Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion Review: Hyperfresh
We get it. It's weird to give a $19.99 bit of single-player DLC for a multiplayer-focused game like Splatoon 2 a perfect review. Though the release of something like Octo Expansion seemed inevitable given the runaway success of Splatoon 2 (not to mention the Nintendo Switch as a whole), the game's single-player campaign wasn't ever its focus.
Framing an expansion around another campaign seems nonsensical. Why not focus on the multiplayer aspect and release a package with cosmetic items, maps, weapons, or more game modes? Who is this expansion even for?
Spoiler alert: if you liked Splatoon 2 even a little bit, it's for you.
Splatoon 2 Review
Flexing Your Mussels
The first thing you'll need to know when you enter the Deepsea Metro for the first time in Octo Expansion is that this game doesn't pull its punches. Splatoon 2 has been out for almost a year now, and this expansion is designed with that in mind. Whereas the single-player content in the base game helped you get to grips with the game's systems and weapons, Octo Expansion expects mastery from the start.
There isn't really a difficulty curve here past the first few levels. Clearing levels and unlocking more of the map allows you to challenge stages in any order you choose. One moment you might be breezing through a level that has you bouncing happily off of jump pads, and another moment you'll be smashing your head against the wall, unable to complete a particularly nefarious speedrun challenge.
Though all of Octo Expansion's stages offer a high and satisfying degree of challenge, most stages also allow the player to make things even harder for themselves by selecting a weapon that is particularly ill-suited for the level. Of course, overcoming this challenge gets the player a higher reward, even if it often seems like this reward should be higher than it actually is.
Pay to Play
Octo Expansion requires players use in-game currency to attempt a level. If you get stuck and have to restart too many times, you'll be forced to grind easier levels for more points.
While this seems like it could be insanely frustrating on the surface, in effect it adds some much-needed risk to challenging these stages. Will you risk your last 2000 points attempting a boss stage where the payout is almost double that amount, or will you proceed a different way through the map and try to find a safer route? Each decision carries more weight this way, and it makes things especially tense when a particular level only gives you one chance to make it through before you're forced to pay again to retry.
Even if you are forced to grind, there are plenty of stages that aren't as challenging, so there's little risk of actually hitting a progression wall. It's a new approach to difficulty in a game like this, and it's highly appreciated.
All this said, the real draw of Octo Expansion is in the way that it expands upon the original game's mechanics. Nintendo has always shown a flair for joyfully inverting and riffing on gameplay elements (see: Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, countless others) and that skill is in full effect here.
You'll travel from stages where you play billiards with a sniper rifle to stages that operate like tower defense games to speedrun stages to stages that can only be described as sculpting challenges.
All of this culminates in a finale that is equal parts Metal Gear Solid and Portal as your character makes their way up to Inkopolis Square. I won't spoil anything, but the final 45 minutes of this expansion were chock-full of jaw-dropping moments that came one after the other.
A Story 20,000 Leagues Deep
Fans of the original single-player campaign won't be surprised to hear that the writing and story in Octo Expansion are top-notch. Cap'n Cuttlefish returns from the original Splatoon, as does Agent 3, the player character in that game. Pearl and Marina both heavily figure into the story as well -- the player can learn about how they met, became close, and totally definitely ABSOLUTELY fell deeply in love with each other through chat logs that are unlocked as you progress through the levels.
The lore of Splatoon has always been a wonderful, winking blend of dark apocalyptic fiction with a bubblegum veneer, and Octo Expansion leans into this hard.
Through the chat logs, Cap'n Cuttlefish will tell you about the horrors of the war he fought in, and in the next moment, tell you how totally-not-racist-against-octopi he is. Oh, and in case arguably racist war vets aren't real enough for you, the extinction of humanity plays a very large role in the game's story as well. It's wonderful, and it's tailored to folks who want to learn more about this crazy post-apocalyptic world that Nintendo has created.
One of the nicest things about Octo Expansion is that it rewards completion in a way that the main game doesn't. Clearing the campaign unlocks the Octoling for play in multiplayer matches, sure, but there are also very attractive awards for 100% completion as well.
Clearing groups of stages unlocks customization items that can be used in multiplayer matches as well, and there's a very special bonus for 100% completion too. It's much less tedious than going back and replaying every single mission in the main campaign with every single weapon type, especially given how unique and inventive the Octo Expansion stages are.
By any metric, the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion is a massive success. The stages are fun and inventive, the story is engaging and full of fan service, the visual aesthetic is fresh, and there's so darn much of it.
Usually, at least when it comes to triple-A developers like Nintendo, a $20 add-on to an already-released game can feel sparse, or at the very least feel like an unnecessary add-on as was the case with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's expansions.
Octo Expansion is neither, and in fact, I'd argue it's even better than the original game's single-player campaign. Through the 15-or-so hours it'll take you to complete the expansion 100%, you'll be led through a jungle gym full of rails to ride, targets to shoot, hazards to stunt over, and enemies to face down. And when you finally catch your breath after having reached the end, you won't be able to resist diving back in to see if you can finally complete that speedrun challenge with the carbon roller, damn it all.
Nintendo promised during E3 that they would continue updating Splatoon 2 at least until December, adding new stages and weapons. If Octo Expansion is any indication, it'd be a massive disappointment if Nintendo didn't have any plans to release another large paid expansion -- simply because this one was just so freaking great.