Splatoon's campaigns have always been wacky, inventive, but rarely too difficult. They seemed designed to introduce players to the game's different weapons and mechanics.
The newly-released Octo Expansion for Splatoon 2 isn't about warm welcomes. It's about mastering all that Splatoon can throw at you and then some.
Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
The setup of the Octo Expansion is that you're an Octoling, the octopus-inspired cousins of Splatoon's signature Inklings, the squid kids. As a more humanised version - compared to the purple Day Of The Tentacle-looking mobs found in the game's main campaign - you traverse a subterranean railway, completing challenges at each train station while accumulating four "thangs" to earn entrance to Inkopolis.
These challenges can be wildly inventive but also brutally difficult. Much like Breath of the Wild's post-launch DLC, the Octo Expansion seems geared towards those who have beat the game already and want a higher degree of difficulty.
For some, this can be really off-putting. Kotaku editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo and I have talked a few times now about various levels. Some are clever and inventive, such as a Breakout-style ball-bouncing level or one inspired by Picross. Some make inventive use of the game's mechanics, such as a level that basically made me play billiards with a sniper rifle.
This level really forced me to think about how I lined up my shots. Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
But the expansion is filled with plenty of levels that will force you to restart, over and over. On one, I was hopping from rail to rail, trying to break targets. Missing even one meant failure. The level reminded me of the Xbox One's under-appreciated Sunset Overdrive and reduced me to a wreck. This, I said to myself, is how bad I am at Splatoon.
I got used to seeing this... a lot. Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
You have a lifeline if a level proves too challenging. After enough failed attempts and burned credits, you can pay a fee (in-game currency, no microtransactions) to "hack" the level, letting you pass to the next station. The repercussion is light; you only miss out on the Mem Cake, a pencil topper-looking item that's part of a set, which you turn in for rewards.
I've rarely thrown in the towel throughout my subterranean odyssey. While the expansion's challenges are brutal, they're also intensely rewarding to surmount. Each life, each attempt, I felt myself inching closer to perfection. I would repeat runs instead of using the skip option because I knew I was one good try away from the goal. The various aspects of the game became ingrained in my mind, seeping into that reptilian section of my brain.
The rails missions are a blast to perfect over the course of many, many failures. Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
What the Octo Expansion does is force me out of my comfort zone. The main campaign let me coast by, for the most part, on cursory-level knowledge of each weapon and skill. There were few do-or-die moments, or at least, not to the level of the expansion.
I'm god-awful with any sniper-style weapon in Splatoon. Anything that holds a charge, leave it on the sidelines. I'm a spray-and-pray Inkling. I feel most comfortable on an Aerospray or a bucket, covering the largest area I can and outputting more ink-per-second than anyone else.
Within an hour of playing the Octo Expansion, I was playing a level where I had to chain together grappling beacons with well-timed charger shots. I was forced to manoeuvre an 8-ball using my nemesis, the Splatling ink-minigun. Several levels required me to master manoeuvrability in supers I never use, such as the Ink Jet or the Baller.
There are some fun chat logs and other goodies for Splatoon lore-fiends. Screenshot: Splatoon 2 (Nintendo)
The Octo Expansion's brutal difficulty is not for everyone. At least for those who tussle with it too much, there are mechanics in place to shepherd them through to the end goal of getting to play as an Octoling in multiplayer matches.
I like it, though. In the subways and tunnels, among the 8-balls rolling off the sides of platforms and paper-thin orbs that need defending (curse that level), I've found a challenge that pushes me to master a game I've just been casually enjoying for a long time.
I'm not great, but with each cleared goal I think to myself, this is how good I can be at Splatoon.