In my ongoing quest to find games to keep me busy during the time leading up to the releases of Three Hopes and The nirvanA Initiative in late June, I’ve been hopping around between a lot of games. One of the ones I jump into from time to time is Splatoon 2, originally gifted to my child as a Christmas present but now firmly in my rotation as well as I try to wrap up the single player campaign. But one particular evening I thought to myself: “self, maybe you should try out the online multiplayer and see if you enjoy what many would consider to be the core Splatoon experience.” So I did just that, playing enough Turf War to rank up until I unlocked Salmon Run and then doing a few rounds of that before calling it a night.
If you’re not someone who knows Splatoon well, here’s a description of the modes. Turf War is one of many versus multiplayer formats in the game – I imagine one could argue that it is the “main” one. In Turf War, two teams of four squids each compete to cover the largest area of the map in their ink color. While defeating enemies (called “splatting” them) is one tool in your tool belt in this mode, your true goal is to lay down as much ink as possible before the end of the match, making kills a secondary objective. Matches are a brief three minutes and during any given timeframe, there are only two active stages in play to switch between if you are doing multiple consecutive matches.
Naturally Turf War uses a lot of the mechanics I have picked up in the single player mode. You’ve got a main weapon and a sub weapon (the latter is usually a bomb of some type) as well as a special you can unleash when you build enough energy. As a squid you can move more quickly when swimming through your color of ink, and you can jump a more significant distance or swim vertically up walls. There’s also a super jump I haven’t quite mastered yet that you can use to launch yourself to a specific point on the map. If you get splatted, you’re sent back to your spawn point after a few seconds and can start to make your way back to the center of the action.
One mechanical feature key to Turf Wars (and I assume the other multiplayer formats as well) that doesn’t really play into the single player is the effect of your clothing. Each piece of clothing has a main ability and one or more sub abilities that you can unlock by wearing the clothes repeatedly during matches. These are passive bonuses like having larger ink capacity, reduced respawn time, or an instant special if one of your allies drops from the game. Because these bonuses are attached to specific clothing items, you run the risk of a piece of clothing you like from a mechanical standpoint not being your style from a fashion standpoint. As far as I know right now there aren’t transmogs or glamours or anything similar to that in this game – no subbing in your cool-looking gear while still getting the practical bonuses from the lame equipment. Fortunately it seems like the bonuses are passive enough to where choosing your favorite gear rather than the best gear shouldn’t hinder you too much.
I enjoyed what I played of Turf War. The format supports a style that isn’t inherently aggressive and being able to splat your opponents is useful but not the be all end all. I’d have opponents who would kill me multiple times and then ultimately my team would still win because we had made good coverage our priority. Slowly covering the stage with ink and then getting into little firefights over contested points is fun to do and the options for movement and special attacks keep you on your toes. Most importantly for me, it was a mode of play where I could still feel competitive despite my lack of experience or highly customized gear. I was able to win half of the matches I played, and in all of my matches I was one of the members of the crew with the highest ink coverage.
Once I was level four and unlocked the ability to purchase some gear, I also realized I had unlocked the Salmon Run mode. I decided to dive into that next. If you’re not familiar with Salmon Run, here’s how it goes. Four players work cooperatively to identify and eliminate boss salmonids who drop golden eggs that have to be collected and stored in a basket. This occurs in a series of three waves of enemies, with a specific quota to be met in order to complete the job successfully. Anything above the quota helps to get extra points which can be used to purchase big rewards during the current “season” of Salmon Run, like special clothing for example.
Salmon Run’s cooperative format introduced some new mechanics into the game. You don’t respawn traditionally and must instead wait for an ally to spray you with ink when you are helpless. Everyone wears the same gear and rather than choosing your weapons, you are randomly assigned one from a small pool of gear in operation for this particular mission. The enemies you face are not fellow inklings but rather the endless swarm of salmonids, including their bosses. Each boss has a different attack pattern and weak point to exploit, requiring you to shift your approach to handle each boss on its own terms. For example, a shark-like enemy erupts from underneath you from the ink and must have a bomb tossed into its mouth to taste defeat. Another enemy charges up a bomb of its own above its head, so blowing it up by hitting it with ink before the projectile is thrown is your go-to strategy. If an enemy defeats you, you dive under the ink and throw out a life preserver which your allies can spray to bring you back into the action.
Salmon Run was the part of Splatoon that most interested me as an outsider. The lore of working a sketchy, low-paying job as essentially a mercenary fighting the greasy salmonids seemed like a cool premise, and broadly I am a person who tends to enjoy PvE over PvP. I wouldn’t say based on my limited experience that I liked Salmon Run better, but it was different enough from Turf War to keep me playing a bit longer after I otherwise felt like I was done for the night. The cooperative aspect is interesting, the boss types are just challenging enough to be dangerous to you in the middle of the hectic waves of enemies, and it feels good to scoop up an egg and then swim and jump your way across the map to deposit it before the timer stops. It’s a shame that Salmon Run has on and off seasons, as I imagine on evenings when I feel like playing the game that not having the mode available would reduce the amount of time I want to stay engaged with Splatoon.
Overall, I had a solid time enjoying the multiplayer features. I didn’t love them to the point of wanting to play a lot of rounds – I did three, maybe four Salmon Runs and the only reason I did half a dozen or so Turf War matches was to unlock Salmon Run in the first place. I think the experience is probably improved quite a bit by playing with people you really know and having voice chat open with them; that’s what I will shoot for next for my multiplayer escapades and see how I feel about that experience. I don’t see myself diving fully into the world of Splatoon, but it has been a neat game to try out and I feel a lot more confident about helping my child to master the game when the time comes.