Splatoon 2 is a massively popular game. In Japan, in particular, it has something very close to a 100% attach rate. Almost every Switch owner plays this game over there, and although it’s popularity may not reach those lofty heights everywhere around the world, here in SA there are some pretty fanatic and skilled Splatoon players. To meet some of them you need not look further than the SA Gamer Tuesday night Splatoon 2 online games that take place between 8 and 9 pm. However, one of the only complaints you’ll hear from such longtime fans and even some new players interested in the excellent sequel alike (Dawid scored the game 9/10 – check out his review here) is the lack of a really good single-player campaign.
Splatoon is Nintendo’s answer to the third-person shooter genre – guns and blood are substituted with paintbrushes and buckets and the result is a fun, mostly friendly outing with a whole lot more paint. Back when Nintendo introduced us to their new IP, many were skeptical, but it’s bright and wildly odd premise backed up with engaging gameplay meant it was one of the few stand-out successes on the ill-fated WiiU. Despite its multiplayer and largely online focus, the single-player campaign of the first game was substantial enough to provide a satisfying alternative to the competitive side of the game, as well as introduce us to the darkly funny lore of Inklings and Ocatarians. Splatoon 2 seemed to improve on every aspect of the original game, yet many were left a little disappointed at the depth (if not the length) of it’s single-player offering. Luckily, since its launch, Nintendo has really backed this title with multiple themed online tournaments (Splatfests), free downloadable content and upgrades on weapons, costumes and more. Now with it’s first paid DLC, Octo Expansion, Splatoon 2 fans will finally be getting a deeper dip into the kooky lore and a much more substantial single-player campaign, and the good news is it’s rather good.
A fishy backstory
Advertised as a ‘full-on single-player adventure’ the story plays a much more important role than the rest of Splatoon 2. That being said, it is still somewhat of a clever framing device for a series of mostly entertaining, if at times arduous, training exercises to improve your skills within the rest of the game. You, an Octoling called Agent 8, wake up in a dark subway and with the help of a mildly surly, elderly aspiring-rapper named Captain Cuttlefish, you have to make your way through a series of train lines and platforms to escape from the mysterious depths of the underground station. You are tasked with collecting four “thangs” by a shadowy, incomparibly “hip” talking old telephone machine, and the further you venture through the maze of lines, the more information you discover about not only your own past but also, more importantly, your role in the history of the world of Inklings and Octolings and the great struggles they have endured.
Exposition is handled mostly by conversations between you and Captain Cuttlefish as well as a series of text messages your are privy to between the said feisty Captain and couple of female newsreaders/famous Splatoon band you may know from booting up Splatoon 2, as well as through snippets of information you collect from fellow train passengers while you make your way from one stop to the next.
All aboard! Next Stop: New Level…
Each stop functions as its own level. To attempt the level you will be required to pay an entrance fee which varies according to difficulty. Paying grants you access to the level and, generally, you will have between three or five attempts to accomplish the task before having to pay to try again. Beat the challenge and you will be rewarded with more currency, as well as unlocking the next stop or even a new train track. As your progress through the levels, more of the map opens up to you, and you begin to discover the more than 75 missions available for you to attempt to escape the subterranean prison-like test facility on your way out to the ‘promised land’.
As your progress through the levels more of the map opens up to you, and you begin to discover the more than 75 missions available for you to attempt to escape the subterranean prison-like test facility prison on your way out to the ‘promised land’.
Most levels are relatively short, lasting only a few minutes. However, at times I did find the odd difficulty spike – with certain levels consuming my Octoling lives faster than a quick-fry calamari dish at a seafood restaurant. Unfortunately, every now and again I would encounter a tough level that I needed to complete in order to move on and had died so many times that I had run out of metro-card cash. On the odd occasion that occurred, it meant I was forced to go grind some currency on earlier stops so I could move on, and I must say despite being relatively rare – that was never fun. On the plus side, the game handles difficulty in a clever way. At most stops, you will have an option between two or three different weapons to use – the more difficult or at least least-appropriate weapon for the task at hand will obviously make the level harder but will offer a higher currency return if successfully completed. New players can always choose the easiest weapon, whereas more experienced players may opt for more of a challenge. Also, because many of the train lines intersect, there is often more than one route to a platform and so you are able to avoid some stops if they prove too difficult and still complete the main story. Plus, after several failed attempts on a level the ability to skip a certain stop will also become available. Hence, once again Nintendo has catered well for players of varying abilities.
Pretty puzzles to plain-old paint
The levels are a picture of contrasts, made up of varying amounts of platforming – from basic jumping, running and getting-from-point-A-to-point-B kind of stuff, to more complex light-puzzle elements. The controls, for the most part, are smooth and responsive, and experienced players will immediately feel right at home, whereas newer players may need just a little time to master them. Generally, the essence of what makes a Splatoon game tick and splat is still front and centre with a big focus on how to best use the different types of weapons and strategies in differing situations. That does mean that at times it does get a bit repetitive and maybe even starts to feel a little like an extended weapon and strategy tutorial. However, for some of the stops, the designers seemed to have a bit more creative freedom and it was during these levels that I had the most fun. Several of them had a very unique game mechanics like having to push a giant 8-ball across multiple platforms or super interesting puzzles including having to sculpt a specific ‘dog?-like’ shape from several boxes by using only your paint-spilling weapon as a tool. Happily, because there are usually enough of these more creative levels, you are easily able to endure the more tedious ones.
The levels are a picture of contrasts, made up of varying amounts of platforming – from basic jumping, running and getting-from-point-A-to-point-B kind of stuff, to more complex and definitely more fun light-puzzle elements.
Strangely, up until the last portion of the game, there weren’t many levels that would easily be identified as ‘boss-fights’. Stops in which two train lines intersected tended to be tougher to complete, and during my play though on two occasions stops did have a more specific ‘boss-fight’ like opponent, but I found these relatively easier to get through compared to some of the levels where no opponent existed, but rather platforming, puzzle-solving, quick-thinking, timing and even a little luck was needed. That being said, the very last section of the game is like one long boss-fight and probably the most challenging and yet, to me, most enjoyable part of the whole experience.
Paint with all the (neon) colours of the wind… or at least the darker ones
Splatoon 2 is visually refreshingly bold and bright. The Octo Expansion does not do away with the bold neon pinks and yellows but reflects the darker tone of the story by sharply contrasting them with black. The result is similarly striking. The creature design and blue-tinged colouring for the various characters in this subterranean world are beautiful, especially in contrast to the colours of Inkopolis – the anglerfish to Inkopolis’ clownfish.
Music plays a big part in the Splatoon world, and many of the levels have really funny music-related names. The link between humour and music is highlighted throughout the game, and although I really enjoyed the funny, if slightly corny, one-liners, I am unfortunately one of those people that just doesn’t really get the music. The soundtrack varies in genre from rock to Inkling rap – all, unfortunately for me, sung in the unique Inkling and Octoling voices. I can appreciate the feat of creating music in all these genres in a ‘nonsense’ language, and I know that they often used real-world musicians to create the melodies and so applaud and stand in marvel at the skill involved, while simultaneously also confessing that I cannot listen to it for too long without feeling like I’m losing my mind a little. Of course, I know this is not only a matter of taste, but also an “olive” situation i.e. you either love it or you hate it, and many out there will love the soundtrack for the very reasons I do not.
At times motion controls seemed to make the levels, where regular-old platforming is required, much harder.
And talking about you either ‘love it or you hate it’ situations I feel I do need to mention motion controls. Most experienced Splatoon players will tell you that the best way to play is with motion controls turned on. I do this when playing multiplayer and had it on 95% percent of the time for the Octo Expansion. However, this did pose a slight problem in two situations. One – playing in handheld mode. It was pretty much out of the question unless you can manage holding your Switch like a five-year-old that is playing a car racing game for the first time and keeps physically turning his entire torso and contorting his arms into every turn. Second – it made the levels where regular-old platforming is required, much harder. I remember one level in particular near the beginning where no aiming was needed (you are actually not even carrying a weapon). The level basically consists of running, jumping and dodging huge blobs of paint that are being thrown at you. I tried that level several times and kept failing. Eventually, I thought of switching motion controls off and the very next attempt I was successful. It is rare, but it may be a strategy you will need to employ for some levels.
So does it make a big Splash… err Splat?
So confession time… I am not a very skilled Splatoon 2 player – the players that I encounter on Tuesday nights will rightly confirm this without a moment’s hesitation. In fact, in this genre, this is about the only game I play. That being said, I am a massive platformer guy, I love single-player campaigns and actually rather enjoy playing Splatoon 2. So the Octo Expansion was probably just right for me. The game takes all the best bits from the multi-player game and trains you on a multitude of strategies and weapon choices, and I did feel my skills have improved. The ‘deep dive’ into the strange world’s lore was also quite fun.
The puzzle elements within the platforming sections were really where I enjoyed my time and I probably could have done without a few levels where it felt like the difficulty had increased too dramatically. Grinding for needed points in a game not really made for grinding is just not fun. Motion controls are still open for debate and the soundtrack will either drive you mad or be the best thing you have ever heard. But all in all this a good game. If it needed to stand on its own – I would have small issues with a bit of repetitiveness and few bits I have mentioned above, but mostly I’d be rather happy with my purchase especially after having completed the excellent latter section of the story. Even more excitedly it does not stand on its own; This an already amazing multiplayer game that will give your hours and hours of fun online, and now it has an ‘extra’ really good and substantial single-player campaign. So whether you are an Inkling Pro, or an Octoling seeing the light for the very first time, the Octo Expansion is sure to fulfill your expectations.