Two Years of Splatoon 2: An End of An Era Retrospective

Where it all began.

A little over two years ago, Splatoon 2 was first released worldwide. And a little over a week ago, Splatoon 2‘s final Splatfest took place – marking the end of an era, the end of support for the game. Splatoon 2 means a whole lot to me, as it does to many. Despite not being able to cover the game as much as we’d have liked, it wouldn’t feel right not to pay tribute to this wonderful game in some way – and so, in our first ever retrospective, let’s look back on and celebrate two years of Splatoon 2.

Splatoon 2 was released on July 21st, 2017. However, I feel it’s worth mentioning that for many, the journey began earlier that month, with the Splatoon 2 Splatfest World Premiere demo. Playing host to the first ever Splatoon 2 splatfest, Cake vs. Ice Cream (Rock vs. Pop in Japan), the World Premiere demo was a clever way to hype up the game very shortly before release.

Ice cream all the way, baby.

Players were able to run through the tutorial, and were introduced to the new hub, Inkopolis Square. Oh, and let’s not forget meeting the new duo, Off the Hook, who replace the Squid Sisters as the game’s news casters, for the first time. The group featured a very short Inkling named Pearl, and a girl named Marina, who had a strange hairstyle. Ice Cream went on to prevail in the Splatfest – which took place over the course of four hours – with a score of 1 – 2.

Now, back to the main game. At launch, the game featured six modes – the standard online mode, Turf War, three ranked modes, Rainmaker, Tower Control, and Splat Zones, the new online co-op mode, Salmon Run, and Story Mode (named Octo Canyon).

Image credit: Splatoon Wiki (Inkpedia)

The first thing I personally did was complete Story Mode. Octo Canyon doesn’t do too much to improve over the first game’s story mode, besides adding some replay value in allowing the player to play missions with different weapons after being completed once (this feature was previously an amiibo exclusive bonus in Splatoon). Besides that, it is more of the same from Octo Valley, fighting against the forces of the Octarians, this time in attempt to rescue Callie of the Squid Sisters.

The level design is as great as ever, and while the story is, once more, very basic, the Sunken Scrolls hidden within each level add heaps more lore – giving us more mysteries to ponder. Oh, and like last time, the final boss fight is an incredibly rewarding and climactic payoff. If there is something this series knows how to do well, it is final boss fights. I beat the story on launch day, and went to sleep having already fallen in love with this game.

However, many players were left somewhat unsatisfied by the story, and it was also criticised for being too easy. We’ll get back to that later.

Salmon Run is another gamemode I instantly was drawn to. Being the big new co-op mode, it was given a lot of attention before release and something I was anticipating. The mode is presented as a “part-time job” at a slightly shady corporation named Grizzco Industries. Your job consists of fighting off hordes of Salmonids (pretty much what Octarians are to octopuses, but to salmon), in attempt to steal their eggs. You do this while teaming up with three other players, with different weapon loadouts being available at different times.

Matches are split up into three waves, each wave (generally) getting progressively harder. Defeating a Salmonid Boss drops three eggs, which you must escort to the egg basket. You can only carry one at a time, and if the eggs are left too long, a grunt salmonid might steal them and dive back into the sea. Every match is very unpredictable and while things might start off easy, the difficulty rapidly ramps up. The mode is very hectic, with a wide variety of bosses being thrown at you in large quantities, environmental hazards (such as fog or a rising water level) impeding movement options, and every now and then you’ll even come across a few special rounds, like one where you have to protect the egg basket from a salmonid Mothership.

It’s a great experience, especially with friends, and even though it took a while, I ended up maxing out my rank. To sweeten the deal of this part-time job, as you earn points in the mode, you also unlock bonuses, which can randomly give you special Grizzco items for use in the main multiplayer. All of these items are three star, making them pretty valuable.

However, this mode comes with a massive caveat, one players were quick to criticise after release. The mode isn’t constantly available – instead having a schedule, only being accessible during periods of about 12 hours at a time. While this is definitely a drawback, I think I can understand this decision. If Salmon Run were available 24/7, it would become overshadowed by the main multiplayer – especially since ranking up is a lot easier, and achieving max rank is a lot quicker, people are likely to stop playing once they hit Profreshional. Scarcity makes the heart grow fonder though, as they say.

Image credit: Splatoon Wiki (Inkpedia)

Now, onto Turf War. Turf War is Turf War. Splatoon‘s flagship gamemode, the one that everyone knows. And it’s exactly the same in Splatoon 2. Whichever team has the most ink on the field by the end of the time, wins. No ranks, just for XP. After unlocking Ranked and League Battles, I rarely ended up playing this mode much – however, it is the gamemode used during Splatfests, so I still have a lot of fond memories. And it’s still a fun mode, regardless.

Honestly, I think Turf War could benefit from something of a ranking system. It’d probably be worth implementing it in a different way than that of the main Ranked modes, but as someone who desires feeling like they’re making progress, this would make me feel like my time was well spent and motivate me to play. You can earn XP in Ranked modes (and arguably, you end up earning more, assuming you win), so there really is no benefit to me playing it besides for fun. That’s probably why I love Splatfests so much despite it being Turf War, because it gives me something to work towards.

It would probably also go a long way in balancing the mode too, as sometimes you can end up getting wiped, and other times decimate the enemy team easily. I definitely remember feeling like there was a balancing issue, but this might’ve been fixed by now.

On the other hand, though, the lack of a ranking system could be what makes this gamemode so accessible. Anyone can understand Turf War – cover everything that isn’t already covered in your ink. If you start making things complicated with a ranking system, it could deter those who want just want a fun, casual experience with the game. A fix for this could be to add a “Pro” Splatfest mode, sort of like what already appears in Splatfests. But this is just my wishful thinking. I’m hardly a casual player of the game, and that’s the target audience for Turf War.

Image credit: Splatoon Wiki (Inkpedia)

Ranked Modes were mostly the same as Splatoon, with a few changes. Splat Zones, the King of the Hill-esque gamemode, is identical to the first game. Even though it hasn’t changed, and it isn’t the most unique mode, it still has some things that make it interesting to play. If your team loses control of the Splat Zone, you’ll be awarded a penalty – this penalty doesn’t affect your overall score, but means you’ll need to hold the Zone for longer before being able to earn points again. This genuinely makes losing the Splat Zone scary, as if the other team takes the lead, getting ahead again isn’t that simple. Despair is a genuine emotion I have felt while playing Splatoon 2.

Tower Control, the Payload-esque gamemode, had checkpoints added, where the Tower will stop for a little while before continuing. After passing through a checkpoint one time, if the Tower passes it once more, it will no longer stop. This was likely added to make the mode more skill-based, and balance it. By stopping the Tower several times, this forces the players currently holding it to fight the opposing team, rather than just hide. Before, the game was slightly skewed towards whoever currently had the Tower, as it is sometimes difficult to get onto while in motion.

Rainmaker – the mode similar to Capture the Flag – also received changes, specifically in how the Rainmaker itself works. Instead of being similar to an Inkzooka and firing tornadoes of ink, now the Rainmaker fires bursts of ink in an arc. This was likely changed for balancing reasons, as it makes the Rainmaker considerably weaker in close range. Teamwork is now more essential, as it is much more important that the Rainmaker holder is protected, and can’t handle everything on their own.

Honestly, the Square during Splatfests is so pretty.

In the coming months, people began to speak about the game less, but Splatfests still remained a big community event, with an atmosphere quite unlike anything I’ve personally experienced before. Standing in the Square during these events after having got to max rank, SplatNet posts surrounding the screen, taking it all in – these were some of my favourite moments.

During this time, I actually competed in a tournament with some of my friends. We lost. I’m not going to find the video of our match that was streamed. It was an educational experience.

And then, in November, a new Ranked Mode was revealed, named Clam Blitz. It was released on December 13th.

Image credit: Splatoon Wiki (Inkpedia)

Clam Blitz is a weird mode. Weird in a good way, though. And certainly, it’s the most unique of all the Ranked modes. There’s no comparison I can make to modes from other shooters – in fact, the only thing I can compare it to is real-life American football or rugby.

The objective of the mode is to score points by collecting clams scattered around the map and depositing them in the opposing team’s goal. However, there is a shield covering either teams’ goals at all times, which can be broken by throwing a Power Clam. A player can assemble a Power Clam by collecting ten regular clams, and successfully landing a Power Clam will earn twenty points. While holding a Power Clam, the player will be visible on the map at all times, like when holding the Rainmaker.

While one team’s shield is broken, the other team’s goal is inaccessible – which makes scoring points feel very good, as it’s like you’re totally in control of the match for that moment. When the shield breaks a timer will appear, signifying how long until it goes back up. Throwing a clam in the goal will increase the timer by ten seconds (and score three points), meaning if you’re skilled/lucky enough, you could keep the goal open until you win.

There’s a lot of sneaky things you can do in this game mode, lots of strategies you can use, and it can get really hectic. For example, you can throw clams to your teammates, meaning you help your buddy suddenly get a Power Clam right near the opposing team’s goal, giving them no time to react.

One of my favourite moments from playing this mode was when the opposing team was heavily pushing our goal, and three of us decided to stay and defend. Meanwhile, the fourth teammate quietly collected clams and broke their shield. Things like that are only possible in a mode as weird as Clam Blitz.

The best girls.

It was around this time that my interest started to wane a little, too. Not that I particularly wanted to stop playing, but my friends stopped playing, and I had too many other games to play. I still made sure to participate in Splatfests when I could though, and every now and then I’d hop on for some Ranked Battles or Salmon Run.

It wasn’t until June 2018 – after starting NintendOtaku – when I’d truly get back into the game once more.

Octo Expansion. Both the first ever paid-DLC in Splatoon history, and the first ever story DLC, some of the best content to come out of the franchise to date. First revealed during the Nintendo Direct of March 2018, I was unbelievably hyped for this expansion.

And it did not disappoint. I actually did a review of it at the time, so if you’d like to read my full thoughts, you can do so here (be warned though, I wrote this over a year ago. My writing has much improved since then). The Expansion was extremely well received, and people got their wish for a harder campaign – some levels are genuinely headache inducing (in the best way possible).

Octo Expansion gave much needed development to characters both old and new – I finally came to care for Pearl and Marina, and Captain Cuttlefish is now objectively the best character in the entire franchise.

The Expansion did something different. Not only did it have a unique aesthetic, but it gave us new types of levels, a new villain, a plot that actually had things happen, and cutscenes! It set the standard for Splatoon story modes going forward, and I hope they continue to improve. As I mentioned in my review, the final sequence is some of the best levels in all of Splatoon, and honestly, I’d like to say it’s one of the best experiences in all of gaming.

Uh-huh.

The Octo Expansion also finally allowed for Octolings to be playable – something that’s been rumoured since the first game, and something we’ve all wanted. And so, after a potentially racist Splatfest, the hype surrounding the Octo Expansion died down and faded into memory, with Octolings cementing their place in Inkopolis society.

Afterwards, the game seemed to have somewhat of a resurgence, and I’d see it talked about on the regular. I continued to participate in Splatfests (which had a few special events, like Splatoween and Frosty Fest), made some new friends to play with, maxed out Salmon Run, and set my sights on achieving Rank X – which was added to the game on April 25th, 2018 (my birthday) – in each Ranked mode (something I still haven’t done).

All this time, the game had been receiving regular free updates, adding new weapons, gear, and stages. This is a remarkable feat – and it proves to me just how much the developers care for the game. This is something they did for the original game, too, but only for one year – they doubled that time with Splatoon 2.

As we approached the two year anniversary of the game, fans waited in anticipation to find out what the final Splatfest would be. And it turned out, it was something much darker than we could have ever expected.

Splatocalypse. Because, why not put the fate of the world in the hands of teenagers? Chaos vs. Order. A three day event, the longest Splatfest to date. The winner would get to remodel the world as they see fit. The marketing for this fest was stellar, giving us a trailer at the Splatoon World Championships that made people squeal, bringing back every Shifty Station stage from prior Splatfests, and teasing us on Twitter with explanations about each characters’ allegiance.

This felt big. Bigger than anything in the series’ history.

Despite my current less-than-stellar internet, I fought way into the night for the sake of Team Order. I stayed up past 5am twice, ate way too many slices of toast and bowls of Coco Pops (I needed energy to stay awake, okay?) and managed to make it to Order Queen only thirty minutes before the end.

Chaos reigned supreme. I didn’t mind. I fought my hardest, and had no regrets.

And then nothing happened. Splatoon 2‘s Splatocalypse ended on a wholesome note, as the Off the Hook girls promise they’ll never split up, setting their sights on exploring new types of music together. Guess we’re waiting for Splatoon 3, then.

And thus, the two year journey finally came to a close. A rather anti-climactic ending, wouldn’t you say? However, the final Splatfest marked the end of an era. Splatoon 2 is one of the Switch’s biggest games. It’s received constant updates since launch. And tomorrow, July 31st, 2019, the game will receive its final content update, Version 5.0.0.

Personally, I think I did quite well this time around. I don’t have as many regrets as I did with the first game. And I’m not finished yet, I’ve still got my sights set on Rank X. One of these days.

Splatoon 2 means so much to me. It’s now one of my favourite games of all time, and it is the only game that I would genuinely like to play profreshionally – err, professionally. I just had to pay tribute, the only way I know how. It’s not a perfect game, but a game that’s earned a special place in my heart.

Such a silly, wonderful, bizarre, amazing game.

Maybe you feel the same. Thanks for making it all the way to the end.

Stay fresh, all of you.

-Seba

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