The Splatoon series has had a reputation for free DLC content, so when Octo Expansion was announced as the first paid add-on to Nintendo’s shooter, there were many skeptics. Right from the start, much debate arose as to whether or not this new content would be worth the money. I never had such concerns. Splatoon is one of the most interesting franchises to come out of Nintendo in a long time, and the series has already become one of my favorites. While the frenetic ink-based online multiplayer has always been the highlight, the Wii U original had a truly fantastic single-player campaign as well. The roughly six hour story mode pitted Agent 3, inkling extraordinaire, against the evil Octarian forces. It was wildly creative, and harkened back to the era of the 3D platformer. It truly was a breath of fresh air. As such, I was incredibly disappointed when the Nintendo Switch sequel, Splatoon 2, rehashed all the same ideas for its single-player portion. There were moments of brilliance, especially toward the end, but for the most part, it was a serious case of “been there, done that”. That stands in stark contrast to the quality and creativity of Octo Expansion.
To those wondering if the 80 missions that comprise Octo Expansion justify the $20 price tag, the answer is a resounding yes. This is truly one of the most creative and interesting pieces of content that Nintendo has released in many years, and it has cemented Splatoon 2 as one of Nintendo Switch’s very best titles in my book. This doesn’t mean that the Octo Expansion is perfect; in many aspects, it reminds me of Super Mario Sunshine, and the inherent flaws in that game.
Whereas Super Mario Sunshine began on a plane, the Octo Expansion kicks off on a train. You wake up with Captain Cuttlefish, the elderly mentor to Agent 3 in Splatoon 1, prodding you awake. Soon, you realize that you aren’t an Inkling, the iconic squid-kid hybrid that Nintendo fans have come to love, but instead, a member of their rival race; the Octolings. Mechanically, the Octolings function identically to the Inklings- the difference is only cosmetic. The Octolings, being half octopus, have a unique visual style that is rather refreshing after being relegated to playing as an Inkling for many years. Upon completing the 8+ hour campaign, your Octoling can even be taken to multiplayer, a feature I’m rather fond of. Recently awoken by Cuttlefish, you find out that the two of you have gotten stranded in the Deepsea Subway and you need to find your way back to Inkopolis. Upon exploring a bit, you discover a sentient telephone whose vernacular consists of 90’s slang – and he’s your only ticket to progress.
This is the first instance in the Octo Expansion where the unabridged zaniness kicks in. The atmosphere here is absolutely incredible. If Super Mario Sunshine sold the tropical island setting, Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion does the same for the underground subway. After talking to the telephone and boarding the Deepsea Subway train, you meet C.Q. Cumber, and it doesn’t take an expert to guess what type of animal he is. This dingy train becomes the game’s hub, and from here you can get off at eighty different stops, one per mission. These are broken up into different lines, and each line brings new passengers to the train. Splatoon’s world has always been ripe with opportunity to expand on its aquatic influences, and Octo Expansion takes full advantage of that. As evidenced by the screenshot above, the passengers are eclectic and creative, but more so, they feel alive. The Deepsea Subway truly feels like a mysterious place full of creatures hustling and bustling from one location to another.
However, atmosphere is only one part of the equation. Gameplay, at least in my opinion, is king. Octo Expansion, much like Super Mario Sunshine, sacrifices focus for gameplay variety. Sunshine often put platforming on the back burner, instead prioritizing various tropical activities. Those activities ranged from rather fun, to totally frustrating. Two words: Watermelon. Festival. (Fans of Super Mario Sunshine will know exactly what that means.) Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion takes a similar scattershot approach. Mechanically, Octo Expansion feels great across the board. Splatoon has always had great mechanics, and Octo Expansion is no exception. Shooting ink to vanquish enemies, or to create pathways to swim through as an octopus, is just as precise as you’d expect. But Octo Expansion is not always combat-oriented, and even when it is, combat can sometimes be rather non-traditional. Few levels here are straightforward affairs that revolve solely around platforming and shooting.
The majority of challenges fuse traditional Splatoon mechanics into new mission types. To get a sense of the grand variety here, I’ll take you through some of the different mission archetypes. One subset is very reminiscent of Super Monkey Ball. You’ll jump into the Baller (a special weapon in Splatoon 2 that encases your Inkling in a ball that you can roll around in, and explode to shower the surrounding area in ink) and have to navigate to the goal. This type of challenge was one of my favorites, and grew more intense as I progressed. Another archetype was the 8-ball levels, in which a huge 8-ball had to be guided to a goal by shooting it. While this seems rather simple, it quickly got complicated by enemies attempting to shoot the ball off the course, or small puzzles that had to be overcome in order to launch the ball further through the course.
Limited item missions were prevalent as well. These proved to be some of my favorites. At their core, they boiled down to defeating enemies and reaching a goal. Rather traditional. However, these missions were complicated by mandating particular loadouts or modifiers that made me take on obstacles in new ways. This included mandating that I use the Inkjet Bazooka, only using Splat Bombs, or reaching the goal without taking damage. By using a traditional objective in these levels, the designers were able to experiment with Splatoon 2’s mechanics in unique and fun ways. A particular highlight for me was a wave-based fight that took place completely on wooden crates. This meant that every missed shot broke the floor below me, thus opening up new dangers, but also new strategic possibilities. Do I intentionally shoot through the floor to drop my enemies to their doom at the risk of me falling to my death, or do I play it safe and make calculated attacks? These missions struck me as the most creative, and the most engaging.
The final major archetype was balloon or target breaking missions. These were rather hit-or-miss. Sometimes, they were particularly engaging: one such mission had me grinding on Ink Rails, frantically taking precise shots on targets to open doors and create new Rails to ride. This was intense and challenging, yet fair. Yet, other balloon missions just felt frustrating due to stringent time limits or annoying target placement. Beating these could feel like a chore. They also discouraged me from trying out the level with higher difficulty weapons. Before each mission, you pick a weapon to use. Each weapon (typically, there are three to choose from) has a different point payout. These points are needed to buy into new missions, as each has a set entry fee. The issue is that these points are almost completely arbitrary and aren’t spent on anything other than level gates. Their presence caused me to, more often than not, simply choose the easiest weapon in the hope that I’d beat the level without dying and losing points, thus having a net gain after collecting my reward at the end. If this point system was removed, I would have be much more open to challenging myself with a tougher weapon.
But, those are not the only types of missions in Octo Expansion. There are a fair number of one-off missions to take on. Sometimes these were very unique and interesting. One put me inside of a 360 degree maze that I had to rotate and explore to collect data points. Another had me playing a match of Rainmaker mode against a whole team of Octoling adversaries. A third put a Splat Charger in my hand and forced me to take sniper shots on 8-balls to rebound them into targets with limited ammo. But, these one-off missions occasionally became a catch-all for challenges that ranged from monotonous to downright annoying.
One mission had me shooting crates to sculpt an octopus based on an example sculpture. This wasn’t particularly fun, nor was it especially difficult; it was just tedious. Another had me dodging back and forth across a narrow platform for 30 seconds in which one hit was game over. During missions like these, I couldn’t help shake the fact that the 80 challenges were padded out to an extent. Luckily, Octo Expansion allows you to skip missions, should one prove to be too difficult. I had to take advantage of this feature only once, and the punishment is rather light. You miss out on a “Mem Cake”, a collectable which can be traded in for multiplayer gear. For completionists, this could be a real bummer, but for the challenge I had to skip, it was a worthy price to pay. This alleviated the frustration that would accompany a difficult Shine in Super Mario Sunshine. There, poorly designed or monotonous challenges had to be overcome in order to progress. Here, that stress just doesn’t exist, which helped facilitate a smooth playthrough.
On the whole, the missions in Octo Expansion are engaging. I’d say about 70 of the missions were in some way or another enjoyable, which leaves roughly 10 of the levels of mixed quality. Due to the fact that you can skip them with only a very small penalty, I don’t feel as though they significantly detracted from the experience – especially not with how downright creative and enjoyable the rest of the missions were. A major disappointment for me though were the bosses. Both Splatoon games have had really excellent boss battles, but nearly all of the fights in Octo Expansion are merely remixed versions of prior fights. The absolutely bonkers final boss compensates for this to an extent, but the fact that the majority of bosses are retreads is a detriment to the expansion on the whole. Considering how creative the rest of the expansion is, rehashing these fights was a definite bummer.
Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion
Overall, Octo Expansion is an absolute steal. At $20, you’re getting a very creative and engaging campaign that expands the world of Splatoon 2 with diverse gameplay, although a small portion of these levels feels like monotonous filler. Luckily, the ability to skip them mitigates this issue, but does little to assuage the fact that the majority of the bosses are rehashes. If you were hesitant to jump in due to the price tag, don’t be: Squidkids will find plenty of enjoyment on the Deepsea Metro.