When the trailer for Splatoon 3 first premiered, my child went Splatoon crazy. They fell in love with the style and music of the game. For about a year or so now, my child’s chosen nickname has been Inkling out of sheer excitement for Splatoon 3 to drop. So for Christmas a relative got them Splatoon 2; we all figured this would tide Inkling over while waiting on the newer game. I’ve written a few times now about my child’s Splatoon journey since that time as well as my own. Now having experienced the various multiplayer options as well as the game’s main campaign, I’ve got the info I need to share my overall thoughts on Splatoon 2’s base package.
The basic premise of Splatoon is centered around a world of humanoid shapeshifters called inklings and octolings. The two don’t get along for…reasons that I guess are more firmly established in the first game? I don’t know. The octolings kidnap a being called The Great Zapfish that is important to the inkling way of life, and around the same time a famous pop star named Callie goes missing. Your inkling is beckoned by Marie – the other member of Callie’s pop idol group “The Squid Sisters” – to pursue the octolings, save the zapfish, and find out what happened to Callie. This all makes up the basis of the single player mode. In multiplayer, your inkling can either team up with others to go on freelance salmon-egg hunting missions called Salmon Run, or compete in unranked, ranked, or league matches against other inklings in a sports-like battle arena.
If you’re interested in Splatoon but haven’t done a lot of research, one thing I think is pretty important to understand is that Splatoon 2’s true focus is the multiplayer gameplay – specifically online multiplayer. My child and I cannot play Splatoon 2 together unless we just hand the controller back and forth in single player mode. You can’t play any of the game’s multiplayer modes against bots either, so if you’re going solo and want to play Turf War or Salmon Run or whatever else, you still have to have a good internet connection to be able to connect with random folks online. This may be a turnoff for fellow parents like me who don’t want their kid to play online; short of having a second Switch and a second copy of Splatoon 2, you’re not going to be able to share this experience locally with family or friends.
The lack of local multiplayer isn’t the only indication that Splatoon 2 is really and truly all about the online functionality. Every time you boot the game you get a mandatory update from the new Squid Sister -esque duo, Pearl and Marina, telling you which game modes and stages are active for the three levels of multiplayer play. They’ll also plug Salmon Run if that mode is currently active as well. The single player campaign is relatively short and the storyline is very much phoned in; Splatoon 2 has rich lore and worldbuilding that can be seen in the trailers, the shops, and the elements around Salmon Run mode, but absolutely none of that comes through in the main campaign. The single player is essentially a really big tutorial for unlocking and learning to use the various weapons that are available in the game.
The campaign consists of 27 platforming levels as well as five boss encounters for a total of 32 events to complete. Each level either teaches or puts to the test a specific mechanic of the game, either surrounding the weapons available to you or the strategies that are most effective for moving around the environment and protecting yourself from getting splatted in the heat of battle. As you play through the campaign, you unlock more and more weapons to try out. After you complete a level for the first time, you can choose to revisit it with a different weapon in order to get additional currency to spend on upgrades. Every level also has two collectibles in the form of journal pages as well as ore needed for weapon upgrades. If you intend to find all of the collectibles in a level, it can be pretty challenging – they are often squirreled away in locations that are hard to notice, requiring you to carefully move through a level checking nooks and crannies, or requiring you to get on top of or under things that are pretty dangerous to maneuver around.
Overall, I found the single player campaign to be a satisfactory tutorial of sorts but definitely not the sort of experience I would purchase a game to experience. The levels are fun but the lack of a truly compelling storyline made it hard for me to stay motivated – once I felt like I understood the game enough not to “need” single player anymore, the only thing that motivated me to finish it was being able to write an article about it. If you’re interested in Splatoon 2 but online multiplayer is a hard no for you, this game won’t have much to offer in the base version. I do plan to play the Octo Expansion DLC and I’ve heard that campaign is significantly better, but unless you’re a Switch Online Expansion Pack member that’s extra money on top of the base game too.
So then let’s assume that online multiplayer is okay with you and in fact the reason you’re interested in Splatoon 2. What might that look like? Once you start up the game you can immediately start playing unranked matches against opponents online. Each match gives you in-game currency as well as experience points that increase your “rank.” The ranking system – at least in standard play – seems like little more than an indication of how much you’ve played online, but it also gates equipment for you. You can’t use shops at all until you reach rank 4, and after that there is still plenty of gear locked behind achieving even higher ranks. Higher ranked gear seems to have better benefits so in a way the more time you’ve invested, the more advantages you’ll likely have in the game. But at least in the Turf War game mode, that’s not necessarily game-breaking. The types of advantages that come with higher rank aren’t nearly as important as being good at the game and playing well as a team.
The main multiplayer mode features two teams of four facing off against one another in a variety of game modes. What mode you can play varies day by day and depends too on whether you want to play unranked, ranked, or league matches. The fact that the types of multiplayer formats available, the stages playable, and whether or not Salmon Run can be played is something that’s dependent on what day it is was a bit of a turn-off for me – generally after a few matches I felt like I was ready to be done because I couldn’t really switch it up and do something different. However, I think if you’re playing with friends instead of random people then you can customize your matches a bit more to your tastes.
All of these gripes are minor – when it comes to the actual experience of playing multiplayer, Splatoon 2 is pretty solid. I particularly enjoyed Turf War as it offers a competitive multiplayer format that isn’t so focused on kills. If your opponents splat you a half dozen times but they never focus on inking territory, you can still easily pull out a victory. This requires a more thoughtful approach that appeals more to me as someone who prefers roleplaying and strategy games over action titles. Salmon Run’s fully cooperative PvE matches offer a nice break from the versus matches in the main gameplay mode; the way it swaps out your weapons and challenges you to defeat different types of boss salmonids using tools that may not be your personal favorites to use makes for some fun moments.
Overall, Splatoon 2 has been a neat game even if my time with it hasn’t convinced me that this would be something I would have bought for myself. The multiplayer battles made for a bit of fun in the evening after work but weren’t something I cared to engage with for long sessions at a time. And while the single player campaign was solid for what it is, it felt like such an afterthought compared to the rest of the game that I cannot in good conscience recommend Splatoon 2 on the single player alone. I’m glad I tried the game and it has impressed me despite being a title that’s very different from the sort of thing I would normally play, but other than occasionally having some matches with friends online so we can hang out I can’t see myself adding this to my regular rotation.