Splatoon 2 is easy to love. It’s colorful and quirky and unafraid to be different, and it’s consistently a blast to play. As far as shooters go, its unique movement mechanics stand out and make each match exciting. And while the logistics of its multiplayer aren’t perfect, Splatoon 2 is a vibrant and exuberant sequel with enough fresh additions and changes to set it apart from the original.
Like the first game, Splatoon 2 stars human-squid hybrids called Inklings. Their world is bright and filled with nautical puns both spoken and implied, and even just walking around and picking out new clothes is delightful. The shoe store is called Shella Fresh, for example, and cute fish-themed decor peppers the hub area. That extends to the gameplay, of course; your weapons shoot (or sometimes fling) ink, and you can instantly change into your squid form and swim through ink puddles to reload. Swimming also has a stealth element to it, since you’re harder to see and faster, and therefore better equipped for surprise attacks. You can also ink walls and swim up them in squid form, which adds to your verticality in matches. In the standard multiplayer mode Turf War, you’re tasked with inking more of the map than your opponents while also “splatting” them to limit their progress.
Multiplayer is undoubtedly the main draw of Splatoon 2, but both new and returning players should absolutely try the new-and-improved single player mode before jumping into any matches. Unlike in the first game, where you could only use the standard Splattershot gun in the campaign, Splatoon 2’s serves as a fantastic introduction to all the basic weapon types you’ll have access to–and it’s much more robust, with collectibles that require a sharp eye to find and creative platforming challenges that really showcase how unique Splatoon 2’s movement is for the shooter genre. And while it starts out a bit basic, each level builds on the last and requires clever application of your knowledge to complete. Grinding on rails while shooting targets, then switching to your squid form and successfully landing a tricky jump is satisfying not just because it’s fun and cool but because it really feels like you’ve mastered Splatoon 2’s new mechanics.
Unfortunately, not all of the single player campaign’s lessons make it into the multiplayer. Most notably, rail grinding, which is the standout from single player, isn’t possible on Moray Towers’ rails. That in particular feels like a missed opportunity, especially since that map is returning from the first game. However, getting to use a wide variety of weapons in single player makes the transition to multiplayer easier, and subtle tweaks to weapons and gear, like faster movement with the roller, add a layer of new strategy for veteran players. On top of that, the majority of the maps are new, and favorites include Inkblot Art Academy and The Reef, both of which have several vertical levels that result in intense struggles for control of the higher ground.
The only multiplayer mode for non-ranked matches is Turf War, which is consistently so much fun that only having one casual mode isn’t really a problem. Covering the most ground with your ink is a simple enough concept, but skillful movement, well-timed inking, and the right strategy for your weapon all work together to give each match more depth. There are some wrinkles with the logistics of these regular battles: there’s no way to change your weapon once you’re in a lobby, so you’re stuck with whatever team composition you get, and you can’t guarantee you’ll be on the same team as any friends who join your lobby. But, as the most laid-back of the multiplayer options, Turf Wars’ quick games and random team assignments make it easy to jump in and out and have fun without too much pressure. It might be frustrating when your team of randoms doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing, but the fast-paced struggle to cover turf with your team’s ink is as exhilarating as ever.
Ranked battles return with Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Splat Zones. Each mode is similar to game types you might be familiar with in other team shooters; Tower Control consists of escorting a tower to a goal, Rainmaker is like reverse capture the flag, and Splat Zones requires you to “control” specific areas for a certain amount of time by covering them with your team’s ink. Unfortunately, the lobbies for ranked matches haven’t been populated enough for us to play them ahead of launch, but based on our experience with the first game, we can expect these modes to work essentially the same way. Splatoon’s ink mechanics make these modes feel different from other games, and the focus on specific objectives is great for competitive players who want something more than the informal structure of Turf War.
There’s also a new co-op mode called Salmon Run that lets you play alongside one to three friends in a horde environment. It’s surprisingly challenging and requires more strategy and finesse than Turf War by far. Even on lower difficulties, my groups struggled against minibosses that require specific strategies to take out–they’re less threatening than the single-player bosses but hard to deal with in high volumes. Successfully clearing the waves was satisfying knowing that we had to have worked well as a team in order to survive. In addition to the updated single-player campaign, this is another mode that shows off what’s so great about Splatoon 2’s unique gameplay in ways that PvP multiplayer doesn’t.
The biggest problems with the original Splatoon’s multiplayer were limited matchmaking and a lack of voice chat, which made team strategy extremely cumbersome and difficult. While regular battles still lack shooter matchmaking mainstays like parties, there’s a new mode called League Battle that lets you group up with either one or three other friends and play together in a more competitive environment. League battles include the same modes as ranked but don’t affect your solo rank, which is a great option if your skills aren’t quite in line with your friends’. That said, voice chat is still a problem–you have to use a phone app to communicate, which is inelegant at best and ridiculous for a modern team-based game. There’s no good reason it couldn’t have been included in-game.
At first glance, Splatoon 2 seems very similar to the first game. But all the small changes, and even the bigger ones in single player and League Battles, make for a fresh take on the already unique shooter. If you played a lot of the original, the sequel has enough to keep you coming back, and if you’re new to the game, it’s a fantastic place to jump in.