Back when I reviewed Splatoon 2, I said that I loved Splatoon‘s single player campaign and thought Splatoon 2‘s was an overall improvement, gameplay-wise. While I still think that Splatoon 2 had a very solid single player campaign, I definitely understand that some were a bit disappointed by it. At the end of the day, it really was just more of the same with few surprises, an underwhelming final boss, and especially an underwhelming story. While it was fun, it felt like it had some unmet potential and left fans wanting more.
In comes the Octo Expansion, a brand new single player adventure where you can at long last play as an Octoling. Once you complete the adventure, you’ll even be able to play online multiplayer as an Octoling, which fans have been begging for since the first Splatoon.
This expansion fulfills two big fan demands, but as Splatoon 2‘s first paid DLC, does it do enough to give you your money’s worth? Will it satisfy those that were disappointed by Splatoon 2‘s original single player adventure?
Story and Presentation
The story starts off promising. You are an Octoling that lost their memories after battling with Agent 3 (the protagonist from the first Splatoon) and being captured by someone. Along with Cap’n Cuttlefish (also from Splatoon), you find yourself in a mysterious, deep sea train station.
You meet a weird telephone that tells you of the “promised land” and that you can get there if you pass a number of tests and ultimately collect the 4 Thangs. To get from test to test, you’ll be riding the Deepsea Metro conducted by C.Q. Cumber. You’ve also been given the name Agent 8, as you’re the 10,008th person to try these tests and Agent 10,008 is a bit of a mouthful. A simple setup for your adventure, but things get much more interesting as you move further along.
As you do your tests, you’ll be guided by not just Cap’n Cuttlefish, but also Pearl and Marina. Back when Pearl and Marina were first introduced, I expected to learn more about them in Splatoon 2‘s original campaign. Unfortunately, single player mode revealed almost nothing about them. It made the two characters seem like Squid Sisters replacements and nothing more, which was pretty disappointing.
Well, thank god for Octo Expansion. Completing certain amounts of tests will unlock chat room sessions between Cap’n Cuttlefish, Pearl, and Marina. Through these chat sessions, you end up learning a lot more about these characters like how they met, how Marina came to Inkopolis, how they started doing music, and more. It gives these characters some much needed depth and made me like them a hell of a lot more.
And the writing, not just in the chat room, but overall is excellent. The characters’ unique personalities shine through with every word, even in the way they type in chat. There are also more cutscenes than any of the previous single player modes which add a lot of charm to the whole adventure. Story-wise, Octo Expansion has everything I wanted that Splatoon 2‘s original campaign failed to deliver on.
The overall presentation is very well done. There’s a much darker and otherworldly vibe throughout the campaign, that perfectly fits the deep sea theme. From the various deep sea creatures you’ll see riding the train to the random objects floating in space (like giant CDs and retro Nintendo systems), it really feels like you’re a long way from home.
The music in Octo Expansion is also some of the best the series has created. There’s a great variety that matches the theme of each test challenge. Slower-paced tests that require you to think or be careful have more quiet and chill music while tests that have you constantly on the move have music that’s much more upbeat. It’s different from the original campaign, where their choice of music per level felt a little random at times.
As for the actual levels and how the game plays, they’re quite a bit different from the original campaign. Rather than simply completing levels in a world before moving on to the next, you’ll be doing tests spread around the Deepsea Metro’s subway line. You’ll start off on one subway line until you complete a test that unlocks another marked as a square. As there could be multiple tests that unlock different lines in one, you can freely choose which line to advance to and go down, which could then unlock even more subway lines.
There’s a lot of freedom in which tests you want to do and where you’d like to advance. There’s also a lot to choose from considering Octo Expansion is packing a total of 80 playable tests. That’s more than double of Splatoon 2‘s original 32. Octo Expansion can last you about 6-8 hours just to get through it, or even around 15-20 if you want to complete everything (like me).
Rather than simply making it to the end of the level each time like in the original campaign, Octo Expansion‘s levels are more like tests. Each one will have you completing certain tasks that greatly differ from test to test. There’s a large variety here, and throughout the whopping 80 tests, they never got samey or stale.
The tests themselves are a lot more complex and creative than most of what you’d see in the original campaign. Tests will have you do things like guiding an 8-ball with realistic physics to the end of the stage, breaking all the boxes in a stage under a very strict time limit, defending an orb from an onslaught of enemies, defeating all enemies with a very limited ink supply, shooting every target while continually grinding on rails and losing if you miss just one, dodging enemy attacks for a certain amount of time without a weapon to defend yourself, and much more.
Now if some of these examples sounded kind of hard, well, that’s because they are. While the original campaign was designed to teach newcomers the ins and outs of Splatoon 2, Octo Expansion is definitely designed for veterans. These challenges really test your skills as a player. As someone who’s put in over 160 hours into Splatoon 2, I still had trouble with some of these tests. In order to even do a test, you need enough CQ Points. Each test has you pay a small fee of CQ Points to enter, but rewards you with a lot more if you succeed (for example, a 200 point fee with a 1200 point reward). If you fail however, you have to pay the fee again. So completing tests with as few retries as possible is your goal so you can keep your CQ Points. Some tests even give you three options for weapons to use with a range in difficulty. If you manage to complete the test with the more difficult weapon, you’ll be rewarded with even more CQ Points than the others. CQ Points aren’t just used for test fees though, as you’ll eventually be able to use them towards various rewards for online multiplayer.
Even though quite a few of these tests were very difficult and had me dying a lot, it was rarely difficult in a frustrating way. It was the perfect level of challenge that just made me want to keep trying until I conquered the test. They’re all very cleverly designed and with the sheer variety of challenges, I was always looking forward to see what each and every test had in store for me. While I enjoyed the game’s original campaign, I honestly couldn’t name or describe a specific level from it, but there are several very memorable tests from Octo Expansion that I could definitely say, “Oh yeah, I remember that one test. It really kicked my ass!”.
If things do get too difficult, you are offered an out if you lose enough times. Pearl and Marina can hack into the system and say that you completed the test (provided you pay another fee) so you can skip a troubling test and move on with the campaign. However, by doing so, you won’t be rewarded with a Mem Cake. Completing a test doesn’t just give you CQ Points, but also Mem Cakes which are pencil topper looking objects modeled after recognizable characters, items, and symbols from Splatoon 2 which represent Agent 8’s lost memories. Collecting enough of them will get you special gear you can use in online multiplayer, so they’re definitely worth collecting.
If I had one complaint about the Octo Expansion, it’s the bosses and how they’re presented. You’re not required to complete all 80 tests to get to the ending, you just need to find the subway lines that lead to the 4 Thangs. Since the 4 Thangs are obviously very special objects, it’s natural to expect some boss fight before obtaining them. But once you get to a Thang, you just get it. That’s it. There are boss fights in Octo Expansion, but they’re just spread throughout the subways lines just like all the other tests. And considering there’s exactly 4 boss fights, it feels like a huge missed opportunity not having them guarding the 4 Thangs.
As for the bosses themselves, they’re just the same boss fights from the original campaign. Granted, not exactly the same, as they all have some new, trickier moves now. You’re also forced to fight them with completely different weapons that bring a whole new level of challenge to these once fairly easy boss fights. But still, it would’ve been nice if the bosses were completely new. Luckily, without giving too much away, things get better near the endgame.
I still stand by what I said in my past review of Splatoon 2 that the original single player campaign is a solid and fun mode that should definitely be experienced. However, the Octo Expansion easily has it beat. This DLC offers everything that was missing in the original campaign and more. With a story that further expands upon the world of Splatoon in a satisfying manner, as well as some seriously challenging, but extremely fun missions with tons of variety and creativity on display, this is DLC done right and one of Nintendo’s best. It’s absolutely worth the $20 and I would recommend it to all owners of Splatoon 2. With the Octo Expansion, along with the many free updates the game has gotten since its release, Splatoon 2 just keeps getting better.
This review of Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion was based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game.
Offering a story that further expands on the Splatoon world and some seriously challenging, but very fun missions, Octo Expansion delivers everything that the original campaign was missing. Absolutely worth the $20 and one of Nintendo's best DLC.
A gamer through and through. Lover of all kinds of games with an especially soft spot for Nintendo.
Favorite game: EarthBound