and promises a generous abundance of free content updates for the year to come.
The game is striking, vibrant, easy to pick up and fall in love with, and unlike most of its competitors, packed full of charm.
We already talked a bit about the game’s Hero mode which is the game’s secret weapon, but how does it stack up as part of the main package? The answer is really well. It’s not as epic in scope as Link’s latest, nor is it going to tear you away from the multiplayer action for too long, but there’s a sizeable amount of content to digest here.
It’s also pretty challenging as the waves of enemies get stronger and the boss battles decidedly more ferocious. With the range of enemies changing and the amount of collectables on offer, the single-player does a good job of offering up replayability, but also choice. There’s no set order in which you approach each level, and you’ll actually need to find some of the stages by colouring them in with ink.
With around 6-8 hours worth of content and the ability to access all new weapons for use in battle, Splatoon 2 is already providing diverse and exciting ways to play, but that’s before diving into the game’s epic multiplayer experience. It’s standard turf-warfare with teams of 4 vs 4, and in typical deathmatch setting you can eliminate each other to slow progress. The overall aim, though, is to paint as much of the environment with your team’s colour as possible. Then at the end of the match, the turf is analysed and the winner determined by the highest percentage of space graffitied.
But there’s also the epic Salmon Run which is essentially the game’s version of Horde mode. It’s not as packed and polished as Gears 4 – and you can only play it online at certain times which is a bit mind-boggling – but with your team of 4 you take on waves of Salmnoids and work your way up to the game’s mini-bosses. Once defeated, you then collect a golden egg which is given to Mr Grizz at the conclusion of each battle.
Once he has those eggs, you can earn higher pay grades. As you might expect, though, the higher you go, the more difficult the challenge becomes. For instance, you’ll have to contend against environmental effects like weather changes as well as a slew of enemies. There’s also things like speed increases and higher attack damage to really mix things up.
You’ve probably heard all about Inkopolis Square. It definitely bares some similarities to Miiverse, in that other people wander around with written or drawn statuses above their heads. You can check out their profiles, their gear, what they have equipped, and even specify them as ‘Fresh’ with the tap of a Y button.
From the Square, you can also visit weapon, clothes, shoes, and headgear shops to really kit out your Inkling. Headgear can offer you some statistical boosts, like baseball caps with faster swim speeds or face masks which reduce the amount of ink you’re using.
Likewise, the different types of weapons can be equipped and used going into battle once unlocked from the Hero mode. These can be equipped using the + button and really help you mix things up when the action is hot and heavy. Maps are on rotation every 2 hours as well, meaning you can only play certain ones at certain times. These are shown off by the Squid Sisters each time you boot up the game. A move which certainly keeps things fresh, but could definitely prove to be an annoyance if you have a particular favourite.
From the Lobby, you can immediately leap into Regular Turf War Battles, as well as join up with friends, set up Private Battles and even open up an Online Lounge where you can invite buddies through the Smartphone App (which I’ll talk more about later).
By reaching level 10, you can then start accessing the Ranked Battles, and once you get a B- rank, the League Battles. There’s plenty to keep you busy online with Splatoon 2, and it’s definitely the reason to own the game. Matches are generally very stable, they’re fast-paced, fun, and often close-run things. Turf War especially feels like a mode anyone could get good at in time.
The game even supports local play, meaning you don’t even need to get your fixes online if you’re out and about on the go. Speaking of, the fluidity of handheld play is just as impressive as when the game is docked. Splatoon 2 is a beautiful game and easily the most compelling, online handheld experience I’ve ever come across. Being able to splat things on the big screen one minute, then in my hands the next is absolutely incredible.
And the game really works well with the weapon choices combined with the map structure. No one weapon is going to dominate or be overpowered for every map, due to the uphill conditions, or the bitty platforms. Each multiplayer match requires several passages of play to stay competitive.
There’s three ranked modes once you hit level 10 and start off at Rank C- . Splat Zones which require you to cover particular parts of the map with your ink in King of the Hill style play. There’s Tower Control which sees you ride a tower into the enemies hotzone and Rainmaker where you carry a special weapon into the base and use it to great effect.
If you get through all that, you can then enter 2 hour League Mode sessions, which sound pretty epic. Unfortunately, we haven’t got to test these yet, but we’ll be sure to update the review once we do.
Performance wise, the game is also an absolute delight. It runs at around 720p in Handheld mode, but consistently manages to achieve 60FPS whether in Handheld or Docked. Honestly, I didn’t notice any frame rate issues or juddering online or in single player. Splatoon is seamless.
There are some issues, however. Like the much lauded voice chat functionality. I’m not going to lie, it’s just not up to scratch. And it exposes a limitation with the Switch which really needs to be ironed out for the next hardware version. Using a phone to chat to people while playing just doesn’t work in 2017 and is hugely unnecessary. If your phone locks itself, you disconnect from the chat. If you click away from the Switch app, you lose the chat. You cannot use your phone for anything else if you want to chat on Splatoon. It’s stupid. You’re probably better off setting up your own Skype or Discord group and chatting there.
Which is a shame because the rest of the Splatoon functionality in the app is brilliant. For instance, it tells you your favourite weapon, the amount of turf you’ve inked, your preferred stage, as well as your win rate. Splatnet 2 is a great way to keep track of everything you’ve done and are doing, as well as buying things for your inklings that can be picked up in the Square when you next log in. If this is the future for most Switch games beyond Splatoon 2, I am really excited to see what the likes of Mario Odyssey will track, as well Xenoblade 2.
There are also some other minor technical issues with the game, most related to the online component. For instance, if you jump to the home menu when searching for a match you’ll be immediately kicked from the Lobby. Considering you sometimes have to wait a few minutes for a match to form, this is a tad frustrating. There’s also some random bugs which kick you out of the lobby entirely, forcing you back to the Square. Also, the inability to not be able to change weapons between matches without jumping back to the lobby does become pretty tedious pretty fast.
Then there’s the inability to change weapons between matches without jumping back to the lobby which does become pretty tedious pretty fast.
But on the whole, Splatoon 2 shows that Switch is as effective as a multiplayer system as it is a personal, single-player delight. There are still some hiccups which are easy to iron out, but it is – without question – the best online multiplayer experience Nintendo have ever done. This is a company that have learned from some of their past mistakes, and created a game that will entertain and delight, time and again.
+ Stunning performance and visuals
+ Addictive and expansive online element
+ Varied and complete package with lots of customisation
+ SplatNet tracking is insightful and superb
– Voice chat is a dud
– Time restrictions on Salmon Run are confusing and unnecessary
– Minor UI issues that lead to some frustration
9 out of 10
Tested on Nintendo Switch