Game review: Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion is surprisingly great
The first paid-for DLC for Splatoon 2 is an expansive new single-player marketing campaign that may check your abilities to their restrict.
We do question the wisdom of publishers releasing so many games during E3 week, because not only is it easy for them to get lost in the hype of new announcements but they risk not be reviewed by as many sources as they normally would. Nintendo’s sudden release of Octo Expansion seems particularly ill-advised considering last week they already sprung Fortnite and Hollow Knight on unsuspecting Switch owners. Which is a shame because this is one of the best expansions Nintendo has ever made.
Prior to E3 we would’ve said that it seems obvious Nintendo intends to release substantial paid-for DLC for all its major releases, and yet bafflingly Super Mario Odyssey is still to have any announced for it. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 did though, so perhaps Odyssey is merely the exception that proves the rule (or, more likely, it’ll be announced closer to Christmas).
That doesn’t mean they’ll be any good though and Zelda: Breath Of The Wild’s was certainly not what you’d call essential, as Nintendo awkwardly crowbarred in more content to a game that was already perfectly formed as it was. But Splatoon 2’s sprawling selection of game modes is much easier to build on, although surprisingly this adds very little to the multiplayer and instead offers 80 levels of ultra-hard single-player challenge.
As far as we’re concerned Splatoon is one of the best multiplayer games of the generation, and certainly the most original. It’s been a huge hit for Nintendo but seems to keep missing out on its full due when it comes to critical acclaim, at first because the original launched only with limited content (which quickly built up to an embarrassment of riches) and secondly because the sequel was unfairly dismissed by some as little more than a Wii U port.
Splatoon 2 does already have its own single-player campaign, a competent if unexciting variation on the multiplayer which emphasised puzzle-solving over action and had very little story. Octo Expansion is entirely different and delves into Splatoon’s bizarre post-apocalyptic backstory to take in forbidden medical experiments and explore the history of the evil Octolings.
We’re not going to say any more than that, other than to mention that the only additions to the multiplayer are some special Octoling gear when you start and the chance to play as one if you beat the campaign. But if you think that’s going to be easy then you can think again.
The comparison shouldn’t be taken too far, but the one Nintendo game Octo Expansion reminds us of the most is Super Mario Galaxy. Both in the sense that you never know what you’re going to get when you start a new level and the artfully clever way new gameplay ideas are squeezed out of existing mechanics.
Some levels are straight up paintball battles but more often they’re more abstract than that, from pinging a giant 8-ball around an assault course to trying to dodge bullets without being able to hide in ink or carving a statute out of destructible crates.
The expansion is particularly clever in the way it uses the various existing special weapons, such as letting you use the jetpack for the entire level or turning the hamster ball-like Baller into a pastiche of Super Monkey Ball. There are also new boss battles – something Splatoon has always been good at – and a lot of timed challenges and races, that are amongst the game’s most difficult levels.
Since you need a copy of the base game to run it anyone playing Octo Expansion is already going to be at least passingly familiar with Splatoon, but even so the difficultly level of the game is set extremely high from the very start. As long as you know that going in it’s not necessarily a fault, but having to pay to start, or restart, a level seems particularly harsh. Especially as it means you have to go back to previous levels to grind for more in-game money (although that is made more palatable by rewarding you with more money if you purposefully use less suitable weapons).
The problem is that the harder the level the more it costs to even try it, which for us is taking the punishing difficulty just that bit too far. Although it does help to make victory taste all the sweeter. Thankfully though you do always have access to multiple levels at any one time and if you fail one multiple times Pearl and Marina will offer to trick the computer into thinking you’ve beaten it properly.
You won’t get the little nuggets of story reward if you do that though (or unlock the secret boss) but at least you might escape with your sanity. It’s impressive how much the expansion adds to Splatoon’s lore and it’s clear that the franchise could expand in any number of ways in the future. We’re sure it will too, but for now this is by far the best single-player experience out of both games.
Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion
In Short: A single-player expansion for Splatoon 2 may not seem a particularly appealing idea but this inspired slice of DLC expands the whole franchise in a number of surprising ways.
Pros: Endlessly inventive level design that makes use of every aspect of the parent game’s mechanics and weapons. Tons of content and amusingly deep lore. Fun unlockables.
Cons: Punishingly hard right from the start and having to grind for money to retry levels is a step too far. Not cheap.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo EPD
Release Date: 13th June 2018
Age Rating: 3
* requires Splatoon 2