For a few months now my kid has been using the nickname Inkling instead of their given name. This was a decision inspired by trailers and excitement for Splatoon 3, a game scheduled to be released sometime in 2022. Perhaps unsurprisingly when it came to putting together a Christmas list, one of the presents listed on that list was Splatoon 2. What better way to curb the gnawing hunger for Splatoon 3 than with the game which precedes it? Christmas has come and gone and Inkling now has their very own copy of Splatoon 2, but so far that experience has unfortunately not been a pleasant one.
Part of the fault lies with me as the parent. While my partner and I were not the ones who ultimately bought the game for Inkling, I am the person best positioned to understand what the heck the game is and whether or not it would be a good fit given my role as a Nintendo-focused game blogger. I knew Splatoon 2 was rated teen and that the primary focus of the game is on multiplayer. However, I knew the game had a single player story mode and made the assumption that this would be accompanied by other types of content that my child could appreciate without having to sign up a six year old for an NSO account. As it turns out, I should have done more research rather than letting my assumptions fill in the many gaps in my limited knowledge about the game.
If you are trying to play Splatoon 2 by yourself with no internet connection, the ONLY option available to you is the campaign mode. Inkling and I cannot play local multiplayer without a whole nother Switch and another copy of the game to go along with it. There are no bots to play against in turf wars (essentially the main game mode of Splatoon) and despite the game’s Salmon Run mode being PvE instead of PvP, it still requires you to play in online co-op rather than playing in local co-op or playing the game mode by yourself. This cuts off some of the core appeal of Splatoon, namely the ability to customize your character with neat outfits and weapon upgrades. The cool character designs are an important piece of Splatoon and more importantly in my situation, an important part of what drew Inkling to the game. Losing that customization element hurts, and not being able to play in local co-op means that the only way Inkling and I can really enjoy this game together is by taking turns at the campaign mode.
I’ve heard Splatoon 2’s story (particularly the DLC) described by some folks online as “the best platformer no one has played on the Switch.” It takes the core mechanics of Splatoon and gives you some challenges to explore and enemies to defeat using those tools across a series of levels in what appears to be five different worlds. Naturally my six year old couldn’t give two inks about the quality of the storytelling and mashed through any dialogue leading into the game and decided instead to jump right into the action. At first it seemed promising – the levels are quite linear and Inkling has good instincts built up from playing quite a few different games, so the early puzzles and platforming bits were coming along just fine. But it didn’t take long to run into trouble.
Part of Splatoon 2 being teen isn’t just thematic elements of the story, any language or violent elements in the game, or even the online (which of course is unrated like with any other game). Part of Splatoon 2 being teen is the expectation of teen reading ability and comprehension. Tutorial text is thrown up in text boxes as you play through the level, and Inkling really needs an adult to be there to explain what that text says in order to understand how to proceed through the game. On top of that, while I wouldn’t say Splatoon 2 is particularly hard in terms of the single player campaign, I’m also an experienced player who has A.) played third person shooters and B.) years of experience with video games broadly. Inkling is trying to master the controls while also having a first grade understanding of how games work, and that slows things down and makes them more challenging all at once.
Here are a couple examples. Inkling took the levels out of order and did the second level first. This caused them to encounter an enemy type – some kind of tentacle thing with a blast shield – which is tutorialized in the first level and therefore the second level assumes you know how to deal with it. Inkling did not in fact know how to deal with it having played the levels out of order. This is where for me, my extincts and years of experience kicked in. “Maybe throw a bomb to break the shield, or find a way to sneak behind the shield.” Inkling lacked that insight and so got frustrated. Later, there was a wall you have to spray with ink and then climb quickly because a machine on the wall sucks up your ink. Inkling managed to get up that wall after a couple of tries but in their excitement, moved the controller around erratically during the climb. Splatoon 2 has gyro controls by default, which means when my kid shook the controller they also shook the hell out of the camera and couldn’t see anymore. This caused Inkling to spring off of the wall in the wrong spot and plummet off the edge. My immediate suggestion was to check the settings and see if motion controls could be disabled but again, that’s me bringing experience to the table. Inkling didn’t see an obvious solution to any of these sorts of problems and as frustrations piled up, finally decided to just put the controller down and declare that story mode was “dumb.”
I try to get my kid to understand that mistakes are part of life and that includes gaming. But Inkling is six, and that is going to be an ongoing conversation that is a lot bigger than just playing some Splatoon. While my kid is growing and developing those needed skills, Splatoon 2 may be a bad match for their interests compared to games with simpler, more forgiving mechanics that have tutorials that are age-appropriate. Ultimately the experience has been a lesson for me: I can’t just skim by on information I gain “through osmosis” when it comes to determining what games are going to be a good fit for Inkling. In the future, I’ll need to actually research new titles to make sure that what they bring to the table matches what my kid is looking for, regardless of the level of excitement they have for the game.
It’s a shame that things have turned out this way, because I think given the opportunity that what I have seen so far of Splatoon 2’s campaign is enjoyable. In an effort to better understand the game so I can help my kid succeed, I played through the first world, which included three levels as well as a boss battle. Each map has slightly different mechanics that interact with your squid abilities in unique ways: inflating sponges to make temporary platforms, launching from dash pads to grind on nearby rails, and using your different combat abilities to deal with enemies in a variety of configurations including foes with shields and foes that fly in the air. In classic Nintendo fashion, the boss is a three-phase fight with a giant glowing weak point that you have to figure out how to reach in order to strike. As you battle, the arena becomes more dangerous and safe paths to travel along the boss’s body to the weak point become fewer and fewer. Levels have hidden collectibles, the currency you collect in the story mode allows you to upgrade your weapons – there’s a decent game here that I think Inkling may still be able to enjoy at an older age, but only if this experience isn’t such a turn off that the fascination with Splatoon goes out the window. Only time will tell.