Since the colorful multiplayer shooter Splatoon 2 launched on the Nintendo Switch back in July, the game has maintained a fairly steady player base, according to producer Hisashi Nogami. There was some inevitable decline once the hype of the launch wore off, but since then he says that the community has remained consistent, due in large part to a steady stream of weekly updates that have added new modes, maps, weapons, and gameplay tweaks. Over the past five months, there’s only really been one point where there was a large decline in players. “It is true that when Super Mario Odyssey launched, we saw fewer than normal users logging on to play the game,” says Nogami with a laugh.
This week, Nogami and his team are hoping to reignite the game once again with Splatoon 2’s biggest update so far. This week will see the addition of new maps, an increased level cap, more hairstyles and music tracks, and a whopping 140 pieces of gear, followed by a new competitive mode in December. It’s substantially larger than any previous update, and Nogami says that this deluge of content is designed in part to make Splatoon 2 more enticing ahead of the busy holiday shopping season. “We’re hoping that we’ll be able to invite in a group of new players who get the game,” he says, “or who are maybe picking up a Switch at the end of the year.”
The first part of the update will start rolling out on November 23rd, and will include the majority of the new content. The fresh gear will include some fan-favorite clothing options from the original Splatoon, as well as a wealth of cold weather-themed items like ski masks, warm jackets, and thick, cozy sweaters. “We had something in mind like offering a fall collection, or a winter collection, similar to what you see in the fashion industry in the real world,” art director Seita Inoue says of the additions.
There will also be four more hairstyle options to choose from, and a pair of new tracks to listen to during battles. The update also introduces some quality-of-life tweaks for veteran players: the level cap has been raised from 50 to 99, and you’ll now finally be able to switch up your gear without having to leave the multiplayer lobby.
Then on the 24th, Nintendo will start rolling out four new maps for the game. The first, called “MakoMart,” takes place in a giant big-box retail store, which Nogami says the team specifically made sure to get ready for Black Friday in the US. Over the following weeks, three more maps will debut, set in a museum, shopping mall, and warehouse, respectively. Nintendo will then follow that up in mid-December with the release of Splatoon 2’s fourth ranked battle mode, called “clam blitz.”
Here’s how the company describes it:
In “clam blitz,’ competing inklings are tasked with collecting clams scattered around the stage. After one is picked up, the clam follows the player. The objective is to throw the clam into the basket near the opponent’s base. The first team to score 100 points wins. But, of course, this being the fiercely competitive world of Splatoon 2, things are not as easy as they seem. The baskets are protected by a barrier, which must be destroyed first. After collecting 10 clams, the player will earn a power clam. These super-powered clams are the key to breaking the barrier, so strategy will definitely be involved in which clams are used to destroy the barrier and which are used to earn points.
Though it’s much bigger than previous updates, the new slate of content goes along with Nintendo’s goal of continually updating Splatoon 2 in order to keep players returning, a concept that dates back to the original game on the Wii U. It’s a philosophy that the company has embraced of late, with post-release updates helping extend the life of games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8, and Arms, among others.
In the case of Splatoon 2, the team makes new content based on a variety of criteria. Sometimes it’s to respond to feedback from fans — like with the much-requested option to quickly change gear between matches — while other times the goal is to add something completely different to the experience, such as with the new mode coming next month.
“All three of the existing ranked battle modes involve teams competing for control of something, whether it’s an area or an object,” says Shintaro Sato, programming director on the game. “And we thought with “clam blitz” we would add plurality to that gameplay. So now the stage is littered with clams, and there are multiple items for players to possess and compete for. The idea being that players will gather clams as a team and need to carry them forward to push the frontlines of the battle forward.
“With the existing three modes, we drew inspiration from a variety of sources, whether that was different genres of games or from sports like rugby. This time around, rather than following that pattern, we thought ‘How could we create a new mode that would be different?’ That was the base that we started from.”
This series of updates is expected to keep things going until around February of next year, and Nintendo has said that it plans to keep supporting the game for a year after launch. Nogami notes that the updates could potentially extend further than that, saying that the team is currently in the “planning stages” for what that future support could look like. Whatever it ends up being, though, these kinds of updates aren’t just a way to keep Splatoon in the spotlight. They’re intrinsic to the game itself.
“An idea that’s sort of baked into Splatoon at the most fundamental level is that we’re not exactly releasing a game when you buy that package,” says Nogami. “But it’s more that we’re releasing an experience that evolves over time.” And at a time when that model often proves controversial, Nintendo seems to be doing it the right way with Splatoon.