You continue to be a kid now. You continue to be a squid now.
January 12 was a good day. Nintendo fans far and wide gathered around their computers, TV screens, phones, tablets, and direct brain-feeds to watch as the big N stood tall to discuss, at long last, some of the nitty and gritty details of their Nintendo Switch console. Some announcements were surprises, like polarizing punching simulator ARMS and the exciting Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but others were fairly surefire, or safe bets at the very least. Right alongside stuff like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WIld and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, one other common prediction to hold truth was an appearance on the part of everyone’s favorite squid-kids. What came as a slight surprise, though, was that the Nintendo Switch’s new ink-soaked installment would be billed as a full sequel; Splatoon 2.
A good way to start this off might be to describe my immediate reaction to this trailer as it began. I saw new weapons and some new maps, and instantly thought, “okay, yeah! So it’s the same Splatoon but with some add-on content, to justify buying it again for fans of the original release. Sounds great, and I’m sure I’ll shill into it faster than a squid splatting into a pool of ink.” At the end, when the title card was revealed, Splatoon 2 shining in my face with just about as much neon as anything else in the game, I was kind of just…befuddled. Befuddled partially because the first Splatoon didn’t really come out all that long ago, and partly because what I saw didn’t feel at all like a full sequel.
What we’ve actually been shown of the game so far consists entirely of Turf War, the primary king-of-the-hill game mode from the first Splatoon, which seems to be making a full comeback in Splatoon 2. A nice smattering of new weapons have been introduced, most notable among them being the Splat Dualies, a pair of dual-wield guns with dual reticules. The mobility of these bad boys give the player the ability to dodge-slide out of the way of an opponents’ fire. We’ve seen gameplay with some other new weapons, all of which look fine and cool, accompanied by a set of Ultimate Attack weapons which Nintendo has reported are entirely new, with no repeat customers coming from the first game. We don’t yet know if any old maps will be returning (and hopefully they will, because this game will never be the same if I can’t dominate Arowana Mall anymore), but the new ones shown in footage so far look fine; very par for the course, ultimately.
The problem is, it’s really strange to be calling a main console release in a Nintendo franchise “just par for the course,” especially in its second installment. If you look at any flagship Nintendo property, be it Mario or Zelda or just about anything else, there’s always a pattern of very noticable things being tried in each installment. Sometimes they work, and you have Mario’s transition to 3D in Super Mario 64 or the perfection in gardening in Pikmin 3. Other times, the product stumbles, and you get The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, or most of the Star Fox games. The point is, part of Nintendo’s signature is a constant drive to try new things, and to make each and every entry in a series distinct in ways that change things up a lot, without utterly compromising the core of what fans love. That’s what seems sorely absent from Splatoon 2.
It’s true graphically, for one thing. Visually speaking, there’s nothing at all “wrong” with what Splatoon 2 is doing; it’s the same squidpunk style as the first. The issue is that it feels a bit /too/ much like the first. We know that the Nintendo Switch isn’t the most graphically-stunning thing on the market, any more than the Wii U was, but the game doesn’t seem to have gotten any kind of visual upgrade or change whatsoever. It looks like the same models and assets, with some new window dressing in the form of new maps and costume options.
The biggest thing snagging me, though, is honestly how the game looks in motion. Again, there’s nothing actually “bad” about it. Splatoon was one of my favorite games of 2015, and its sequel shows more of the same. The thing is, outside of a couple new weapons and some very minor HUD differences, I would have completely believed that this footage came from the first Splatoon. If someone were to ask me to list the things that make this game distinct in the way a full Nintendo sequel should feel, I would be hard-pressed to do so. The new weapons seem neat, sure, and new maps are always great, but is that really enough? It almost feels as if Nintendo is selling Splatoon 2 as a sequel in the same way as a Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed game, with yearly installments that don’t really do a ton to distinguish between experiences.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s more new in Splatoon 2 than we’ve seen yet. We know proper local multiplayer is actually possible this time, news which stands leaps and bounds above that garbage local battle mode in the first game. Maybe the new story mode will have more new ideas, and maybe more of those ideas will come over to multiplayer matches. So far, though, the sequel to one of Nintendo’s most standout newer IPs is looking more like a series of map packs than a truly fresh coat of paint.