You probably didn’t play Splatoon. We’re talking statistically, which means math, which is never wrong. It might’ve been a hit on the Wii U, but the Wii U itself was basically the exact opposite of a hit, in the commercial sense, which made Splatoon a big squid in a small squid kid. Thus was Splatoon’s fate: it was a widely beloved and admired game that sold very well but simply wasn’t played widely enough to be too beloved or admired. It was a hit in the way CW shows are sometimes called hits.
Nintendo has faith, though. It looks at these ragtag squid kids and it sees its next breakout stars, the next lovable cartoon scamps that’ll mash faces in Super Smash Bros., and sell toys, clothes and assorted paraphernalia by the bucket load. With Splatoon 2 out this week for the red hot Nintendo Switch, these fashionable (if inexplicable) chimeras are poised to take that fateful step up to the next level of public awareness. They won’t quite be chilling out in the VIP lounge with Mario or Pikachu just yet, but they’d be leaving the Olimars and Captain Falcons of the world in the dust, and going dutch on scorpion bowls with the likes of Samus Aran and Kirby. (Fictional Nintendo characters hang out in tiki bars. Well-known fact.)
And that gets us back to you. You might’ve played Splatoon. You probably didn’t. You might know it’s some kind of squad shooter where you splat paint all over God’s green (and purple, and blue, and yellow, and pink) earth, swapping from paintgun-toting kid to swim-happy squid to quickly slice through that splatter. If you haven’t put in the miles on Splatoon, what can you expect from the sequel? If you did have a Wii U, what can you look forward to on the Switch re-up? Let’s get you all caught up, so you can dive right into those pools of paint once you get Splatoon 2 onto your Switch.
Really: in many ways it feels less like a full-fledged sequel than a remake with only subtle changes. If you’ve read our review, you’ve heard all about this. If you played the original, don’t expect some noticeable leap forwards here. But that’s okay, because people are actually enthusiastic about the Switch, unlike the Wii U. And the rapturous response to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe proves there’s a huge opportunity for Wii U games to get a new lease on life on the new system. And since it basically just imports the Splatoon experience to a new system, that means…
I am not a man with keen reflexes. Once upon a time, in my youth, I could boast of such skills. Today, though, I am regularly outflanked and outshot by players less than half my age. That’s why you’ll rarely see me in a Call of Duty lobby: I’m just no good. Splatoon 2 might look and feel like a shooter, but it’s structured to make people like me as useful as any guns a-blazin’ crackshot middle schooler. The goal isn’t to kill your rival team, but to have the most territory painted by the end of it. A secondary, personal goal is to rack up points, which do come from kills, but more consistently come from painting the ground. If you focus on claiming turf, and are quick enough with the squid button to avoid direct confrontation, you can both help your team and regularly rack up the most points.
Outside of minor minigames, the first Splatoon could only be played on the TV, despite the GamePad being right there. Instead the Wii U’s handheld screen was locked to a map during online play, which was useful in its way, but not for those of us who liked to play their Wii U off-TV. Splatoon 2, though, embraces the portability of the Switch. You can play this sucker anywhere, as long as your Switch has some life left. This can be a bit of a drawback when it comes to the motion aiming—more than once my default horizontal axis would get stuck in a way where I’d have to hold my Switch at a weird angle—but a button press can reset that on the fly. If you always hoped you could just kick back in bed with some Splatoon, or just untether yourself from the big black rectangle on your wall while still splatting along, the sequel makes that possible.
You didn’t have to play Splatoon online or with friends, but for a lot of players (including, uh, me) the business you could get up to alone wasn’t nearly as thrilling as the multiplayer stuff. You’d splat up the same basic enemy types across a series of anonymous strips, and it was all very repetitive and forgettable. They didn’t really try to hide the fact that it was part tutorial and part time-waster. Splatoon 2’s solo run is a bit more built out—it even has a name that totally sounds like an American International Pictures movie, Return of the Octarians—and although it’s still largely just a tutorial, it’ll probably eat up more of your attention than the original’s. It doesn’t just let you try out the various weapons you’ll eventually have the opportunity to buy, but presents itself as a totally competent platformer collectathon, with multiple different areas and occasional boss battles throughout. There’s more to do in each of these levels than before, making it a more complicated—and clever—puzzle. It doesn’t feel like busy work.
But hey, don’t just read about Splatoon 2. The game’s out now, so if you have a Switch, the means and the desire, you can start doing laps in those gleaming pools of paint on your own.