Just as fun and frantic as the first game. Improved graphics. More local multiplayer options than the first Splatoon.
Online matches are still heavily curated. Doesn't change much from Splatoon.
- Bottom Line
Splatoon 2 on the Nintendo Switch feels more like an updated, expanded Switch port of the first game than a sequel, but that's pretty compelling on its own.
Splatoon on the Wii U surprised us two years ago with its fresh take on the team-based shooter genre. It was family-friendly, colorful, and most importantly, fun. Nintendo kept updating it with new maps and modes over its lifespan. Now Splatoon 2 is here, and it's on the Nintendo Switch. The $59.99 game doesn't significantly change enough gameplay aspects to really feel like a full-fledged sequel, but it adds a handful of new modes, upgrades the graphics, as well as the fantastic console/handheld flexibility the Switch allows. Whether you consider it a real Splatoon sequel or an upgraded game in the vein of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 packs enough fun, messy shooting action to earn our Editors' Choice and stand out as another must-buy Switch game.
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The Way of Splatting
Mechanically, Splatoon 2 is the same game as the first one. You're a squid kid armed with various ink-throwing weapons, taking part in various team-based multiplayer activities. The game takes place in a third-person perspective, and combines the right analog stick with the motion sensors on the Joy-Cons (or Switch Pro Controller) to aim your different weapons.
The ZR trigger fires your main weapon, while the R button tosses a special bomb at the expense of a significant amount of your ink reserves. As you play, a special meter fills that lets you use very powerful attacks and tools by clicking the left analog stick. Special attacks include player-tracking missiles, an ink-powered jetpack, a temporarily unlimited supply of bombs, and even just jumping very high and dunking into the ground for a powerful ink explosion.
Most surfaces in the game can be painted with ink, which turns that surface either your team's color or the enemy team's color. Holding the ZL button turns you into a squid that can swim quickly and invisibly througn your team's ink, all while refilling your ink-based ammo. Conversely, the enemy team's ink slows you down and damages you if you try to walk through it. The ink mechanic is the core of Splatoon 2's gameplay, and it makes the game feel very distinct from every other multiplayer shooter out there.
In Your Hands or On Your TV
Since it's a Switch game, you can play Splatoon 2 with the system docked and connected to your TV or in your hands as a portable gaming device. By default, both configurations use motion-based aiming that can feel awkward at first but eventually let you aim and fire much more quickly than an analog stick alone. You can adjust or disable the motion-control sensitivity easily and set up individual control profiles for both docked and handheld modes. This lets you, for example, aim rapidly with high-sensitivity Joy-Con tilting on the couch while relying purely on sticks when holding the Switch in your hand to avoid becoming disoriented from screen tilt.
Turf War is Splatoon 2's core Regular Battle multiplayer game mode, just as in the first Splatoon. Two teams of four try to ink as much of the map as they can with their color, painting over the enemy ink while skirmishing. Shooting enemies with your ink weapons knock them out of the fight for a short time, letting you spread your team's color without interference. The winning team is determined solely based on the color balance of the map at the end of three minutes, so while splatting enemy players provides a tactical advantage, it doesn't directly win you matches. It's a simple, unique game type that can easily hold your attention, match after match.
As you fight online, you earn experience points and in-game cash. Experience points increase your level and unlock additional weapons. They also let you buy different shirts, hats, and shoes (all of which offer different gameplay bonuses, such as more ink capacity or faster ink swimming). Once you reach level 10, you can move on from Turf War-only Regular Battles to more-complex and competitive Ranked Battles. The Ranked Battle modes include Rainmaker, Splat Zones, and Tower Control, all of which we saw in the first game. Splat Zones is a point-capturing game mode where you need to keep certain locations on the map covered in your team's ink to get points. Tower Control is a payload race mode where you ride a moving tower on a track toward the enemy's base. Rainmaker is a capture-the-flag mode where teams fight over control of the powerful Rainmaker weapon and carry it into the rival team's base.
The online gameplay modes offer a solid amount of variety with at least eight different maps at launch and four competitive game types. Some of the maps are recycled from Splatoon, but they were strong, balanced designs that deserve to continue seeing play. Unfortunately, you don't get much control over that variety. Just as with the first Splatoon, Splatoon 2's maps and Ranked Battle game types are determined entirely through the game's servers. They cycle through sets of two maps each for Regular and Ranked Battle modes, and whatever you end up in is determined entirely by invisible coin flip. It keeps the game fresh by mixing things up every two hours, but it means you can't focus only on your favorite maps or modes (outside of Turf War). It forces variety with the modest selection available in the game.
Splatoon 2 will support online friend-tracking, matchmaking, and voice chat with its companion free Nintendo Switch Online mobile app, which launches on July 21, along with the game itself. The app will let you access SplatNet 2 for inviting friends into your Splatoon 2 games and chatting with them, using the Nintendo Switch Online service. Voice chat functions entirely through the app on your mobile device rather than on the Switch itself, which could get awkward. We'll take a closer look at the Nintendo Switch Online app and how it integrates into Splatoon 2 when it launches.
You can only play Regular and Ranked Battles online, since Nintendo tracks your progress and ranking. But you can also enjoy local-only matches with ad-hoc Wi-Fi connections between eight Switch consoles. This lets you play Turf War battles with full teams in the same room, a welcome upgrade from the first Splatoon's limited one-on-one local multiplayer mode. If you get a LAN adapter for your Switch dock, you can also host full Splatoon 2 tournaments across 10 systems (eight players and two spectators).
Salmon Run game mode lets you take up to three nearby friends into the series' first run at cooperative multiplayer. It's a player-versus-enemy mode where teams of two to four players work together to fight waves of fish creatures. It's a fun alternative to Turf War, but it's also incredibly difficult: The two-player games I attempted wiped out after the first or second wave, and even full four-player teams will find it a challenge to beat back every Salomid without dying. Currently, Salmon Run is only available with local multiplayer; you can't play this mode online.
Splatoon 2 is primarily a multiplayer game, but you can also kill a few hours fighting through the single-player campaign. It's a retread of the first Splatoon's single-player mode, tasking you with recovering the electricity-providing Zapfish from the corrupted Octolings who stole them. To do this, you must fight through multiple obstacle-course-like levels and beat giant, mechanically augmented Octoling bosses across five worlds. It's a somewhat challenging quest (though not as hard as Salmon Run) that can familiarize you with each of the game's weapon types and help you perfect your ability to maneuver through ink.
Looks Better, Plays the Same
The Switch's step-up status from the Wii U in terms of power is apparent in Splatoon 2, which looks markedly better than its predecessor. The first Splatoon was already a pretty, crisp, colorful game that performed smoothly in 1080p, but the sequel adds just a bit more detail to the graphics. Things that are wet or sticky with ink look wetter and stickier than they did in the first game, and since nearly everything in the aquatic world of Splatoon is wet or sticky, that's a pretty notable change.
While it looks better, Splatoon 2 ultimately feels very similar to the first Splatoon. This is perfectly fine, because the first Splatoon was a blast to play, and adding even more ways to play the game with the Switch's handheld mode and new local multiplayer options makes it even more compelling.
Worth the Mess
Games are fast, fun, and familiar. With Turf War battles clocking in at just 3 minutes each, every second is a frantic run to paint as much as you can, and every time you get splatted is a potentially ruinous loss of time. Even though I was holding Joy-Cons in my hands instead of a Wii U gamepad, Splatoon 2 matches felt almost identical to Splatoon matches, and they kept me coming back for more. It's simply fun to splatter as much as you can for your team while chasing down enemy players to ink them before they can ink you, and simple mechanics like ink swimming and special moves give the game depth without complication.
Matches were a bit slow to get into before the game's launch outside of public tests, but I found myself queuing up for games even with waits of a few minutes for all eight player slots to fill up. This wait will likely disappear on the game's launch, when it becomes publicly available at all hours and isn't being played primarily by testers, journalists, and YouTube figures. I experienced similar issues reviewing the first Splatoon before it came out.
Splatoon 2 feels more like an upgraded, remastered version of Splatoon than a sequel. The single player campaign is different and the cooperative Salmon Run mode is new, but otherwise it's just a fresh paint job on the same game. Of course, as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has shown, that can easily be enough. This take on Splatoon looks a bit better, has more maps and modes at launch, and you can play it on the go. Combine that with the rock-solid, satisfying gameplay of the original game, and Splatoon 2 is easily a PCMag Editors' Choice.
By Will Greenwald Senior Analyst, Consumer Electronics
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert, reviewing TVs, media hubs, speakers, headphones, and gaming accessories. Will is also an ISF Level II-certified TV calibrator, which ensures the thoroughness and accuracy of all PCMag TV reviews…. More »
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