Thursday, June 21, 2018

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion Review

Splatoon 2 has received a lot of content since it launched. New stages, weapons, clothing, hairstyles, and even new multiplayer modes. Octo Expansion is the first paid DLC for the game, though. It features an all-new single player campaign and finally adds playable Octolings to the game. It’s available now on the Switch eShop for $19.99.

Like the name suggests, Octo Expansion is all about Octolings. Aren’t they the enemy? Well, they’re not all bad! See Marina, for example. In Octo Expansion’s campaign, you play as Agent 8, an Octoling that lost their memory after being defeated by Agent 3, the playable character in Splatoon 1’s campaign. After being woken up by Cap’n Cuttlefish, you start making your way out of the Deepsea Metro and to the “Promised Land” by passing a series of “Tests” for a talking blue sea cucumber. I guess the Promised Land is just Inkopolis. Once you reach Inkopolis, you’ll be able to plays as an Octoling in multiplayer.

The main story of the expansion is told through a series of cutscenes, but there is also a lot of story details revealed through an in-game chatroom. Agent 8 carries a device called the CQ-80, which has a Discord-like app you can use to read “♪Marina’s Chat★Room♪”. In there, you’ll see Pearl, Marina, and Cap’n Cuttlefish chat about what you’re doing in the game and talk candidly about themselves and each other. There’s a lot of interesting details about Pearl and Marina revealed in there, and you get to see them act a little more casually than they do while “on camera”.

Once you beat the campaign and unlock them, Octolings are simply another look for your Splatoon 2 character. You can switch between Inkling and Octoling whenever you want, just like you can change your hair, gender, and skin color. All your ranks, item customizations, money, and game progress stay the same. You can even put Agent 8’s clothes on your Inkling if you want.

Octo Expansion’s campaign adds 80 new single player levels. That's more than double the amount of levels in the original campaign (32). Don't worry, you don't have to beat all of them to play as an Octoling. If you’ve never played a Splatoon single player campaign, they’re collections of puzzle platforming obstacle courses that require clever use of the ink mechanics (and a lot of shooting) to clear. It's a lot like Portal with maybe a little Super Monkey Ball thrown in. Octo Expansion’s levels build upon the foundation of the original campaign’s by adding a variety of new level styles, like limited ink levels, no damage levels, and levels in which you guide a ball to the goal by shooting it with ink. Most of these are completely different from what you do in multiplayer, but there are a also a few multiplayer-like scenarios, like some in which you play Rainmaker against the AI, or defend something from Octolings.

Unlike in the original campaign, you can only play each level with preset weapons. Some levels let you choose between a few different weapons, and give you more CQ (the Deepsea Metro’s currency) for beating them with harder weapons. After beating each level, you'll also be rewarded with a Mem Cake. Collecting all the Mem Cakes in a set of levels gets you a special piece of gear from an NPC on the train. I was able to get the 3 pieces of the Octoling uniform before I made it to Inkopolis.

The progression in Octo Expansion’s campaign is very different from the original’s. Each level has a CQ entry fee, which can range from 100 to a few thousand CQ. Harder levels have higher entry fees. Each time you lose all your lives, you can continue from a checkpoint, for a (usually reduced) price, or restart from the beginning and pay the full fee to retry. If you run out of CQ, Marina will hack some out of Kamabo Co’s bank account for you, but that will put you in debt. I still have not seen a real penalty for being debt. Being short on CQ just locks you out of the harder levels.

You don’t have to play through the first campaign to play the Octo Expansion campaign, but you probably should. Octo Expansion’s campaign starts off hard and ramps up in difficulty very quickly. It’s almost like jumping in at the difficulty that the first campaign ended at. I’ve played Splatoon 2 multiplayer off and on since it came out, but I had not touched the single player since launch, so jumping into Octo Expansion was pretty rough going. The only options you have if you come across a level that you just can’t beat, are to either ignore it, or pay a CQ fee to skip it. If you just want to play as an Octoling, maybe you won’t care about skipping levels, but if you bought this expansion just to play the new campaign, you might get pretty frustrated with it. I never skipped any levels, but I also didn’t beat all of them. You only need to beat about half of them to make it to the Promised Land.

Octo Expansion is a lot of fun. I think the campaign could have used more easy levels to get people back in the groove, but there’s a lot of creative levels in there. They really push the game’s mechanics to their limits and definitely are not afraid to give people vertigo with some of them. If you’re a fan of previous Splatoon campaigns or games like Portal, I think you’ll really like Octo Expansion. Just be prepared for a challenge.