That Gal Of Mine: A Defense of the .96 Gal

Al Davis once said that “speed kills,” but the truth is that speed can’t kill what it can’t reach.

I’ve played a lot of Splatoon 2 over the last few years, and if I’m known for anything in this game, it’s my bizarre brella shenanigans…but I have a secret: I’m secretly a .96 Gal main from way back in the glory days of Splatoon 1. While the weapon is no longer the powerhouse it was in the original game, it remains a force to be reckoned (especially with the steady stream of buffs it’s gotten over time), and I still count it among my most-used (and most-liked) weapons.

The thing that drew me to the weapon all those years ago was its surprising combination of power and range: It delivered the most damage per shot of any shooter in the game, while also out-ranging nearly every shooter in the game at the same time. Sure, the gun had it downsides, but it felt like they either a) didn’t matter in practice all that much, or b) could be easily worked around with the right gear and strategy. It was the perfect all-around weapon, and I couldn’t see why you would want to use anything else.

Naturally, “use anything else” is exactly what the majority of the Splatoon community does: According to sendou.ink’s tier lists, in top-tier gameplay the vanilla .96 is moderately used at best (the deco version is barely used at all), and tends to lag behind comparable weapons like the Kensa Splattershot Pro and even the Jet Squelcher. Despite a few high-profile boosters, the .96 Gal doesn’t seem to be top-of-mind the way these days the way that the N-Zap ’85 is. I’m here to argue that it should be, and that you should consider adding the weapon to your own Ink Battle toolkit.

The Details

There are only two kits available for the .96 Gal, but they all share the same two major advantages we mentioned earlier:

  • A range that stacks up well against not only shooter-class weapons, but many of the game’s weapons in general: The .96 has the 4th-best range among shooters (only the H-3 Nozzlenose and Jet Squelcher beat it with primary fire; the Squeezer’s tap shots also travel slightly farther) and the 18th-best range overall (those ahead of it are mostly chargers and splatlings, with a few sloshers and vertical-flicking Dynamo Rollers mixed in as well). These means that you can go up against the majority of weapons and come out ahead (and you’d be surprised how many players at lower levels of play will simply walk towards you while shooting short-range weapons, not realizing you’ll hit them long before they ever hit you).
  • The most per-shot power you’ll ever squeeze out of a shooter: At a maximum of 62 damage per shot, the weapon is a two-shot kill in nearly every situation. The damage can drop to minimum of 35 when falloff comes into play, but generally the only time you’ll see a three-shot kill is when you’re shooting from higher ground and arcing your shots at the gun’s maximum range.

There are also a couple of neutral elements that help make the case for the weapon:

  • Despite being a powerful gun that looks like it would have some heft to it, the .96 Gal is considered a middleweight weapon, which means that while you won’t get the speed boost of a lightweight weapon, it won’t slow you down like a heavyweight one either, giving you some decent mobility to work with.
  • When shooting, your shots ink a wide trail along the path between you and your target, allow you to paint your territory surprisingly well.

So basically you can hit shots from across the parking lot like you’re Steph Curry, it only take two of hit to fry your opponent, and you can traverse and paint the map with relative ease. How the heck do you balance a weapon like this? In Splatoon 2, the developers do it in three ways:

  • Ink Inefficiency: This beast eats ink faster than Garfield eats lasagna: Without any efficiency perks, the .96 will consume 2.5% of your ink tank per shot, giving you only 40 to work with at any given time. That’s 10 less than the Splattershot Pro, 22 less than the Jet Squelcher, and a whooping 85 less than the N-Zap ’85.
  • Shot RNG: Part of the reason the .96 paints so well is that it tends to scatter its shots a bit: Its initial accuracy of 96% gradually drops to 70% after just nine shots, and it immediately drops to 60% if you jump while shooting. This can lead to some frustrating moments where you’re shooting directly at an opponent, but your shots seem to be flying around and past them instead.
  • Slow Fire Rate: The .96 Gal’s fire rate of 5 shots per second lags behind its peers (both the Jet Squelcher and Splattershot Pro fire 7.5 shots per second) and way behind most shorter-ranged weapons (for example, the N-Zap and Splash-o-matic pump out 12 shots per second, and the Aerospray sets the pace at 15/sec). This means that going toe-to-toe with most weapons is a dicey proposition, because their lower-powered shots add up a lot faster than yours do.

As bad as these issues sound, however, none of them are deal-breakers, and in truth I would argue that none of them are really that much of a problem. Good awareness and positioning can effectively mitigate your middling accuracy and slow fire rate, and the proper gear perks can help sate the gun’s ink hunger. As long as you keep the .96’s limitations in mind, you’ll find it to be a flexible, capable weapon that can make an impact in nearly any situation.

The Flavors

Your options for the .96 Gal are as follows:

  • .96 Gal (Sprinkler/Ink Armor): As much as I loved Echolocator from the original Splatoon, it’s the Ink Armor that replaced it in Splatoon 2 that accounts for most of the usage the weapon sees in competitive play today. Ink Armor provides a temporary 30-HP shield to every teammate currently on the battlefield, and if you take more damage than that in a single hit, the armor simply shatters and leaves the armor undamaged (however, they may get knocked back if the blow is powerful enough. It’s a special that provides utility in any game mode, ranked or otherwise, and it’s one of the most-used specials in the current meta. (It’s not as useful in solo queue because it depends on your teammates to take advantage of the extra health, but on the flip side competitive teams will sometimes run comps with multiple Ink Armor weapons to get as many shields as possible.) With its solid painting abilities and reasonable 190-point cost, the .96 Gal offers folks an Ink Armor weapon that can do so more than just spam its special (the Splattershot Jr. may get armor faster, but you’re not winning many 1v1 battles with it).

The Sprinkler is my favorite sub weapon in Splatoon 2, and it allows you to ink an area without you actually having to be there. Not only does it greatly enhance the .96’s painting capacity, but it provides a perfect complement to your special, as its extra coverage helps you charge Ink Armors that much faster. (It will also attach to any surface, so you can also try to fling it onto high walls/obstacles or hard-to-reach surfaces to make it harder for the enemy to destroy.) The synergy and overall utility of this kit makes it the perfect support weapon for a team, providing great support for others while also being more than capable of doing work on its own.

  • .96 Gal Deco (Splash Wall/Splashdown): On the flip side of the vanilla .96’s strength and synergy, we have the the weakness and lack of synergy of the Deco variant, which likely accounts for why you rarely see it in competitive play. Splash Walls provide a temporary impenetrable barrier between you and your opponent, and while it’s a useful enough sub weapon on its own, it really doesn’t fit the playstyle of the .96. Splash Walls are best employed to enforce some social distancing during close combat, but if you’re using the .96 you’re goal is to keep opponents from getting that close in the first place. The wall will allow you to initiate fights and use the weapon more aggressively, and while the .96 is powerful and capable enough to be used this way, it’s far from ideal (if that’s you’re goal, you’re probably better off using a more-traditional slayer weapon).

Similarly, Splashdown allows you to punish opponents who get too close from any direction, so while it’s a potential “get out of jail free” card if you find yourself in a bad spot, your best bet is to avoid these situations entirely, especially since skilled players can easily cancel your Splashdown by shooting you out of the air. (In particular, beware of blasters: If you’ve already taken damage, their next shot just has to be in the same zip code as you to bring you down. The wide scope of a roller’s horizontal flick can also be a pain in this regard as well. Finally, be very careful if there are multiple enemies nearby—with so many people that can team up and shoot you down, you’re probably better off disengaging from the fight entirely.)The ease of countering Splashdown has made it one of the weakest specials in the game today, and while I enjoy using it to Super Jump to overextended teammates to see if I can catch opponents napping as they camp my landing spot, this is again part of an aggressive playstyle that is sub-optimal for the .96 Gal.

As different as the Undercover Brella and the .96 Gal are, it’s weird to think that their perceived competitive viability is based almost entirely on the sub and special (more specifically, Ink Armor is so powerful that it makes any weapon that has it worth considering). Still, even with a kit that fits as awkwardly as the .96 Gal Deco’s does, you can definitely squeeze some value out of the tools it gives you.

The Gear

Much like the Tenta Brella, your choice of gear abilities will be crucial to mitigating the weaknesses of your weapon:

  • Ink Saver Main: Ink management is a constant challenge with this weapon, so this is probably the most important perk to equip on a .96 Gal because it will help you get the most out of your ink tank (especially given that its inherent inaccuracy will likely mean you’ll waste a few shots when bringing down an opponent). One main of ISM adds an extra six shots to your arsenal, and two mains will bump that number up to 13, helping ensure that you’ve got enough shots on hand to take down an opponent when the need arises.
  • Ink Saver Sub: Both the Sprinkler and Splash Wall will eat 60% of your ink supply by default, so investing in this perk isn’t a bad idea either. One main of ISS will let you keep an extra 6.5% of your ink, which will give you an extra 2-3 shots after using your sub depending on the ISM you have equipped, which could turn out to be the difference between winning and losing a 1v1.
  • Ink Recovery Up: This is definitely a perk you’ll want to run together with ISM, but if you have to choose the two, ISM should be given priority, since a) in the heat of battle, you won’t have a chance to take advantage of IRU, and b) the advantages stack faster at lower levels than that of ISM, so you can get away with dedicating only one or two sub slots for ink recovery.
  • Main Power Up:

While it doesn’t get the attention that the Splattershot Pro does, Main Power Up will boost the damage of the .96 Gal’s shots as well, and the convention among competitive players is to run a fair bit of MPU on their builds (generally at least two main abilities, and occasionally one or two extra sub abilities as well). After running the numbers, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that running a ton of MPU on the weapon isn’t always a good idea:

  • The maximum amount that a .96 shot can be boosted to is 77.3 damage, which means your opponent will still have at least 22.7 health to account for after a single shot. That’s way too much damage to expect them to accumulate passively (for example, from touching your ink on the ground), so the only way this turns the .96 Gal into a one-shot kill is if someone else has already actively damaged them. (For example, an indirect bomb or Tenta Missile blast will deal 30 damage, and given that 2 mains of MPU brings the .96 Gal’s max damage to just over 70, this is likely where the 2-main minimum came from on the competitive scene.)
  • As I mentioned before, you really have to work to make the .96 take three shots to take out someone. In my experience, these instances are so rare that it’s not really worth addressing them, especially when the weapon has so many more pressing issues (such as ink efficiency).

With that in mind, I would say that using so much MPU on the .96 Gal is very situation-specific, and will depend heavily on both the game mode you’re playing and your team’s weapon composition. The key questions are:

  • Do you expect your opponents to be concentrated in a small area where they can be focused down by your team?
  • Do your teammates have suitable sub/special weapons that can be chained together with your .96 shots?

For example, if you’re playing Tower Control and have a teammate with Tenta Missiles or Inkjet, those 2 mains of MPU might be worth using to try and chain together enough damage to bring an opponent down. Without that kind of certainty (for example, if you’re playing Turf War or solo ranked matches), you’re probably better off skipping the MPU and focusing on things that are more in your control (like your ink efficiency).

  • Special Charge Up: This is specifically for the vanilla .96—you’ll want to get as many Ink Armors as possible, and at 170 points the .96 Deco charges its Splashdown pretty quickly without any help. One main of SCU lops 15 points off of the .96’s default Ink Armor cost of 190 (a number of top players add another sub ability on top of that, which cuts another 4 points off the total), so this is a must-run for vanilla .96 players.
  • Special Saver: Again, the importance of Ink Armor means that you want to minimize your special gauge losses in the event that you get splatted. These stack pretty well even at lower amounts (a single sub cuts your special loss from 50% to 41%, and a full main ability cuts this down to just below 30%), so you’ll definitely want to fit this onto your build somewhere. (For .96 Deco users, this is less important, but it’s still worth carving out a single sub ability slot for it.)
  • Special Power Up: SPU stacks really slowly compared to SCU and Special Saver, but given that it extends the duration of Ink Armor while also cutting down the time it takes to activate it, it’s definitely worth thinking about if you’ve got space available. In fact, it might be something you use in a platoon with MPU, swapping out one for the other depending on the situation (although I would only run a maximum of 1 main of SPU). The .96 Deco gets a slightly-expanded hitbox for its Splashdown, but it’s not really much of a buff, and it you’re still just as vulnerable to being blasted out of the air, so I wouldn’t bother with it there.
  • Run Speed Up: The .96 makes you super slow when firing, but RSU barely improves this even as higher stack levels. Instead, I would opt for…
  • Swim Speed Up: Extra mobility is never a bad thing in Splatoon 2, and since swimming through ink is the preferred method of travel, SSU provides far more benefit than a comparable amount of RSU. It’s not a must-pick, but it’s handy to have if you’ve got some space (two subs makes you roughly 5% faster, and a main ability by itself is close to an 8% boost).
  • “The Three Subs”: I subscribe to at least part of ThatSRB2Dude’s “5 Subs” theory, so including one sub ability apiece of Quick Super Jump, Bomb Defense Up DX, and Ink Resistance is useful regardless of what weapon you’re running.

In summary, I’d say start by deciding if MPU makes sense for what you’re doing, and then prioritize ink efficiency perks for the space you have remaining. Be sure to take special weapons perks into account if you’re running the vanilla .96 (especially Special Charge Up), and think about making space for “the three subs” or perhaps some Swim Speed Up.

The Playstyle

The .96 Gal is typically considered a midline weapon, but it’s flexible enough to perform nearly any role in a pinch: You can jump in and splat opponents with your power, you can use your range and painting power to maintain map control, you can use your kit to aid teammates either directly or indirectly, and you can even serve as a makeshift backline/beacon in the right circumstances. When using the weapon, here are a few key rules of thumb:

  • If you can’t move it, paint it. If you can, paint it anyway. This is good advice for any weapons, but it’s especially important for a vanilla .96, because your special should be in play as often as it can be, and if you don’t have it ready, you need to get it ready ASAP. This means that you should always be on the lookout for a place to ink, and if you can’t do it safely or expediently, make your Sprinkler do it for you. (The Sprinkler comes in very handy for this in ranked battles, when the team charges to the middle and leaves much of the spawn unpainted. Leaving a Sprinkler in an open spot every time you respawn helps charge your Ink Armor while letting you rush back to the front.) This is less important for the .96 Deco, but not by much, as maintaining map control and having your Splashdown ready when you need it are still crucial to having a successful match.
  • Keep the pass rush in front of you at all times. As a .96 Gal, your biggest advantage is your range, so you’ll want to keep opponent’s at arm’s length (and ideally a couple of arms’ length) to cover for your subpar accuracy and keep them from exploiting your slower fire rate. (This is why using the .52 Gal can be so frustrating: Its shorter range means the opponent is already in your face by the time you engage them, so if RNGesus isn’t on your side, you’re toast.) This means you’ll to keep you eyes peeled and locate your opponents as early as possible, so that you’ve got plenty of time to blast them before they can reach you. You’ll also want to make sure your path is well-painted before advancing, so that opponents who want to engage will have to take the time to blaze their own trail, buying you precious time to react.

I’ve been badmouthing the .96 Gal Deco for much of this piece, but the main advantage it provides is that it does allow to play a bit more aggressively while still being relatively safe. If an enemy gets too close, you can throw up a Splash Wall to block or redirect them (and if necessary, you can swim through the wall and make the opponent play Ring Around The Rosie to catch you). Splashdown can also be a useful defensive maneuver, as once you jump into the air, an opponent that’s too close either has to immediately back off or shoot up at an awkwardly-sharp angle to stop you. The baseline power of the .96, combined with the kit provided by the Deco variant, can let you frontline (at least in moderation) if the mood strikes you.

  • Above all, stay hyper-focused on your surroundings to keep your decision-making on point. This is true no matter what weapon you’re using, but it takes on extra importance with the .96 Gal because there isn’t really anything you can’t do, at least for a short time. More-specialized weapons have a lot of end nodes in their decision trees that simply say “GTFO”—for example, a charger shouldn’t try to go toe-to-toe with a Sploosh-o-matic, but that same splash should steer clear of the charger if they’re within line-of-sight with no clear/quick path to engage them. In contrast, the .96 Gal is viable in either scenario: You can pull out enough dance moves to land two shots on a sploosh at close range, and you can also step to a far-away charger much more easily than other shooters. That said, while the .96 gives you a lot of power to do “stuff,” you need to know what “stuff” is necessary or appropriate at any given moment—challenging the sploosh or charger simply may not be prudent given the current state of the game.

Therefore, you’ve got a lot of variables that you’ll need to process during the match: Who’s alive, who’s dead, who’s pushing, who’s got their special ready, who could use some extra firepower, what areas need painting, how and where are opponents approaching you, etc. Vanilla .96 players also need to decide when to use their Ink Armor: Do we need it to start a push, maintain a push, or repel a push? When do we try to confirm a kill, and when do we jump out and save our special for another day? For what seems like a heavy-handed, brute-force sort of weapon, there’s a surprising amount of thought that goes into playing it well.

The Conclusion

I consider the .96 Gal to be one of the best weapons in Splatoon 2, and that’s a hill I’ll gladly die on. I’ve lauded the N-Zap ’85 for its incredible flexibility, but the .96 Gal can do everything the N-Zap can while offering a few advantages that make it unique (the N-Zap is faster and paints a bit better, while the .96 is much better at confirming kills and controlling territory, and it also charges Ink Armor faster). It you’re looking to expand your weapon rotation for competitive battles, the .96 Gal is a great way to do so—its strengths can be exploited, its weaknesses can be mitigated, and it true potential can be unlocked by anyone willing to give it a shot.