The Wii U may have been an unmitigated flop, but at least one good game came out of it: Splatoon. The clever, third-person ink-shooting platformer seemed to emerge fully formed, and somehow managed to establish itself as a sort of starter e-sport, even though pitiful amounts of Wii Us were sold.
Now that Splatoon 2 has arrived for the infinitely more popular - and of course massively superior - Nintendo Switch, the franchise's splashy joys stand a chance of reaching the mass audience they deserve.
Splatoon 2 review: More of the same?
Splatoon 2 very much adheres to the "if it ain't broke" approach. You play as an Inkling - a half-way human, half-way squid being - who can spray surfaces with their coloured ink using guns, brushes and other tools to swim through and access certain areas. In this regard it's much the same as the original game – so if you're seeking some sort of massive reinvention, you'll end up disappointed.
However, Splatoon in no way needed a reinvention, and Splatoon 2 contains plenty of new elements which impress, plus countless tweaks and balance-readjustments which should leave those who were devoted to the original more than satisfied.
The most obvious upgrade Splatoon 2 has received is in the graphics department. Sure, the Switch isn't the most powerful of consoles, but it has appreciably more graphics-processing grunt than the Wii U, so Splatoon 2 runs in higher resolution than the original game, with better textures – and the latter are important, given the tactile nature of the game.
The ink you spray now has little bits of glitter in, and looks wondrous. If you're the sort of person who enjoyed making a royal mess as a kid (or indeed are still a messy kid), then you'll love the way you can splurge ink around in Splatoon 2.
Splatoon 2 review: Single player splat-a-thon
Splatoon 2's single-player game is also much improved over that of the original. It's pretty meaty, with 25 levels and five boss battles, and possesses a brilliant difficulty curve which starts off gently, then becomes fiercely challenging once you get to the end of the third of five worlds.
Its gameplay is fundamentally unchanged from the original, so it's all about laying down patches of your colour of ink, through which you can speed when transformed into a squid, taking out different enemies (which requires some tactical nous) and working out how to get to seemingly inaccessible areas by swimming up ink-covered sheer surfaces, while carefully timing your avoidance of incoming objects that will squash you (like giant bowling balls containing Octarian enemies).
This time around, the single-player game works hard to force you to play with all the game's weapons, which are more or less the same as in the original game – albeit with the addition of twin-shooters – although some have been tweaked.
Even the weapons can get you smiling – one, for example, is just a bucket, which you use to chuck ink around. It's still surprisingly effective, and the default control system, in which you move with the left stick and use the various Switch controllers' motion-sensing abilities to aim, works a treat.
The single-player game introduces some clever new objects, like rolled-up inflatables that spring out temporarily into flat surfaces when you ink them, and rotating targets which cause platforms to ratchet out.
Sometimes, you might have to climb one set of platforms, then hit the target once again – avoiding panic when the levels reshape themselves or clusters of enemies appear is a key element of the single-player campaign.
Although it contains plenty of shooting, the single-player game majors on the platforming element, which feels quite unlike that of any other game.
Splatoon 2 review: Online multiplayer
But the real beating heart of Splatoon 2 is its online side. Once you go online to play, it pays to fine-tune the sensitivity of the motion-sensing – which, by default, errs on the insensitive side.
At first, online play is pretty familiar for those who played the first game: until you reach level 10 online you can only play the Turf War mode, which involves two teams of four players vying to cover as much of each map as possible in their colour of ink.
Once you reach level 10, you can enter the Ranked Battle arena, which brings the additional, more sophisticated modes Rainmaker (essentially capture-the-flag), Splat Zones (where you try to control specific areas) and Tower Control (where you capture a tower and escort it to a target position at your opponents' end of the map).
In those modes, proper e-sports-style teamwork is required, and in Splatoon 2, unlike its predecessor, you can jump into co-operative play from the start, albeit only in local multiplayer. That's thanks to a new mode called Salmon Run, which is hilariously surreal. You and your team must battle giant salmon emerging from the ocean, capture their huge eggs and carry them to a basket, while taking on some very bizarre mini-bosses.
Salmon Run is great, and illustrates an advantage that the Switch's unique capabilities bring to Splatoon 2: you can jump into online play anywhere that has Wi-Fi thanks to the Switch's portability, or battle your friends or play Salmon Run via a local connection.
There's also League Battle, a new multiplayer mode, which illustrates Splatoon 2's ambition to enter the ranks of fully fledged e-sports – there simply weren't enough Wii Us out there for its predecessor to quite make that jump. This mode opens up when you've done well enough in Ranked Battle to achieve a B-minus ranking and reckon that you possess the skills to take on the big beasts.
Judicious rebalancing of weapons has taken place in order to give Splatoon 2 the e-sports credentials it craves – the special weapons, in particular, have been rejigged, and the invincibility some conferred in Splatoon has been abandoned.
Overall, while Splatoon 2 doesn't feel massively different to its predecessor, it also feels better in just about every department. It looks prettier, the single-player game is vastly superior, and it makes a better fist of subliminally teaching you the skills you require to go online.
It also now possesses everything it needs – especially the balance – to join the ranks of top e-sports, which it can deliver with a deliciously tactile air to its play.
In general, Splatoon still feels fresh, innovative and clever – despite the obvious similarities to the original. If you never owned a Wii U then, well, here's your chance to catch a great, unique slice of Nintendo on the Switch.
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