Splatoon 2 launches for the Nintendo Switch this Friday, and the first reviews hit websites this morning, giving this particular Critical Consensus column more of a critical consensus than usual.
If there's a running theme in the Splatoon 2 reviews, it's that the game is great, but largely similar to the original 2015 Splatoon on Wii U. It's still a third-person shooter in which teams of squid-kid hybrids seek to soak levels and opponents in their team's color of ink. There have been changes, but the heart of the game feels familiar, according to Wired's Julie Muncy.
"Splatoon 2... is a sequel that feels more like a reboot, refining and re-introducing what works in the series without changing much," Muncy said. "The additions--including a more fleshed out single-player mode--are welcome, and the Switch's portability is an excellent match for the game's quick, dynamic matches. But if you spent time with the original, don't expect to be surprised... Splatoon 2 subtly refines its predecessor, glossing it with a fresh coat of ink and adapting it to the flexibility of the Switch."
As for criticisms that go beyond the game's same-y feel, Muncy's unscored review also called out the game's unusually convoluted online multiplayer scheme.
"[G]etting online and playing is easy-pre-release, I've even been able to get a stable, playable connection via tethering my Switch to my cell phone's 4G-but playing with friends is considerably harder," Muncy said. "To do so easily requires a separate phone app. That phone app is also the only means of in-game voice chat, engendering absurd solutions to game audio like this branded splitter, meant to let you get in-game sound and voice chat in the same headphones. The phone app wasn't available before launch, so I haven't had a chance to try it out yet."
Eurogamer's Martin Robinson gave the game the site's "Recommended" tag, calling it "a work of gentle iteration and refinement rather than one that offers any grand reinvention."
"You could, through cynical eyes, see this as a mere palette swap, the pink and green that are at the forefront of this sequel taking the place of the orange and blue of the original, but there's more to it than that," Robinson said. "Salmon Run, for starters, is an all-new mode: a co-operative blast through a series of escalating challenges that you could call a horde mode, though doing so seems as unfairly reductive as calling the rest of Splatoon a mere online shooter. There's craft and wit here, essentially, that marks it out as something special, whether that's in the design of its seven boss characters or in the environmental conditions that occasionally sweep in to dramatically change the play space."
Robinson noted that Nintendo supports online play for Salmon Run, but will restrict it to limited time windows. It was one of a number of small choices Nintendo made that he questioned, along with the decisions to limit players to two different multiplayer maps in any given two-hour block, to disallow quitting from matchmaking lobbies or changing loadout in between rounds, and to limit the ability to save a favorite outfit to people who own specific Splatoon-themed amiibo toys.
"Splatoon 2 is also a whole lot more of the same. But it made me think: if something's not broke yet, what's the point of fixing it?"
"By any reasonable measure, this is a better game than its predecessor, and not just on quantity alone," Robinson concluded. "It no longer benefits from the shock of the new - for that, you have to look towards the outstanding Arms - but it's most definitely an improvement on what remains one of Nintendo's finest games in many a year. It was only inevitable, though, that this one was never going to feel quite as fresh."
Over at USgamer, Caty McCarthy gave Splatoon 2 four out of five stars, comparing it to a good pop song that gets stuck in one head.
"It's a game you launch for a single match, only to find hours effortlessly slipping by as you splatter brightly colored paint across turf," McCarthy said. "It's absorbing in all the ways you imagine it might be. Maybe that's because of its laser-focused, non-violent gameplay. Maybe for its upbeat tunes, or its incredibly stylish, customizable outfits. Maybe it's because Splatoon just feels nice to play, whether you want to paint every little spot green, or enjoy inconveniencing your competitors with splats (Splatoon's version of "kills"). Even with all that, Splatoon 2 is also a whole lot more of the same. But it made me think: if something's not broke yet, what's the point of fixing it?"
McCarthy pointed to Salmon Run as the most novel addition to the game, but also seemed to question the dour setting's position within the otherwise bright Splatoon universe.
"Salmon Run is sapped of color and of chipper, charming characters (this is including your 'boss,' a mean being who barks orders at you while doing none of the work). Your standard gear is swapped out for a trucker hat and other work-practical wear, your well-worn stylishness going out the window," McCarthy said. "You begin the mode fittingly as an intern--the lowest of the low--as your pay grade increases and decreases with each round won or lost. It's bleak, reflective of the reality outside of the fresh inktopia of Inkopolis. It's also you, an inkling, being taken advantage of to an unsavory degree. It's so acutely dissimilar from everything else shared in the vast world of Splatoon, that it's borderline unsettling."
While different would seem to be good--one of McCarthy's biggest initial disappoints with the game was how similar it felt to the original--Salmon Run was ultimately a bit too repetitive.
"At first glance, Splatoon 2 seems very similar to the first game. But all the small changes... make for a fresh take on the already unique shooter"
"It's a nice addition, rounding out Splatoon 2's single-player campaign and standard PvP modes, but with only a couple enemy types and the boss types eventually being familiar sights, it becomes easy to avoid getting overwhelmed even when you're short on inkling companions," McCarthy said. "Hopefully with updates and additional maps, the PvE mode will feel more fully fleshed out in the future."
While many reviewers focused on Salmon Run, GameSpot's Kallie Plagge called out the single-player campaign for particular praise in her 8 out of 10 review.
"Multiplayer is undoubtedly the main draw of Splatoon 2, but both new and returning players should absolutely try the new-and-improved single player mode before jumping into any matches," Plagge said. "Unlike in the first game, where you could only use the standard Splattershot gun in the campaign, Splatoon 2's serves as a fantastic introduction to all the basic weapon types you'll have access to--and it's much more robust, with collectibles that require a sharp eye to find and creative platforming challenges that really showcase how unique Splatoon 2's movement is for the shooter genre.
"And while it starts out a bit basic, each level builds on the last and requires clever application of your knowledge to complete. Grinding on rails while shooting targets, then switching to your squid form and successfully landing a tricky jump is satisfying not just because it's fun and cool but because it really feels like you've mastered Splatoon 2's new mechanics."
She was also complimentary of League Battles, a new option to play the game's various modes with friends in a way that won't impact any of the players' solo ranks, allowing friends of differing skill levels to team up with limited consequences.
"At first glance, Splatoon 2 seems very similar to the first game," Plagge said. "But all the small changes, and even the bigger ones in single player and League Battles, make for a fresh take on the already unique shooter. If you played a lot of the original, the sequel has enough to keep you coming back, and if you're new to the game, it's a fantastic place to jump in."