Since we first clapped eyes on the sucker-headed Octolings in 720p on the Wii U, Splatoon fans everywhere wanted to take control of these teenage tentaculars on the splattlefield. Octo Expansion promises just that and much more, but can such wondrous ideas truly be realised in a $20 DLC pack for Splatoon 2 on the Switch? Let’s find out the old-fashioned way.

Octo Expansion puts you in the role of Agent 8, an Octoling who’s woken by the immediately recognisable Captain Cuttlefish and forced to try and scrabble their way out of a dingy subway station. It’s like a fairytale. You’ll be hopping on a train filled with weird (and weirder) sea creatures, and if you ask really nicely it’ll take you to various destinations where 80 missions will present themselves to you. For anyone counting at home, that’s over double the 32 missions the stock single-player campaign offers, which is not at all to be sniffed at.

Although there are considerably more missions in the DLC, don’t think that they’ll become samey or stale. The variety of tasks is frankly staggering, and whilst there are several that employ similar mechanics and overall objectives, they all still find a way to distinguish themselves from one another. The objectives in question are also far more complex and ingenious than anything Octo Canyon has to offer, ranging from guiding a giant 8-ball to the end of the stage to having to defeat all the foes you can see with a criminally limited supply of ink.

It doesn’t stop there either; one mission required us to replicate a shape using a blank canvas of boxes by destroying them one by one in the appropriate manner, much like 3D Picross. At various points we were also dropped into the fray with no weapon at all, forcing us to really re-think how we needed to approach each enemy and challenge that lay before us. Every aspect of Splatoon gets turned inside-out and worked down to the bone in much the same way as the shrines from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; you’ll constantly find yourself thinking ‘goodness gravy, that’s clever’ mission after mission just down to the lateral manner in which the game’s nuances are employed and exploited. All of this culminates in about 6 to 8 hours of gameplay if you just rush through to the end, and closer to 15 or even 20 hours if you decide to do everything, which is plenty of bang for your buck.

If you read our preview, you’ll probably remember that we said the experience was a little on the challenging side. Well, as it happens that wasn’t just wild naivety on our part. Octo Expansion is seriously tough. Not enough for you? Want to take things up even further like we foolishly did? Well, Nintendo thought of that as well, and many missions offer you a choice of weapons at the start, each varying in difficulty.

That may not sound too tough on your game thumbs at first, but these missions are far more tailored for one kind of weapon than previous Splatoon examples. One instance that immediately springs to mind is where we had to defeat over 20 enemies on a floating array of disconnected blocks. The only way to get around is to use Grapplinks, which essentially teleport you to their location once shot.

The stock weapon, a Splatterscope, makes it fairly easy to get about and kill enemies from a good distance. If you’re as mad as we are though, you can choose to use a Jet Squelcher, a rapid-fire weapon with significantly less range and power. You can just about complete the mission with this, but any slight slip-up and it’s right back to the very beginning, which happened to us a lot more than we’d care to admit. It’s worth it though, as more troublesome weapon choices that result in a not-losing scenario for Agent 8 will grant you more CQ Points than standard. These points are used to make your way around the subway and each mission requires a fee, ranging from a hundred to several thousand points.

The difficulty isn’t totally all-encompassing though, and should you lose all your lives in a mission twice over you’ll be able to skip it and continue progressing through the story. You will, however, be missing out on some sweet Mem Cakes, a range of collectables that you receive every time you complete a mission, and these can be used to unlock exclusive gear for use in Multiplayer. It’s a good way to allow users to skip a particularly troublesome area, but you’re not going to be able to just skip through missions willy-nilly and expect to beat the game, as you’ll run out of CQ Points and be unable to get any further.

You don’t have to complete all 80 missions to experience the story in its entirety, either. Without wanting to get into spoiler territory, we were first given the choice to continue the story after just 33 missions, but of course you’re free to go down this road and return to tidy up what you didn’t do whenever you feel like it, which is excellent. Once you’ve done so you’ll also be able to exchange your CQ Points for various items, such as coins and Crusty Sean tickets, which is a really good way to encourage you to tackle some missions you missed, or just play the same ones for more CQ Points.

Again, we’re watching what we say so that we don’t venture anywhere near the dastardly realm of spoilers, but the story really is fantastic. Everything unfolds naturally and you can even read through some beautifully charming optional chatroom logs between Captain Cuttlefish, Pearl, and Marina, to help flesh their characters out even further. It also helps to expand upon the lore of the Splatoon world, introducing more species, more details, and even some history to boot. The whole thing is a love letter to the fans, and the passion for the franchise has clearly never been higher for the devs.

Now let’s chat about the presentation. Holy sweet giblets this is one fine-looking son of a squid. From the grungy look of the subway to the neon lights scattered with care and attention, it’s simply an absolute joy to wade through. There are more cutscenes than ever before, which really gives the characters more weight and personality than we’ve seen previously. Most of the assets you’ll find are brand-spanking new; the skyboxes are looking better than ever with GameCubes and Game Boys littered throughout, and the music is beyond funky fresh. Every single area is brimming with more details than you could possibly appreciate when trying to splat everything on screen.

If we had one criticism of Octo Expansion, it would be the very occasional mission that doesn’t quite hit the same level of quality as the vast majority. A few levels, for example, simply place you down in a stage from the Multiplayer and task you with completing a Ranked Mode objective such as Rainmaker or Tower Control. These are still very enjoyable and challenging, but they do feel a little bit phoned-in compared to everything else. One mission also pits you against the Octo Oven from Octo Canyon in what we first thought was a cheap copy-and-paste of the original fight. In a sense that is the case, but new mechanics and dozens of new threats are brought in to bring the difficulty up to the ridiculous, and it’s glorious.

Conclusion

All in all, Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion is a masterclass in how to do DLC right. It fits in perfectly with the standalone game, provides a heap of tailor-made content and furthers the story of the Inklings’ and Octolings’ world effortlessly and beautifully. As a single player experience it outmatches the standard Octo Canyon mode significantly, and even though it does allow players to acquire exclusive items, it manages to avoid affecting any of the mechanics of online play, so non-purchasers will never be at a disadvantage. If you’re a fan of Splatoon in any capacity and you want more to sink your beak into, Octo Expansion is an unwavering must-have.