2015 was a funny time for Nintendo, against all the nay-sayers and all the 'Nintendoomers' the company managed to successfully re-evaluate what makes a shooter tick with Splatoon. Now it's at it again with the aptly named Splatoon 2 - sadly not Spla2oon - and we thought we should sit down to ink out the details of the preview event demo.
We've dropped our fair share of hours into the original title in the series (about 400 hours for this scribe at the time of writing) and suffice to say the core of what made that quirky little shooter so superb has been carried over to the Switch's first foray. Various new ideas have been employed to spice things up, but Nintendo hasn't lost sight of what made the original the stand-out title it still is.
Our first time picking up the game was in the Switch's portable mode, meaning the whole system was subjected to the meticulously calculated gesticulating that comes with any experienced motion-control kid and/or squid. Whilst this isn't the ideal way to play, the excellent viewing angle of the console's screen meant that we were never subjected to that unusual discolouration that used to happen on older devices. The sticks being smaller was also a bit of a shock bit it's easy to adapt rather quickly. What took a little longer to get used to was the placement of the right analogue stick, and with jump being remapped to the B Button we were flailing around for a short time.
Thankfully the Pro Controller is also supported and is an absolute dream. Having had a lot more hands-on time with the Switch by the time we got around to using this beast the stick placement was all but a non-issue, and our character was darting around turning squids into fried calamari in moments, as you can see in the video above. It's also worth noting that the ever-so-slightly sluggish motion controls of the Wii U GamePad are a thing of distant memory, as both the Joy Cons and the Pro Controller have vastly snappier movement, thanks no doubt to the more advanced tech inside them.
But let's move on from the hardware and talk about the game itself. A rather unusual move is that all the previous specials such as the Killer Wail (or 'Megaphone Laser' as it's delightfully known in Japan), Kraken and Inkstrike have all been replaced with new attacks. That's not to say there aren't some distinct similarities to these older specials, but totally stripping them out does help to distinguish this as a brand new title rather than a remaster with DLC.
One special we tried was the Inkjet. Far from being an old-fashioned device for printing Word documents this jetpack allows you to soar above the ground and fire a blaster-like weapon at your opponents. This does make you an obvious target, but you can also scale and explore areas that would otherwise be inaccessible, such as an enemy's spawn which is blocked off by unscalable walls. You won't be able to stay there however, and as soon as your special is over you'll be launched back to where you initiated it, giving you a quick exit from a potentially ugly situation.
Another special we had the joy of using was the Sting Ray, a long-ranged weapon that fires a pinpoint stream of ink for several seconds with limited movement. We weren't able to make much use of this particular weapon, partly because of uncertainty what was going to happen once we clicked that right stick in, but also by choosing hilariously inopportune moments to try it. Practice will make perfect.
The newly revealed Splat Dualies weapon is also something distinctive. It has truly abysmal range, but the ability to quickly roll whilst firing can help get the jump on your opponents and also allow you to dodge out of harm's way. Experienced players will no doubt learn to compensate for this added movement, so any cries of this being overpowered should easily be quelled once people get to grips with things.
The Splat charger has also had a minor buff; now you can hold your weapon's charge as you transform into a squid for a short time, but too long in this form and your charge will run out, so you'll have to be careful how you use it. Considering how Chargers were often considered every-so-slightly overpowered in the Wii U title this seems like an unusual choice to make, but no doubt things will become clearer in the final release.
On a purely shallow note it can't be denied that this sequel totally knocks its predecessor out of the park in terms of visuals. Videos and screenshots online don't even begin to do the game justice, especially considering YouTube's ruthless compression algorithms. Just like the old game colours pop and leap off the screen, but now the detail is so much finer, and more importantly for the hardcore players everything is significantly smoother. We didn't experience a single instance of slowdown during our time playing, although it was in a wired demonstration setting; the final test will come in the retail build on a standard home-based internet connection.
The game still runs in 720p even on the big screen, but we feel this is likely to favour performance over pixel-perfect clarity. It's a shame that we still haven't seen Splatoon in 1080p, but if it means keeping that 60fps solid even on Blackbelly Skatepark then that's just fine, although we don't actually know if it's in this game yet.
All in all Splatoon 2 is shaping up to be a truly excellent and faithful successor to the Wii U classic. We're hoping for a more involving single-player and offline experience than Splatoon offered, but we'll need to wait and see how they shape up. If you enjoyed Splatoon, prepare to ink yourself over Splatoon 2.