At this year E3’s, a lot of the big companies in gaming let journalists behind the scenes, rather than forcing us to spend hours of expo time in line. In fact, some even slipped us a few nuggets that other press weren’t being given (or due to their lack of knowledge of our genre, didn’t understand). Small nuggets, but things that excited me as a fan. It’s not a true MMO, but Nintendo gave us some interesting news about Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run mode, a new feature in the 4v4 multiplayer shooter, and I got my hands on it and a Nintendo Switch to boot.
The simplest way to explain Salmon Run is as a survival mode. As in Splatoon 1, characters primarily interact with their environment by spreading their colored ink everywhere, mostly through squirt guns, buckets, sprinklers, paint rollers, paint balloons, that sort of thing. Weapons usually come as “sets,” with a main weapon, thrown weapon, and a special attack. These sets are what players usually focus on unlocking in game with in-game money (no RMTs here!), but Salmon Run gives players two random special attacks each time they play, making it possible to experience a set that may not even exist.
Non-Splatoon vets just need to understand that ink (rather than bullets) both slows down and damages enemies, not just by hitting them but covering the environment with it. Ink also allows the player and their teammates to travel faster, climb walls, and regenerate health and ammo. In Salmon Run, it can also be used to “rez” allies, something the game’s PvP mode lacks. What’s cute is that downed allies are in life preservers, able to move very slowly to help ensure they’re revived.
However, rather than making you use ink against your fellow squids, Salmon Run asks you to use it against Salmonids, NPC enemies. Waves of Salmonids come in, and it’s your job to defeat them, take golden eggs from bosses, and deliver them to your loot pile while surviving more and more adds until the time runs out.
Bosses are simple but unique. One is a flying monstrosity raining ink down on your team but has trash bins that will open up and need a grenade tossed in for you to beat it. Another is an eel that will follow players around, twisting and turning and trying to trap them in its body of (oddly enough) mobile paint showers, which can be destroyed from afar but will instantly kill any player that touches them. Alone, one boss coming from below or from above isn’t much of a threat, and that’s important to note.
Modes range from 5%-100%. I didn’t think 5% was too difficult, but maybe it’s because I played the first game and value highly team communication. I know to make sure there’s ink paths for my allies and to not ignore walls! Even trying out the new Dualies didn’t really faze me. We’ll see how release goes, but so far, I felt like my Splatoon 1 skills translated well to the sequel, and I figured Salmon Run wouldn’t end up being as challenging as I was warned.
However, as the mode increases in difficulty, bosses appear both faster and with other bosses. Combined with rising water levels (instant death, oddly enough), things can get hectic really quickly. We’d beaten some demo staff’s record of 25 seconds on 100%, lasting 35 seconds, which wasn’t quite long enough to meet the staffer’s challenge of one minute. Another reviewer and I were the last ones up but got separated, with me trying to avoid the airborne boss, only to be swallowed by the one that came from below. 100% is a real challenge even for Deadbeat, the team that won the E3 2017 Splatoon 2 World Inkling Invitational.
My demo was on the mobile aspect of the Switch, so the controls felt quite similar to the Wii U version but asked me to constantly look at the same screen. Sadly, that made me feel a little dizzy, but that’s more related to another issue from another demo. Ultimately, I really liked that Splatoon 2 still feels like it’s an accessible console shooter for those of us who prefer more fine-tuned controls than most console controllers can provide.
Limited time only
Other media will probably start mentioning this soon, but I was on the floor when a Nintendo team member started telling the Splatoon 2 demo people that Salmon Run will not be a regular game mode. Onhand staff had noted they hadn’t heard this before, and the Nintendo representative mentioned that it would be a special play mode they’d bring out sometimes. Other outlets have mentioned that Salmon Run would have a few different maps to help ensure people don’t “solve” the map and get bored of it, and making it at least an uncommon mode would also help increase that. That’s a little disappointing for fans who prefer co-op to PvP, but at least it’ll help act as motivation to come back to the game if people do get bored.
Nintendo’s still not talking about Splatfest, one of the core community activities in the game, so perhaps something will be different. Maybe the reveal about Salmon Run is a hint about that. As the July 21st, 2017, release date nears, hopefully we’ll find out!