When I played the demo of Splatoon 2 back at PAX East, I liked it, but there wasn’t much of anything that made it feel like a sequel rather than a port of the first Splatoon from 2015 to Switch. In fact, my exact words were, “The demo of Splatoon 2 paints the game as an only slightly upgraded version of Splatoon: Still very fun, but not enough differences from the original Splatoon to make it feel like a new or different game in any way. In its current state, it feels more like a slight patch to the original Splatoon.” After having played the finished game for a while, I still feel the exact same way: It’s fun, but really doesn’t have enough new material to feel like a totally separate game from the original Splatoon. Rather, it simply feels like a port of the original Splatoon, but with a few new weapons and Salmon Run (which of course, is only available during certain times of the day). Even if a game has succeeded in being a good game, it still fails as a sequel if it’s hard to tell the difference between it and its original. Such is the case of Splatoon 2.
I find the fact that this is happening to Splatoon on the Switch, of all things, ironic when Mario Kart seemed to have the complete opposite happen to it at practically the exact same time: Mario Kart is a firmly established recurring series for Nintendo. Its latest entry, Mario Kart 8, is one of the most well-received Mario Kart titles out there and came out in 2014. The time is right for a new Mario Kart game on Nintendo’s newest console, yet instead, they did exactly what they should’ve done with Splatoon: They just ported it. Tell me if this sounds familiar: They added a little bit of new content to it, and then threw it on the Switch.
The point I’m trying to get across here is that I’m so perplexed why Nintendo didn’t (pun not intended) switch the situations of these 2 games. Mario Kart is due for a sequel, and especially with Mario Kart 8 being one of the Wii U’s centerpieces, now would’ve been a great time to release Mario Kart 9–yet instead, they added a pinch of new content and just ported Mario Kart 8. Splatoon wouldn’t have been due for a sequel for another year or so, yet Nintendo gave the original Splatoon a pinch of new content and called it Splatoon 2–since it’s so similar to the original, they simply should’ve just called it what it is: A Splatoon port.
I’ve been told that perhaps the reason Nintendo chose to treat these games this way–or at least Splatoon–is to establish its status as a new recurring series for Nintendo. After all, there are ports for F-Zero available on the Virtual Console and we all know about how Nintendo feels about sequels for it. But by making a sequel that feels like a copy/pasting of the original, I really don’t think it’s helping Nintendo out as much as they’d like it to be in terms of establishing Splatoon as a recurring series. I’m sure they made a ton of money off of it, and it’s a fantastic game, but it’s so similar to the original Splatoon that it simply doesn’t read as a sequel. This makes me worry if Splatoon 3, 4, etc. will be the same way.
A series this reminds me of is Monster Hunter. I love Monster Hunter, make no mistake, but since titles for it come out so frequently these days and many of them are incredibly similar to each other, I haven’t actually bought a new one since 4. I plan on getting the next release with hopes that the minute differences found between Monster Hunter titles will finally have stacked enough to feel like a proper sequel, but after playing demos and reading reviews of all the new releases we’ve got since 4, none of them have seemed like a different enough experience from 4 to make me want to buy what is essentially 4 all over again.
Splatoon, I’m worried, will fall in this “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” category of game sequels in which little differences are made in each new entry, but usually nothing substantial. There are plenty of fine games and sequels that fall under this category–mostly yearly releases–but personally, in my humble (read this word closely) opinion–I prefer the traditional version of the sequel that keeps the spirit of the original alive but still feels like a different game.
When I think of what a successful sequel looks like, I think of Nintendo’s own MOTHER trilogy. From the very beginning, each game has the same bizarre atmosphere and base concept of an ordinary child getting psychic powers and being thrown into extraordinary situations (featuring rampant symbolism). Moreover, their aesthetics and soundtracks, although different, are just similar enough to remind the player of other MOTHER games. Earthbound acts as a successful sequel to MOTHER by keeping its bizarreness intact whilst polishing the gameplay by adding a little something new (the rolling HP counter) and fixing some of the common complaints that the original MOTHER had (EX: Too much grinding, too easy to die). MOTHER 3 does the exact same thing to Earthbound–it adds the beat battles and fixes many of Earthbound’s common complaints (too hard to avoid enemies, not enough boss battles). Earthbound and MOTHER 3 are textbook definitions of what proper sequels should be–and effectively, a proper trilogy. These are the kinds of sequels I like best, and these kinds of sequels tend to be more prevalent in Nintendo titles.
Splatoon in and of itself is good enough of a base game for me to want to own it on the Switch. I (and I’m sure many other gamers) would’ve still bought it if it was just being called a Splatoon port on the Switch as well. But alas, I’m very aware that not everyone is that way, and by calling it Splatoon 2 Nintendo definitely made more money. From a financial standpoint, they made the right decision. In doing this, however, they’ve confirmed that if Splatoon 3 is the same way then they’ve cemented its status as a rarely changing game series. Which is fine for some gamers, it is. It’s just the preference some people have–there’s nothing wrong with that. But in this particular gamer’s opinion, if Splatoon 3 follows suit, Splatoon will definitely become one of those series that I only buy every 2-3 sequels for with hopes that they’ll have changed just enough by then to feel like a proper sequel–to feel like I’m not just purchasing the same game all over again as I did with Splatoon 2. Not to mention to prevent the gameplay from becoming stale.
What surprises me the most about this since it’s Splatoon is the fact that this is a Nintendo game. From a business perspective, they did the right thing. They were safe rather than sorry. Artistically, however, Nintendo has been known to be a company that likes to take risks and be different. I mean, this is a game being played on a console with its on monitor if you need proof. Moreover, they’ve proven through Pokemon that it’s entirely possible to make recurring sequels with just enough changes to feel like a different game and still make it not just good, but excellent. That’s to say nothing of the aforementioned MOTHER trilogy, main series Mario games, Metroid, even Mario Kart to name a handful. It therefore surprises me that Nintendo didn’t try to be more risky with Splatoon. I’d expect this kind of static, unchanging sequel from a Sony or Microsoft game, but Nintendo? It’s incredibly rare, but it does happen from time to time (read: Most of the recent Mario Party releases). This just happens to be one of those times, unfortunately.
I do like Splatoon 2, I do, I just wish it felt like a sequel rather than a port. This is a very common thread I’ve seen in many critiques of Splatoon 2. I think Haedox, in particular, summed it up best in his review on Splatoon 2 when he said, “Nintendo is clearly capable of doing so much better when all they have to do is observe their competition…It’s still fun, but it gets back to the central issue of missed potential…Splatoon 2 is already beginning to get a bit stale because of its similarities to the first game.” By adding new classes of weapons, perhaps other gameplay modes (more than just the sometimes-open Salmon Run, for sure–though admittedly, if Salmon Run were open 24/7 it would help), more to do in Inkopolis Square, adding more customization options and outfits, and maybe even adding other small, fun things (for example: I always wondered why Callie and Marie, despite being such beloved pop stars, never had a show like this in Inkopolis) Splatoon 2 could’ve been one of the best releases in a year that’s widely considered to be one of the best gaming’s had in years with its constant stream of 5-star releases–yet it simply wasn’t. Splatoon 2 is a wonderful game, make no mistake, but it’s also only a wonderful game because the first Splatoon was a wonderful game. It may not feel like a sequel but if you were hoping to put one of the Wii U’s most beloved titles on your Switch, it’s available.