Without question, one of the very few surprises in the otherwise comfortably familiar Splatoon 2 is how it chooses to handle the traditional ‘horde’ mode.
A far cry from the unsettlingly slavish tack-on other games so frequently treat the concept as, Salmon Run has a lot of fiendish fun with the wave-based format. It consistently ratchets up the difficulty to such a degree that it always feels challenging but fair for players of any skill level.
Immediately after reading such high praise, those who are yet to have swam into the inky depths of Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run might be tempted to think, “But what does it do that’s so special?” In short, there’s a method to its madness. You see, whereas Call of Duty’s highly iterated-upon Zombies mode simply pits you and a squad of three other friends to continuously fend off the undead hordes over and over again in an indefinite cycle, Salmon Run – as silly as it might sound – has a beginning, middle, and an end, thanks in part to its wildly modest yet effective narrative which allows you to be your own boss.
Working as an employee of Grizzco Industries, Salmon Run ostensibly tasks you to clear up what’s known as a Salmonoid infestation as part of a clean-up crew that’s all too happy to help in the hope of unlocking rewards. It’s only a little amount of context, but it’s all that’s needed for Splatoon 2 to thrust you into an incredibly well-polished splat-fuelled fest. It’s more than just a cute ploy though. Unlike, say, Call of Duty Zombies, such light narrative background makes it easy to implement a three-staged structure that allows players to up difficulty accordingly anywhere between 5% and 100%. The higher the percentage, the bigger the reward. It’s fully adjustable rather than random.
A lot of this ingenious setup is present in part due to the on-the-go nature of Nintendo’s shiny new hybrid system. The Switch’s portability means it makes sense for Splatoon 2’s horde mode to be slightly more manageable — being able to jump into a brief match while you’re on a quick bus journey to work makes sense, while a higher difficulty when settled on the sofa for the evening would be much more appealing. It helps that as well as having the main objective of keeping the many fishy threats at bay, Salmon Run sprinkles in plenty more gameplay quirks in the form of mini bosses and an egg harvesting mechanic.
Unlike other horde modes, Salmon Run already provides players with a new and liberating means of moving around — you can swim through the territory you ink. But as in Splatoon 2’s competitive online mode, there are always foes keeping you from having too much of an easy time. You’ll need to manage their attempts accordingly, with traversal being absolutely key to defeating the likes of the Steel Eel, Scrapper, and Drizzler boss enemies which contain the precious golden eggs so sought after within Inkopolis’ world. Each mini boss demands a different tact of approach to take down, once again giving an additional level of depth to what could otherwise be just an afterthought.
Grizzco Industries has a golden egg quota to fill, and failing to meet it during the midst of each stage will end the mode. It’d be quite the understatement to say that at its peak, Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run is brutal, so to be successful it’s essential to communicate if victory is to be accomplished. While good in theory, the state of Nintendo’s approach to online voice chat renders this almost impossible at present, arguably giving the simplicity of PS4 and Xbox One horde modes a distinct advantage.
However, when working correctly, Salmon Run offers up a calamari-filled dish of creative ideas that largely succeeds in challenging players to think differently. The Horde mode all others should strive to be? Quite possibly!