You have to hand it to Nintendo — they really know how to translate an idea that sounds absolutely insane on paper into a workable game. Unfortunately, that is all Splatoon 2 is. The game is simple to understand and easy enough to jump into, but never quite lives up to expectations.
Old Squid, New Tricks
Splatoon 2 puts the player in control of an Inkling, a squid and kid hybrid that participates in next level paintball gun battles. The game plays almost exactly like its predecessor, with gamers trying to splatter their opponents with a variety of guns, brushes, and bombs full of brightly colored paint. Inklings can transform into their squid form to hide in the paint that gets splattered around the arena to both move more quickly and refill their weapons. There are plenty of new weapons and gadgets this time around, including some awesome dual pistols, and abilities like dodge rolls and jetpacks.
Turf War returns in Regular Battles, where two teams of four face off in a three-minute match to see which side can paint more of the arena in their team’s color. It is pretty a pretty fun game type to start with, but after awhile it becomes a little too easy. There are just not enough arenas to create unique styles of play, and it becomes apparent very quickly which strategies can ensure victory after a bit of practice.
Earn Your Ink
Splatoon 2 does feature a Ranked Battles playlist with multiple game types and many more arenas. However, it is disappointing that players need to wait before they can jump into it. The game expects players to spend a good amount of time in Turf War (you need to be level 10), collecting enough currency and leveling up enough times to afford the stronger weapons. I did not need that time though, and I am not sure anyone does.
Once players do reach level 10 and start inking things up in the Ranked Battles playlist, they will encounter four modes: Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Salmon Run. Splat Zones is your standard “capture the point” game mode. Rain Maker has two teams of Inklings fighting over the Rainmaker weapon (a slow but powerful canon). Tower Control has each team splashing the top of a tower with paint to move it further into enemy territory. Salmon Run is horde mode.
Salmon Run is my favorite by far. It is hectic and stressful, but pulling a split second victory from the jaws of defeat is exhilarating. However, for whatever reason, the game type is only offered during certain times. If you miss out on it for the day, then you miss out on it for the day. Does not make any sense, and, unfortunately, that is not the only thing about Splatoon 2 that makes no sense.
An Ink of a Mess
Splatoon 2 has no split-screen. I cannot play the game on my couch with my friends unless they also have a Nintendo Switch and a copy of Splatoon 2 and we connect our devices. The game makes that easy to do, but with other split-screen experiences like Minecraft and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Switch, I wonder why Splatoon 2 could not also make that happen.
Splatoon 2 also does not make it easy to communicate with other players online. Part of this is the hardware. Nintendo’s decision to use a phone app for live vocal communication is just terrible, so a lot of players need to adapt and play the game online without any way of communicating. That being said, the game should have still done a better job at making up for the hardware’s failings. Although there are several quick chat orders (like “Follow me”) that you can give to your teammates, the game only goes half the mile. It is difficult to see these quick chat orders amidst all the flying paint, and the orders are so generic, they are practically worthless.
This is especially apparent in both Rainmaker and Salmon Run, two modes that will give victory to the team that communicates better. So it is a little irksome that Splatoon 2 apparently just does not want to provide its player base with any way of actually communicating. Something as simple as Rocket League’s feature would do wonders. Allow players to browse fifty or so specific commands and then have the opportunity to both assign up to sixteen different ones to their character and determine which will be announced publicly for both teams to see and which will be private for only your teammates. Then have that command appear in blocky white text at a predetermined blank spot on the screen (a corner or below the Inkling where not much happens) with the speaker’s name highlighted.
It is such a simple solution, I cannot fathom why Splatoon 2 does not implement it. I can only surmise that the poor quick chat system currently in place is supposed to drive people towards the phone app.
Another problem the game faces is the inability to switch amongst predetermined loadouts, or even just change weapons, between matches. Once the player has selected a playlist, they are locked in and cannot edit their character or the weapon. They need to exit out first, make their changes, and then go back to multi-player. It does not help that once a playlist has been chosen, the player cannot leave until the match is over. God forbid you accidentally click on a multi-player playlist before you are ready, or you want to exit out because the game is taking too long to find enough players to put into your lobby.
Splatoon 2, at its core, is a fun third person shooter. It took an innovative idea and just made it better. There are just so many aspects of the game the hold it back. Preventing players from jumping into the meat of the game until the game thinks they are ready is unnecessary. The lack of split-screen is saddening. No easy way of communicating with teammates is frustrating. No way of seamlessly changing the Inkling’s weapons between matches means I am constantly exiting out of playlists, and that gives me time to think about whether or not I should keep playing at all.
Thankfully, engaging multi-player gameplay and a decent offline story mode keeps me coming back. I just wish I did not leave most of my game sessions feeling frustrated at the developers’ apparent inability to put modern day third-person shooter mechanics into an otherwise brilliant experience.