Over the past few days Nintendo Switch owners had a chance to try out Splatoon 2 in its first Global Testfire. There's no firm release date for the colourful shooter as yet, and much about it remains a mystery; as a result it's not unreasonable to wonder whether it was simply the first Global Testfire with more to come – we shall see.
In any case, a maximum of six hours of online multiplayer was possible, and we played as much of it as we could. In this impressions piece two of our team will tackle different areas that suit their strengths. Site editor Tom is too old and mediocre at shooting games to do the mechanics of the game justice and to 'get' the intricacies of new weapons and abilities, so he'll focus on what we could see in terms of a visual upgrade over the original and how the controls and move to Switch stack up. Our video producer Alex is a Splatoon whizz with over 400 hours(!) put into the first game, so he's going to get into the nitty gritty around those weapon loadouts.
So, let's get to it.
Tom Whitehead - Shinier Visuals and Diverse Control Options
It's easy to look at Splatoon 2 and say 'it looks the same as the first game', as our mind's eye can do funny things. Some said that about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, evidently having not actually loaded up a Nintendo 64 to see the original with fresh eyes. The first thing I did, then, was boot up my poor abandoned Wii U to see how that 2015 release actually shaped up.
Looking at it now, the original is a tad rough but still does the system credit. In the sequel, however, the first thing that stands out are deeper colours, which are likely partly due to technical improvements but also helped by the fact the new system uses full RGB range on my TV; pretty much all Wii U games look a little sad by comparison now due to the last-gen system's lack of support in that area. One area that's not significantly different is resolution, with previous analysis of press demos in January pegging it at 720p, like its predecessor - it wouldn't surprise me if that was still the case here, as it was certainly not 1080p by my eyes.
What we did get in the demo, however, was a silky smooth performance, and based on a few runs I thought the Switch sequel was operating a little more slickly that the original. Visuals, in pushing that 60fps while also computing the real-time online splatting of surfaces, are still pretty but technically limited - anti-aliasing just isn't a factor, and background assets are extremely low resolution once again. The actual arenas and related details, though, do show sharper and more detailed assets. The ink itself, too, is richer and better looking, enough so to be noticeable when playing the two games right after each other. Whether through Nintendo's own technology or through toolsets included in the NVIDIA setup, there are stronger areas here likely related to shaders and similar features.
Basically, I reckon the game is a nice little upgrade over the original graphically, albeit not an enormous leap. Due to the gameplay style and genre, however, a focus on framerate and smooth performance was always a priority, and aside from a small number of disconnects (though some in the live chat seemed to have more problems than I did) the Testfire delivered fast-paced, smooth gameplay.
Control variations were, I feel, a highlight. To be blunt though, the Wii U was the perfect home for Splatoon thanks to its GamePad, and that synergy cannot be repeated here. The motion controls of the GamePad with the map on screen just worked, and the Switch can't do that fully due to its single-screen setup. As a result the X button is now the map instead of jump – meaning veterans no doubt accidentally brought the map up by accident a few times; warping to teammates is now done by bringing up the map and selecting a spot with the D-Pad. It's functional and makes the best of the situation, but can't quite live up to the intuition of simply tapping a spot on the Wii U's controller.
Beyond that, though, I was impressed with what Nintendo is offering in control options. By default motion controls were slower than in the Wii U game, but a menu screen in the weapon select area allowed you to adjust the sensitivity – I found that around the +2 mark matched it up to the GamePad's rapid but controllable movements from 2015. Once I made that change I felt right at home.
The Pro Controller, for me, felt perfect for Splatoon 2. I'd argue that in terms of build and ergonomics the Switch Pro Controller is a candidate for best pad of the past couple of generations, I genuinely believe it's that good. This could be a game that sees eager players put down the money for it, too, as it supports nice HD Rumble but importantly smooth, responsive motion controls (unlike its Wii U equivalent). Some like to play dual stick with motion off, but I think the speedy precision of two sticks plus the motion can't really be beaten. The Pro Controller responded well and felt great to use.
The Joy-Con in the Grip, however, was a pretty good alternative. For me, it didn't feel quite as sharp and consistent in the motion controls – they were still fine, but I had a nagging feeling they weren't quite as on the money. Perhaps it's because the game is processing the movements of two separate entities rather than one solid pad, but I just preferred 'going Pro'.
That said, I did enjoy playing in handheld mode, simply because I love the idea of playing a game like this when away from home, at an expo or wherever. I'm a player that typically uses the motion controls for relatively small aim adjustments, and as the Switch screen has a nice sharpness to it and solid viewing angles I had no issues in that regard. The game looked colourful and vibrant, the controls were absolutely fine, and I was relieved to find that was the case. I also played in Tabletop mode while using my Pro Controller. That was actually fun, even if it was just one of those 'because I can' moments.
In terms of visuals and controls, I think Splatoon 2 is shaping up well. With a Summer release currently pegged the development team will still be making tweaks and enhancements, and there's much we don't know about. The full range of online modes, the single player campaign, they're all lovely mysteries. I'm eager to learn more, though, as I finished the Testfire feeling optimistic about the game's prospects.
Alex Olney - Weapon Combos and Techniques to Die For
Splatoon made it clear from the off that it wasn't your average shooter, thanks in part to its bright, colourful and largely friendly-looking weaponry. Not to mention once you got your hands on it you could tell immediately that a Charger and a Bucket couldn't be more different. Splatoon 2 has also introduced a new contender, the Dualies, which offer a close-quarters combat option with a twist. Whilst shooting you can use the jump button (that's B, not X, remember) to roll out of harm's way or even throwing yourself deeper into the fray. This also concentrates your fire giving you a higher damage output per second, meaning you'd better master this ability if you want any kind of chance to make the most of this pair.
As far as new weapons go, they're not revolutionary at a glance, but the rolling capabilities really bust the traditional tactics from Splatoon wide open. Enemy movement was often very predictable as long as you kept a close eye on your target's surrounds and what weapon they had in their hand, but now without a moment's notice they can suddenly dart off in any direction.
And that's not the only thing that really mixes things up for online play; the Roller and the Charger both have additional functions that help to really give this entry in the series even more depth (but the Splattershot remains the bog-standard, Mario-in-Mario-Kart, entry-level choice with no bells or whistles to speak of). Gone is the oft-feared jump attack from the Roller and instead you'll actually fire a longer but much narrower wave of ink at your opponent, which gives your more range but at the cost of having to actually be accurate for a change.
The Charger on the other hand has the ability to keep a full charge for a moment if you go directly into Squid Mode, meaning you're no longer tied to the pitiful shuffle if you want to use your weapon as the sniper rifle it was born to be. These tweaks are small, but from the short time I played the game I could already tell that they're going to have a massive impact on the online experience. Not as much as the new Specials though.
We've already been told that every single Special Move from the Wii U original has been gutted (bye bye Kraken) in favour of an entirely new set of abilities. That's not to say there aren't hints of the older moves in the new ones; the Stingray for example harks back to the Killer Wail in a satisfying but arguably more practical form. Although the stream of ink is far, far smaller you can now control it as it's firing, and yes, it also travels through walls somehow.
Splashdown feels a bit like an Inkstrike in many ways, only now you don't have the luxury of choosing where this burst of ink will land. Personally I found this probably the hardest to use of all the new moves in the sense of actually doing some damage with it. The spread of the ink isn't that large, the warning the enemy gets is generous, and you can even be killed as you're attempting to perform it. The latter was possible with many other Special Moves in the past, but this is one that encourages you to really get in the fray as deep as possible. The only saving grace of this move is that you can perform it mid-Super Jump, which makes for a much more useful and badass application of this attack. Enemies don't get as much warning, and any player worth their salt will know if an enemy's Super Jump icon appears before you it'd be rude not to attempt to splat them as soon as they land, so this can be a rather effective surprise strike.
Next we have the Inkjet, which despite being apparently named after a style of printer is a very satisfying high-risk/reward weapon. You shoot up into the air on a jetpack propelled by ink shooting large, slow-moving globs of ink that explode on contact and can easily kill in a single hit. This is a real game-changer as it allows you to enter otherwise inaccessible enemy territory and really cause havoc, but once it's over you return back at the place you activated it, so bear that in mind.
And lastly we have my favourite of the new additions, the Tenta Missiles. This behaves somewhat like a personal echolocator, allowing you to see all enemy kid/squids and launch homing missiles at up to all four of them, providing you can get them in your crosshair. Whilst the enemy gets plenty of warning before these strike, it's still quite easy to miss said indicator and cause the recipient bother. Even if they do notice it forced them to move as fast as possible, potentially into a less optimal area of the map, so it's great for flushing people out.
There's also the Curling Bomb which seems to potentially be replacing the Seeker, although we don't know that for sure yet. It bounces around and causes a bit of ink damage here and there, but I never really saw it put to any really effective use so it's difficult for me to give it a fair chance in this discussion. It's all right, but it's not going to be replacing the traditional Splat Bomb anytime soon.
So, those are some of our thoughts. Share your impressions of the Splatoon 2 Global Testfire in the comments!