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Splatoon 2 beginner’s guide: How to succeed as a kid and a squid

The Nintendo Switch’s exclusive team-based shooter Splatoon 2 is easy to pick up and play. Regardless of your skill level or experience with online shooters, you’ll be able to contribute to your team while having a great time covering its beautiful maps in ink. As you put more time into it, though, you may find yourself hitting a plateau relatively early without mastering the game’s many moving parts. Fail to move quickly throughout the map, and your opponent will easily out-ink you before time expires. Pick the wrong weapon, and you’ll be spending more time waiting to respawn than you are actually blasting baddies.

But fear not! With a little bit of practice and these tips, you’ll be hitting the top of the scoreboard in no time. Here is our Splatoon 2 beginner’s guide.

Further reading

Play the campaign first

Splatoon 2’s standard multiplayer mode, “Turf War,” is available to play as soon as you complete the game’s short tutorial sequence, but you’ll struggle to keep up with more experienced players if you jump into competitive play right away. Instead, look to the top-left corner of the game’s central square area to see a mysterious figure holding an umbrella. Move toward her and she’ll disappear down the drain. This is the way into “Octo Canyon,” Splatoon 2’s short campaign mode, and it will teach you far more about how to play the game.

Split into five large worlds that each contain five or six levels, Octo Canyon gradually increasing its difficulty while also introducing you to elements you’ll see in the multiplayer mode. Early on, traversing each stage will be a walk in the park, so use this time to get acclimated with the game’s different weapons. Over the course of the campaign, you’ll also get to try out almost every type of weapon in the game, including close-range automatic blasters and longer-range weapons that will be especially handy when you enter the ranked mode later on. Find something you like, and you’ll probably find that it’s effective in multiplayer, as well. The “Splat Dualies” and the “Slosher” (literally just a bucket), are two of our favorites.

Later on, the dynamic changes. Octo Canyon’s weak enemies will pose little challenge for you, but its tricky platforming segments definitely will. From giant sponges that must be filled with ink to unfurling doormat platforms, there are a ton of difficult areas you must traverse before you can rescue the Zapfish at the end of each stage. Take note of how long it takes to fill up one of the sponges and the slight delay when jumping in your Inkling’s squid form, as you’ll be using this experience when you eventually head into multiplayer.

It’s about the war, not the battle

If you’re familiar with competitive multiplayer shooters, you’re going to be tempted to make a mad dash for the enemy team and start blasting away in Splatoon 2, but that would be a mistake. Turf wars aren’t decided based on how many players you eliminate — it’s completely irrelevant to your team’s success. All that matters is covering the map in more ink than your opponents, and if you spend too much time focusing on particularly annoying players, you’ll quickly find that the map will be filled with enemy ink going all the way back to your own base.

Instead, base all your decisions around the current state of the map. You can quickly pull it up on the screen by pushing the X button, and it will show you not only the location of enemies and allies but also the current ink distribution. Should an area in the center of a map be particularly contested, it’s wise to lend a hand, but protecting your own base should always be your top priority. Should the enemy team get too close, they’ll be able to pick off your teammates as soon as they respawn, making a comeback all but impossible.

Now, that isn’t to say you should completely ignore taking out your enemy. But there needs to be a balance implemented consisting of eliminating your foes and covering the map in ink. A great player knows how to do both. Just don’t be the person who solely focuses on racking up kills — this isn’t Team Deathmatch.

You’re a kid and a squid

You’re only able to perform attacks or spread ink on the ground when you’re in your Inkling’s “kid” form. It would be easy to assume that the squid form is only useful for quickly making your way from one side of the map to the other or reaching otherwise inaccessible areas. On the contrary, using squid form often, even in combat, is incredibly important.

Weapons run on ink that will refill when not in use, but this process will be sped up considerably by remaining in a puddle of ink while in squid form. Even if you don’t see the enemy team yet, spray down a small batch of ink and refill your tank whenever it’s less than half full — though small, it’s visible on the back of your Inkling, and the game’s HUD will give you an alert whenever you’re running extremely low.

When fighting another player, take a few shots and deal some damage before turning into a squid and dashing around them. While it’s still possible to see a player swimming through ink on the ground, it will take a second or two for them to actually find you again, giving you plenty of time to line up the killing blow.

Use the Super Jump

As a squid, you can swim around Splatoon 2’s multiplayer levels quite quickly, but there’s another way to get to your destination even faster. By pulling up the map and cycling between available teammates, you can choose to teleport to any of their positions by almost instantly using an ability called the “Super Jump,” which allows struggling players to get right back into the action. Jumping to the right spot can be the difference between winning and losing in particularly close matches.

Be aware, however, that the Super Jump can also backfire if you aren’t careful. There’s nothing stopping you from jumping to a teammate’s position as they’re being attacked, which can leave you vulnerable upon landing. A small indicator will appear wherever a player is about to land, which can be seen by both friend and foe. If an enemy indicator appears near you, just wait patiently with your weapon aimed in its direction. As soon as an enemy lands, blast him to keep him out of the fight for a few extra seconds.

Gear up and eat up

Unlike other multiplayer shooter series, such as Call of Duty or Fortnite, the gear you character wears in Splatoon 2 isn’t just for show. You can purchase new headgear, shirts, and shoes that come bundled with extra abilities for multiplayer. These include extra ink, a shorter cooldown on special abilities, and additional bonuses can be unlocked by earning enough experience while wearing particular pieces of gear.

You won’t be able to swap out any gear until you’ve gained a few multiplayer levels, but you can make the process much quicker by visiting Crusty Sean’s food cart in the very from of Inkopolis Square. Using special meal tickets that you can acquire in both Octo Canyon and the cooperative Salmon Run mode, you can purchase treats that unlock extra bonuses for a limited of time. One of these is a hot dog that increases the amount of experience you earn, and this will help you quickly get up to the required level. Gain a little more experience to hit level 10, and you’ll be able to take part in the game’s three ranked modes.

Always do Salmon Run when it’s available

Splatoon 2’s horde mode-like cooperative mode “Salmon Run” is always available to play locally via a wireless connection, but it’s only available for online play at specific dates and times. You should make it a habit to go through the mode a few times if you want upgrade your clothes as quickly as possible. The mode will earn you special currency that can be exchanged in Inkopolis Square for bonus gear. Plus, there’s special high-level equipment you can only earn through Salmon Run.

Salmon Run is also a great way to hone your skills. The wave-based co-op mode will force you to make effective use of Splatoon 2’s limited communication features to call out where mini-bosses have landed. By using the directional pad, you can also mark your own location on the map, letting everyone know where to regroup.

Don’t forget about your special weapon

You’ll probably focus on covering the map and taking out your foes with your main and sub-weapons, but it’s also important to keep your special weapon in your back pocket for when things get heated. These are ultra-powerful weapons that are earned throughout a match that can be used for a limited time. You gain access to your special weapon by filling up a gauge, which is filled by inking the ground, controlling the objective in ranked modes. This can be used as a last-ditch effort to gain the upper hand and should not be ignored.

There are lots of special weapons to choose from in Splatoon 2, from the Bomb Launcher to the Ultra Stamp — each with their own differences you’ll want to be aware of. For example, the Baller special weapon wraps you in a protective sphere, allowing you to maneuver around the map without taking damage, while Ink Storm covers a portion of the map in your ink and moves around the map. Depending on the player you are, you’ll want to consider using a special weapon that suits your play style. Keep in mind that certain specials may take more or less to fully charge, which may impact your decision in equipping it.

Utilizing your special weapon is a strategic move that needs judicious deliberation for the most success. Various factors go into this decision including your rival’s dexterity and agility, your team’s standing at the time of the match, and how you are faring during the match. It can feel tempting to try and use your weapon right away, but the strategic move would be to wait until the moment in the match when you may need it most. It can be what sets you apart in a close game and gives you the edge you need to succeed.

Gain an advantage by learning to use motion controls

It may take some time to learn the ultra-precise motion controls in Splatoon 2 thoroughly. It strongly resembles the mouse and keyboard controls on PC. If you begin gameplay by exclusively using the motion controls, you will get used to them quickly, beating the learning curve and having a leg up on the competition. Motion controls give players a bit more wiggle room than using sticks. Sticks work well, but you won’t be able to move as fluidly in the game. 

With motion controls, you’ll also find it’s easier to keep your reticle on target, as long as you’ve got the correct sensitivity settings in place. You can alter the motion controls by placing your character within The Square area. Once there, press X on your controller and use the R button to scroll over to Options. Once selecting that feature, you’ll see a specific Controls menu, and in there, you can enable motion controls for handheld and TV/tabletop modes.

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Gabe Gurwin
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Gabe Gurwin has been playing games since 1997, beginning with the N64 and the Super Nintendo. He began his journalism career…
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