Announced during the Nintendo Switch reveal in January 2017, Splatoon 2 is a team-based third-person shooter. It’s the sequel to 2015’s Splatoon, which was on the Wii U. While it will have a single-player campaign that takes place two years after events of the first game, Nintendo released a multiplayer demo to try out over the weekend. Dubbed Splatoon 2 Global Testfire, it’s a way for the company to test its servers prior to release.
Much like Splatoon, you’ll be in control of an Inkling — a kid who wields an ink-powered weapon such as a sniper rifle or pistol, and can transform into a squid. By spraying an area with your ink you can swim through it as a squid, which replenishes the amount of ink you have. This mechanic is central to the gameplay.Before getting into a match, you can choose from a sniper rifle, a shot gun, dual-wielding pistols (or dualie they’re called), or a paint roller if you prefer getting up close to your targets. Unlike Doom, there are no weapons or power-ups on the map to pick up and you're stuck with what you selected for the duration of the match.
Though trials for games such as Destiny, and Rainbow Six: Siege allowed you to experience the game over the course of a weekend, Splatoon 2 only allows you play at predetermined hourly slots. We played through three of these sessions wishing Nintendo was more generous with the amount of time we could try Splatoon 2.
For starters, this game is great to look at. Whether using the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode or as a home console, Splatoon 2 looks gorgeous. The cartoony art style is fantastic, and though there were a few jagged edges, it does not take away from the visuals. It might not have the pixel count or photorealism of games on other consoles or high-end PCs, but Splatoon 2 manages to hold its own.
Splatoon 2 Global Testfire is limited to one mode, and two maps. Turf War mode is the core Splatoon experience. Two teams of four players each have to paint as much of a map’s surface area as possible with their team’s ink. You can paint over your opponent’s ink, and the team with the most ground covered after three minutes wins.
The two maps to play during Splatoon 2 Global Testfire are Musselforge Fitness and Reef. The former is a huge gym complete with treadmills and a swimming pool, while the latter a parklike recreational area. There was nothing confusing with their layout or design, and with both teams starting from opposing ends, it led to a veritable bloodbath (or ink bath in this case) in the middle quite often.
Thankfully, the frame rate and net code hold up splendidly. Whether on Wi-Fi or using a 4G connection as a hotspot, matches were a lag-free experience in both portable and docked mode. Finding a match was fast, as was getting into one. It was all no-frills and frictionless.
And while Nintendo should be lauded for its technical chops, the gameplay itself is the biggest draw. Despite having only one mode in Turf War, it was a treat to play thanks to responsive controls and balanced weaponry - the differentiation between them allowed for different styles of play. And while you can only choose from four weapons, each also has additional effects to the gameplay. For example, the dualie lets you dodge enemies while jumping, and using the paint roller gives you a narrower area to target, which is useful in tight spots.
Colour enough of an area and you unlock a devastating attack such as launching gigantic gobs of ink or pummelling foes with a single strike. All these mechanics and features come together really well to make a hugely enjoyable multiplayer experience, though we do wish that Splatoon 2 will let us configure our controls to our liking when it finally hits.
More importantly, Splatoon 2 Global Testfire proves that Nintendo can handle online services on the Switch. The console had a strong launch month, but the company is ramping up Switch production, so the number of people playing Splatoon 2 this weekend won’t be close to the number of players looking to play the game when it hits later in the year. Given that, we won’t be surprised to see another multiplayer demo closer to release.
Nonetheless, we’re optimistic about Splatoon 2’s chances. It could very well realise the original game's true potential on the Nintendo Switch, and give us a reason to pay for its online service when the company decides to charge us for it later in the year.