It’s a new way to splat, and it won’t be easy.
The first Splatoon game barely experimented with local multiplayer, but the Switch’s portability makes it a natural platform for this feature to grow in the sequel. Even better, you won’t be stuck in one-on-one matches this time. Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run is a special cooperative mode (2-4 players teaming up against computer enemies) that can be played locally as well as online. At E3 2017, I got the rare opportunity to play this fun new mode with four Switches connected locally — and yes, this also requires four copies of the game. Our team included a pair of Nintendo employees who had been playing the demo for quite some time, but individual skill is less important than a good strategy and clear communication.
We began at 5% difficulty, easy as it gets, but completing three rounds of Salmon Run (about five minutes total) is a real challenge on any setting, and nearly impossible at the far end of that scale. The goal is to deliver a quota of golden eggs to a net, while invading salmon constantly lay down their own ink trails and try to attack your team members. The regular enemies aren’t much of a threat, but they can limit your useful territory and get in the way of the main objectives. Boss enemies show up every so often, armed with much stronger weapons, armor, and tactics. Killing the tough ones is the only way to spawn eggs and score points, but these encounters really do require teamwork. While you collect one egg at a time for safekeeping in the net, lesser salmon will attempt to grab them and escape the level. Thankfully, you can submerge and swim back with an egg — if the ink coverage allows.
Enemies can approach your island base from any side, and it’s important to have spotters and a mutual understanding of the team’s priorities. Splatoon 2 provides very simple beacon-type calls that show your current location to teammates, but it’s easy to summon them away from a higher-priority situation elsewhere. Clear communication is more important here than in most Splatoon modes, so I was glad to be standing next to the other players. With Nintendo’s still-nascent online service, who knows whether voice chat will be convenient enough for broad adoption. I just wouldn’t want to play Salmon Run without the ability to ask questions or point out a specific location.
The varied enemy design really caught my attention. Even in Splatoon’s campaign, the octopus enemies were mostly just turrets. These new salmon enemies are more aggressive and unpredictable, and the boss types are even better. One wore heavy armor and could only be splatted through a small hole in the back. Another laid down sniper fire from atop his tower of pots and pans (from which he can strike at half the map). My favorite looked like a Chinese parade dragon, but mostly metallic and showering ink along a wavering path. Each one has a key vulnerability that promotes teamwork, if only a simple flanking tactic.
The new salmon enemies are more proof of Splatoon’s slick character designs and even slicker game mechanics. Who knows how wacky and devious they become at 200% difficulty? My team of experts couldn’t quite clear 45%.