In the original Splatoon, the single-player campaign felt like something of an afterthought. Octo Valley existed to teach you how to play through the game and use different techniques. It was effective, but hardly a main attraction. Octo Canyon, Splatoon 2’s solo adventure, feels like it learns from its predecessor. Even in its first three worlds, you can see some clear changes.
The basics remain the same. Splatoon 2’s Octo Canyon is divided up into worlds, each with a number of stages and a boss to complete before moving forward. Every level has a Sunken Scroll and Sardinium piece in it, as well as eggs you can collect. Many of them also have an assigned weapon for the first runthrough, in the name of helping Sheldon complete research on his in-development equipment. The Sardinium and eggs can be put toward upgrading your weapons, ink tank, and bombs. The Sunken Scrolls offer insight into the game’s world. Not to mention, playing through levels and hearing their music adds the tracks to the Squid Beatz 2 rhythm minigame in Inkopolis.
After completing each area’s levels at least once and reclaiming their zapfish, players get to enter a boss fight. This is a much larger scale affair. The first time around, it can involve using a weapon Sheldon has assigned to you to survive a boss’ onslaught of attacks until you can successfully apply enough ink to them. You are then able to scale the boss or swoop in to damage a particular tentacle. Usually, after repeating this task three times, the foe is defeated. It forces you to learn to use a weapon under pressure, deal with intense ink situations, and read patterns. For the most part, it seems like the sort of standard boss fight you’d expect from any colorful platformer.
Except here, it feels like every Splatoon 2 single-player level is fresh in a way the original’s weren’t. There are unique mechanics present in almost every stage, with some only repeating once or twice. We see bounce pads, platforms that roll and unroll when ink is applied, moving platforms, balloons of ink that explode when filled, and many more elements that keep you moving and thinking. If a weapon is supplied, it is perfectly suited to that particular stage, but it is easy to see how you would or wouldn’t accomplish the various tasks therein with different equipment. When you face a boss, it becomes clear rather quickly what you need to do to survive and exploit patterns, but each phase adds some little quirk or perk that makes things gradually more difficult. You need to really work at Splatoon 2 sometimes, as the solo stages really get you thinking.
As does the ability to improve and upgrade weapons. Being able to go back through every level with every weapon, both to test yourself and maybe find the hidden items, feels like it has potential to make people better players. Knowing that you can use eggs and Sardinium to increase rates of fire and other elements on weapon, improve your ink supply, and unlock and improve the Autobomb, Curling Bomb, and Splat Bomb really gets you thinking about what you have and how you use it. I found myself increasing my ink supply and Splattershot in the first two worlds, because I wanted to keep my defaults high, before branching off and improving other weapons like the Splat Dualies.
Then, there’s Marie. Marie fills the role of her grandfather, Cap’n Cuttlefish. She’s the seasoned veteran offering insight into the current situation and morale boosts. (Also, puns. Marie is great at puns.) She’s sharper than Cap’n and a far more memorable figure. Though you really have no need to talk to her between levels, her constant commentary makes the levels more memorable. It’s like the idol we loved from Splatoon is more approachable and “reel” here.
In fact, the story in general feels better in Splatoon 2. Yes, it involves reclaiming Zapfish again. By tying the Squid Sisters to the campaign, Octo Canyon became more interesting to me. I wanted to play through more of it, because I cared more about Callie and Marie than I did Cap’n Cuttlefish. Having Sheldon as an additional presence also helped, because it added more motivation for the progress I was making. Sure, there’s the whole Inkling versus Octarian conflict, but after seeing a character like Marina and hearing music from a group like Turquoise October, I was happy to see a story that offered a little more depth to the “us versus them” mentality.
What I think I liked most about the Splatoon 2 story levels is how there’s a sense of balance. You get plenty of stages where you are just trying to play around with the new equipment and enjoy different mechanics like switches and rails. But, it also offers up levels more focused on combat that aren’t boss fights. In certain situations, an Inkling might be collecting mini-zapfish. Except Octolings are around guarding them. You get to learn how to use weapons and unique stage elements like the panels that extend when inked or boost ramps that send you quickly up or past areas while being hunted by Octolings that have weapons and subweapons at their disposal. It’s another form of tutorial, since it absolutely prepares you for facing multiple, intelligent opponents in say a Turf War, but lends this sense of diversity and range to the array of experiences you would have leading up to a Splatoon 2 boss fight.
Splatoon 2’s single-player campaign feels like more of a draw in its first three worlds. Part of this is due to story development and more likeable characters. We know Marie and Sheldon and get to see more of them. The levels can be quite engaging with an array of different weapons to use and mechanics that make us think about how and where we should be defeating enemies and shooting ink. Knowing there are items to collect and equipment to upgrade give a reason to go back. It feels fuller and like more than an extensive tutorial.
Splatoon 2 will come to the Nintendo Switch on July 21, 2017.