Trials so tough, you might just tear out your tentacles.
If most single-player campaigns in online shooters are designed to get your feet wet before throwing you into the pool with other players, Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion is designed to throw you into the intimidating deep end. Many of its cleverly designed levels are not afraid to ask for a certain level of skill as they test you in more than just combat scenarios; some demand precise platforming or evasion against overwhelming odds, while others tease your brain to manipulate the environment and guide vulnerable objects to a goal. The sheer variety and difficulty of challenges, encased in a somber and grimy take on Splatoon’s world, leads to a single-player experience that rarely pulls its punches.
Octo Expansion puts you in the role of an Octoling (who’s much friendlier than those in the other campaigns), codenamed Agent 8, and teams you up with the grizzled Captain Cuttlefish to find an ally and escape an underwater dungeon. There’s a lot of funny and clever writing here, with highlights such as when several characters get in touch with their hip-hop side to help the exposition along, and a particularly hilarious talking telephone tries to enable “contemporary speech mode” to better relate to today’s Octoling youth. The macguffins you find by completing levels are literally called “thangs,” for example.
It’s easy to spot the DNA of Breath of the Wild’s shrines in these challenges.
Alongside the collection of thangs, there are around 80 challenges to undertake, which is where Octo Expansion positively shines. Ranging from hard-fought battles against gangs of much less friendly Octolings, to crafty puzzle rooms where missteps lead to instant failures, there’s such a wide range of possibilities of what can be done with Splatoon’s ink-based mechanics. It’s easy to spot the DNA of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s shrines in many of these challenges: one level might ask you to carefully splat a giant 8-ball to nudge it toward a goal post, while another will have you sniping multiple 8-balls to drive them through switches in a demented billiards table with limited ink ammo in your pack. One of my favorite challenges pitted me against flying enemies on a small platform made of breakable crates: if I focused too much on aiming up and not on watching my footing, my enemies would lead me right into a pit. Because I was constantly viewing familiar mechanics through different lenses, levels never got boring or predictable. The finale itself is also brilliantly structured, with a very different but fun take on a final boss.
All of these tests of skill in Octo Expansion are encased within the gloomy plane of the Deepsea Metro, which serves as a gateway between them. I loved seeing all of its bizarre, deep sea-inspired passengers that look like they’re commuting home from the set of a Guillermo Del Toro movie. The Metro is a clever way to create a branching level-selection system, as each of the stops is a trial room that sometimes opens up a new rail line to explore. It’s a relief that you don’t necessarily have to beat your head against a wall if a level is too hard, and can instead find a different line to progress in another direction. And for those dreading some of these unforgiving challenges: there is an option to bypass a level if you’ve been stuck on it for several tries.
While checkpoints are usually plentiful, mission parameters are often extremely strict.
Many of the levels offer built-in difficulty tiers based on which weapon you choose: each level requires a bit of currency to attempt, but the payouts are bigger the more difficult the associated weapon is. You’ll also get a set number of lives per challenge, and while checkpoints are usually plentiful, mission parameters are often extremely strict. One missed target or one step out of line and your backpack explodes with lethal ink. But while they are certainly difficult, over the course of 5 hours of play I never got to a point where I was worried about losing all my currency – but if it wasn’t for the ability to purchase random XP and money boosts for multiplayer after beating Octo Expansion, I’d wonder if the currency was ever really needed to begin with.