After a round with Splatoon 2 this weekend, I’m finding plenty of reasons to be excited for one of the Switch’s first big multiplayer games. Those can mostly be boiled down to “It’s Splatoon, but on the Switch this time,” which is a great sell — except that by the global testfire’s end, I was desperately missing the Wii U.
On Wii U, Splatoon shined as an outlier, a true original in a catalog of familiar franchises. It was Nintendo’s first new IP in a long, long time, and it was in a genre that company had rarely tried to develop within, let alone with success. The online multiplayer wasn’t the most winning part of Splatoon — that would have to be its irresistible sense of style — but damn if I didn’t love playing round after round in the cephalopod shooter.
Splatoon 2’s online functionality doesn’t seem to have changed much from the 2015 game, although we’ll have to see how the Switch online multiplayer app adjusts the experience. What has changed in notable fashion is the controls, by necessity. Motion controls can still be used to adjust the camera and aim, but the smaller form factor of the Joy-Con controllers and their accompanying grip make this more of an annoyance than they were on Wii U. Those can be turned off, but the weird thing with the first Splatoon is that I didn’t want to turn them off, unlike nearly every other Wii U (and Wii, frankly) game I’ve played.
It’s hard to attribute this to any logical factor, but what I point to is the Wii U GamePad. We’ve written before about how this second screen was the console’s smartest innovation, even if it rarely realized its potential. The GamePad was what sold me on the Wii U all those years ago, and Splatoon was the rare game that made it feel really vital.
Maneuvering with the GamePad was a comfortable experience for me — it could be because I have oversized baseball mitts for hands, it could be because the tablet’s horizontal shape is easier to swing around — but what I really missed about it while playing Splatoon 2 was the controller’s touchscreen. Although Splatoon’s matches were so frantic that there was rarely time to look down, having a map constantly available is a heck of a privilege for a shooter whose maps get inscrutable, fast.
The touchscreen enabled fast travel, had inventory management and kept score without cluttering up any of the big-screen space. I’m sure Splatoon 2’s solutions for losing screen number two are sufficient, but the testfire demo was a striking reminder that the Wii U did have its big plusses.
Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were set to further show off what the GamePad did well, but its second-screen exclusives were cut before release. Imagine having Breath of the Wild’s sprawling map always handy, only needing to look down to see it all before you. That sounds pretty spectacular, despite what Nintendo had to say about it. Little conveniences like that are where the Wii U excelled, and Splatoon will always have that over its sequel.
Of course, the Switch arguably has the biggest convenience, what with its ability to be at home and on the go. But Splatoon 2 feels too chaotic in handheld mode to me; where I can play Zelda portably for 10 hours straight, two rounds of the testfire demo on the handheld felt dizzying.
The testfire was just that, though — a test, and one with really limited, wonky hours. I’m eager to put more time into Splatoon 2, and I’d be surprised if I played it less than I did its predecessor. (I’m especially amped for local multiplayer, a much-needed addition.) But it turns out that nostalgia for the first game — and the Wii U’s quiet triumphs — has already, surprisingly, begun to set in.