Switch Essentials: Splatoon 2 (Part 1 – Single Player)

Splatoon was not only a great game, it represented Nintendo successfully giving a rather pointed middle finger to everyone who thought it relied too much on its old franchises.

Despite being on the Wii U, one of Nintendo’s least successful pieces of hardware, the game went on to perform extremely well worldwide, proving popular in both its native Japan and the rest of the world. By the end of December 2017, it had sold around 4.91 million copies — a pretty healthy proportion of the console’s entire user base, which stood at a little under 14 million as of December 2016. That means approximately one in every three Wii U owners had a copy.

A new generation of hardware was an ideal opportunity to explore the franchise further. And with the Switch performing much better in terms of sales than its predecessor pretty much from launch onwards, more people than ever before would be able to enjoy the experience of being a kid, then a squid, then a kid, then…

Ahem. Splatoon 2, then. Given that at the time of writing I’ve spent the majority of my time playing the game’s single-player mode, I wanted to focus exclusively on that today, with deeper thoughts on the multiplayer coming once I’ve spent a bit more time getting destroyed by Japanese players who are much better than me.

For those somehow unfamiliar with the series to date, Splatoon and its sequel are primarily marketed as competitive multiplayer games, but they both incorporate a substantial single-player mode. (Splatoon 2 also incorporates a cooperative multiplayer mode, too, but more on that another day.) And rather than taking the approach of early multiplayer-centric titles such as Quake III and Unreal Tournament by making the single player nothing more than a series of matches against computer-controlled opponents, Splatoon’s single-player is both a distinct experience in its own right and a great way to learn some skills that will benefit you when you step out onto the online field of battle.

Splatoon and its sequel are third-person shooters… of a sort. Their main distinction from modern military and sci-fi shooters is the fact that you don’t shoot bullets from your weapons; you instead shoot coloured ink. At any time, you can squeeze the left trigger and “dive” into your ink in squid form, which both allows you to move faster and replenish your weapon’s “ammunition”, and it’s an important part of traversing the levels, too, since splattering a wall with your ink allows you to “swim” up it. The twist on this is that enemies also shoot ink of a different, contrasting colour to yours, and this will hurt you if you’re hit by it or stand in it; you also can’t swim through it.

Splatoon 2’s story picks up some years after the original game saw the first game’s player character, “Agent 3” of the Squidbeak Splatoon, team up with Callie and Marie from popular idol group The Squid Sisters to beat back the forces of the Octarians and recover the Great Zapfish, focal point of the Inkling city of Inkopolis. Since that time, the Great Zapfish has been stolen again, Squidbeak Splatoon leader Cap’n Cuttlefish has buggered off somewhere with Agent 3 and Marie is left all by herself to train up an “Agent 4” to try and sort everything out.

Splatoon 2 is one of those games where the narrative initially doesn’t seem to matter all that much, but if you take the time to look into it, it’s actually handled very well indeed, with its overall progression being very subtle over the course of the complete single-player campaign.

Over time, it becomes clear that Marie is very sad about the disappearance of her cousin, and she covers up that fact with sarcasm, bad puns and occasional mild insults directed at Agent 4; her reverting to the traditional Japanese-style attire the pair wore in their youth can also be interpreted as a desire to get back to the “good old days”, and indeed this is also reflected at numerous points in the single player mode’s soundtrack.

Agent 4, being a Nintendo protagonist and thus entirely mute, ends up acting as something of a sounding-board for Marie’s emotions, and in later levels we start to see Marie occasionally letting her real feelings slip out — musing on how much Callie hated heights while Agent 4 is negotiating a particularly perilous jumping segment, for example — as a sign of both the bond she has developed with the protagonist, and her earnest desire to see her cousin again.

Splatoon 2’s single player campaign unfolds in a similar fashion to the previous game. It’s split into five distinct “worlds”, each of which has a series of levels followed by a boss. In order to access each level, you have to explore a small hub area to discover the various entrances, most of which are in awkward locations that will require you to make use of the game’s various techniques to access. Each hub area also hides a sticker and a piece of “Sardinium” which can be used to upgrade your weapons and abilities, and these can usually be found by successfully completing challenges such as bursting a sequence of balloons before they fly away, or simply discovering an out-of-the-way crate and breaking it.

Individual levels are mostly abstract constructions floating in the sky rather than the more “realistic” environments that form the multiplayer levels, and unfold in a linear fashion. In many ways they feel like a natural evolution of Nintendo’s old games of the 8- and 16-bit eras; there’s not a huge amount of exploration to do, though each level does have at least two hidden items secreted somewhere that require you to be observant and often stray a bit from the critical path. Well-paced checkpoints reward you for making it past a particular “milestone”, and effective use of a “lives” system provides both consequences for failure and a bit of a safety net — you start with the maximum of three lives, lose one for falling off the level or getting splatted by an enemy, and get one back for reaching a new checkpoint.

One of the main ways Splatoon 2 distinguishes itself from its predecessor is the fact that it gradually introduces you to all the different types of weapons available in the game, whereas the original saw you using a variant on the “Splattershot” machine gun-style weapon for the whole game, unless you used an Amiibo to unlock the ability to play with alternative weapons. Here, instead, the first time you play each level you’ll have a request from Inkopolis’ weapon shop owner Sheldon (who is helping out Marie with her investigations) to “gather some data” on a particular type of ink-splattering implement. These range from the easy to understand, such as the aforementioned Splattershot and the “Dualies” dual-wield variant, to more peculiar implements such as the “Brella”, which allows you to hold out an umbrella in front of yourself for protection and fire a powerful shotgun-style close-range blast of ink.

Once you’ve beaten a level once with Sheldon’s request, you can rechallenge it at any time with any of the other weapons he’s previously provided you with, and there are subtle changes made to each level to accommodate each one’s unique idiosyncrasies. Take a shorter-range weapon such as the Dualies into a level you originally challenges with a long-range device such as the sniper-style Charger, for example, and you’ll find additional platforms and switches dotted around the place; there’s no point where you’ll be “stuck” for having the “wrong” weapon for a particular situation.

Much like many of Nintendo’s other modern titles, Splatoon 2’s single player gradually introduces you to various gimmicks (be they enemy types or traps) one at a time as you progress, then doesn’t overuse them. Levels are generally paced in such a way that their early stages introduce the gimmick in its simplest form, then as you make your way through each checkpoint it gets more complicated to negotiate your way through the hazards in your path, often requiring you to combine techniques you’ve previously learned. The final “world” then represents a comprehensive “review” of everything you’ve learned up until that point, and once you’ve beaten the final boss you’ll be familiar with pretty much everything you need to know to tackle multiplayer. Or you can go back and play all the levels again with all the weapons to unlock these particular variants to use in multiplayer.

Splatoon 2’s single-player is, like its predecessor, a somewhat underappreciated and overlooked aspect of the game as a whole. Sure, the main attraction of the multiplayer modes is fantastic, of course, but if you’re yet to check it out, take a bit of time to do so — it’s a delightfully substantial experience in its own right, not to mention a great way to practice your skills without the pressure of teammates or rival players.

Stay fresh!

More about Splatoon 2

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