Sequels, everyone has an opinion on them. A bit like talk around 'soft launches' and 'lazy ports', sometimes the wider consensus that follows games or systems isn't always accurate or fair. Yet that's the beauty of the internet, and sometimes its biggest flaw - the agenda isn't entirely set by public relations and marketing any more. They have a role to try and influence the public, sure, but in online communities an oft-repeated idea starts to become an established 'fact', and no amount of celebrity endorsements or cheesy adverts can fully reverse the trend.
Nintendo, then, may be a little anxious about Splatoon 2. Not worried to a severe degree, to be clear - the franchise was a success on Wii U, especially so in Japan where music concerts and merchandise have helped propel the IP into broader popular culture. It was a bright-spot for Wii U in 2015 and also drew critical acclaim - not only did Nintendo get a new series out of its breakout hit, but the development team behind it no doubt gained a lot of experience. As it stands Nintendo will be confident that when the sequel arrives in the Summer it will be a commercial hit for Switch.
Yet when it comes to the vocal online community - which naturally influences specific demographics and fans - there's a lot of current debate over whether Splatoon 2 'feels like a sequel'. We'd suggest, above all, that it's far too soon to actually make those kinds of decisions, considering all we've had is a few short trailers and a small taste in the Global Testfire. We don't know the full line-up of online modes, stages or weapons, and the single player campaign remains largely mysterious. That doesn't stop some from declaring it an 'expansion' though, while the debate swings back and forth. There's a consistent trend in online communities of gamers to debate the newness and imagination of a game - well, sometimes, it's not always consistent.
To stick with Nintendo, initially, this certainly isn't new. Super Mario Galaxy 2 battled with a similar debate that still resurfaces when fans discuss which of the two Galaxy games is 'better'. Nintendo, to be fair, essentially blew its own toes off when it said that it started as Super Mario Galaxy 1.5, an honest admission that actually raises an interesting point. Aren't the majority of sequels version 1.5 of something? Galaxy 2 introduced Yoshi, new special abilities and items, and over 100 new stages - surely that was enough for a sequel? How much does the formula need to be ripped up for a sequel, and does a '1.5' beginning have to be a bad thing?
In the case of Galaxy 2 we'd suggest it made sense - take a popular game and deliver more of a good thing but with new content. The basic formula was almost unchanged, but the actual levels and what we played was new. That's the kind of sequel that seems most likely with Splatoon 2, as the formula can only be changed so much and still be Splatoon. If Nintendo has one area where it can in theory be more creative it's the single player campaign, but it's not unreasonable to expect the core mechanics to stay in place.
The expansion / remix / sequel debate rages across all platforms, of course. Sometimes in annual sports games the challenge is to actually figure out what is new, as they often iterate and tweak rather than start over each year. Likewise with a whole range of established IPs in the multi-platform space, at times the differences can be subtle or based solely on new campaigns using established mechanics. One infamous example came from Ubisoft when it basically lifted a world map from Far Cry 4 into Far Cry Primal, reskinning it and then bolting in the new missions and content. Call of Duty was mocked for making so few changes to the core gameplay for a few years, and then plenty complained when boosted jumps and outer space came into matters.
There are varying degrees of iteration, of course. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask used basically the same engine and core assets, yet the worlds and experiences were very different. That's a good example to remember with Splatoon 2 - we need to see whether the development team does some interesting things with the single player, as that could be an area with a different tone and focus to the short campaign of the original. As for the multiplayer, it's not hugely surprising that the basic gameplay is the same, but it'll live and die by its weapon loadouts, maps and modes.
Part of the issue around whether Splatoon 2 is a sequel comes from, we suspect, the visuals. At the same time that Splatoon 2 was unveiled to the world we also saw Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which includes all the goodies of the Wii U original, an actual Battle Mode (not the phoned-in effort we had before) and what seems to be slightly slicker graphics. In fact, the visual jump of Splatoon 2 compared to the first is similar to that MK8 upgrade - it looks the same in our minds' eye, but is actually a bit sharper and better looking. Yet the lack of a huge leap draws that comparison to MK8 Deluxe, attitudes form and the 'not really a sequel' argument gains ground.
The difference, of course, is that Splatoon 2 isn't (as far as we know so far) the same game in terms of content. MK8 Deluxe retreads content we had before and adds a little on top, whereas Splatoon 2 should in theory - like Super Mario Galaxy 2 as the aforementioned example - be primarily new content. A different solo experience, new maps and weapons, perhaps adjusted modes with one or two additions. In the shooter template that's a sequel, though in recent times reboots in 'triple-A' IPs like Battlefield have perhaps adjusted expectations that some have on this score. Yet we should be careful about comparing the Splatoon IP to more established annual franchises - the Summer release will only be the second entry in the series, and it'll have been a little over two years since the original by the time it comes out.
It would be remiss of us, having pointed out how young the Splatoon series is and that two year gap, if we didn't point out some of the hypocrisy at play in some reporting that questions the game's merits as a sequel. Not only is that premature, but in the games industry retreads and iterations that are pitched as sequels are often heartily praised without that same level of cynicism. Cookie cutter sequels are everywhere, though not all get the same snark that's befallen Splatoon 2 in some corners; make of that what you will.
All told, though, there are merits and debates worth having about sequels and new franchise entries. Nintendo doesn't typically go for the 'new game every year' model with all of its IPs, but it's not wrong to challenge the company when it does get lazy - we're looking at you, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. One of the many reasons Nintendo often delivers high quality experiences is because the core fanbase is so demanding - we're often treated to wonderful games, so the sting is greater when disappointments arrive. When sequels come, then, it's fair to assess whether they've been a worthwhile venture for Nintendo - we'd sure love to see whether Metroid Prime IV would be worthwhile...
As for Splatoon 2, some will question its merits in terms of that number at the end. It's too soon to truly decide, though - as we learn more about the game we'll see what the development team has in store for us. We certainly hope it'll be a wonderful follow-up to 2015's breakout hit, rather than a victim of sequelitis.