‘Splatoon 3’ Review: Inkredibly Fun, Fast-Paced Shooter Action
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Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
You’re a kid now, you’re a squid now. Or maybe you’re an octopus now - that iconic original advert didn’t quite account for that one. Nintendo’s weird and wonderful third-person shooter series hasn’t altered a dramatic amount since it first made a splash on the Wii U in 2015, but the latest instalment, Splatoon 3, introduces plenty of additions and improvements to make sure that the experience stays fresh.
In case you were unfamiliar, the Splatoon series is set in a colourful, post-apocalyptic, human-less world, which is inhabited by various evolved forms of aquatic life, including the Inklings and Octolings. Inklings and Octolings are human-squid/octopus hybrids - they can walk about on land as a human would, but can transform into their marine forms simply by submerging themselves in ink.
Check out the trailer for Splatoon 3 right here.
The result of this is arguably the most distinctive shooter series out there. Throughout the various game modes, two teams of four are pitted against each other, each wielding a different colour ink. This can be used to ‘splat’ enemies or, more importantly, cover the ground and walls - either to fulfil different objectives, or simply to increase your team’s mobility around the map. Using your ink, you can climb walls, hide and ambush foes, and slow down the enemy team - the ink is more than a family-friendly replacement for bullets, it adds so many additional elements and strategies that are completely unique to the franchise.
Turf War is the series’ mainstay casual mode - cover the map with as much of your own colour ink as you can within three minutes, and whichever team has covered more by the end of the match, wins. Although splatting enemies isn’t a requirement, per se, and you won’t get more points for spending the entire time eliminating opponents, doing so will take them out of action for a while, and anything that stops them from sneaking over to your side of the map certainly helps matters.
Then there’s the competitive Ranked modes, and although Splatoon 3 hasn’t added any new ones, there are a number of changes to how you play the existing games. To team up solo with other random players (around the same rank as you), you’ll head over to Anarchy Battles (Series). If you want to queue with friends, then Anarchy Battles (Open) is the way to go. The two variations of Anarchy Battles each have a different mode and maps in rotation all the time, so if you’re not a fan of the selection in one, you can always switch over to the other (assuming you have someone to team up with).
As for the modes themselves, there’s the territory control mode Splat Zones, in which teams have to fight to keep certain areas of the map covered in their ink; Tower Control, where each team competes to ride the tower across the map towards an end goal near the enemy base (like moving a payload); Clam Blitz, which sees players scrambling to collect clams and throw them into a goal to earn points; and finally Rainmaker, where players have to carry the Rainmaker (a golden statue which doubles as a lethal weapon) towards a goal on the opposite side of the map. Unfortunately, due to logistical issues during the review period, I was unable to trial any of these modes, but from my time in the previous two Splatoon games, I can attest to all of these modes being great fun. That said, I can’t help but be disappointed that there are no new ranked modes at all in 3 - hopefully this is something that could be added in a future update.
With a new game comes new ways to spread ink and splat enemies, and the new weapons are really neat. There are two new weapon classes, the Tri-Stringer and Splatana. The Tri-Stringer is basically a bow, and can fire out three explosive arrows at a time, doing more damage the more you charge the weapon. These explosions are set off a couple of seconds after the shot is fired, which can be really helpful for taking enemies by surprise, and finishing off already weakened foes. Depending on how much the weapon is charged, the arrows can be sent out to cover a wider space (useful for Turf War) or to be concentrated in one spot (perfect for finishing opponents off) - they can also be shot out horizontally or vertically, if you jump while firing.
As for the Splatana - and quite obviously, given the name pun - it’s meant to be like a katana, but it sort of functions like a chargeable Inkbrush. You can attack enemies with swift, less-powerful swipes, or hold down ZR to prepare a stronger attack, which can easily fell an opponent in a single hit if it lands (with an oh-so-satisfying ‘clink’). These charged swipes can also be doubled with a swift step forward, to quickly lunge at enemies and take them by surprise.
There’s also a bunch of new special weapons, which you can use by charging up your special gauge (from covering the ground with your ink). All of these have the potential to completely change players’ strategies from the previous games - the Zipcaster, for example, allows you to quickly travel to hard-to-reach areas of the map and attack enemies (or allow teammates to jump to you). Elsewhere, the Tacticooler provides buffs to yourself and team; and my personal favourite, the Reefslider, allows you to charge at enemies and set off a huge explosion. Some older specials have also been revamped, such as the Triple Inkstrike and Big Bubbler, which both originate from the first game and are now returning with some extra oomph.
Quite easily the most upgraded mode in Splatoon 3 is Salmon Run, AKA the co-op multiplayer mode which clearly takes some inspiration from survival and zombie modes in other games. In Splatoon 3, Salmon Run has been revamped into Salmon Run Next Wave, and while the premise remains the same there are some fun changes. In case you were unfamiliar, players have to band together to take on (usually) three waves of Salmonids, earning Golden Eggs from big, bad Boss Salmonids to meet their quota and appease their mysterious employer, Mr Grizz. Weapons are randomised each wave, meaning you’ll have to learn to adapt to whatever you’re given.
Next Wave adds a number of new Boss Salmonids, which require new strategies to take out - the dolphin-like Flipper Flopper, for example, will launch itself into a hoop of ink on the ground, splatting any teammates in its way, but can be stunned by coating its landing spot in ink before it lands. Meanwhile, defeating the newly added Big Shot and Fish Stick will reward players with equipment they can continue to use within the shift - the former provides a cannon that can be used to launch Golden Eggs towards the Egg Basket (given that you’ll often defeat these guys near the shoreline, this saves a lot of time swimming back and forth with Eggs), and the latter will leave behind a tall pole, which can be climbed and used either to flee from enemies or to target foes from above.
The main change though is the addition of the Xtrawave, a randomised event which occasionally occurs after a victory in the third wave. Xtrawave adds a timed boss fight against a huge King Salmonid - while you no longer need to collect Golden Eggs in order to meet a quota, in this wave they can be launched at the King Salmonid for big damage, so taking out additional Boss Salmonids during the fight is key to victory. During my time playing, I only encountered this event once, but it was a tonne of fun, and I can guarantee that it’s going to send friends in voice chats into a frenzy as they desperately work together to try and fight this thing off. Also, the random ‘Known Occurrences’, such as the tide rising to reduce the area you can stand in, are also back, so you can experience that sinking feeling of impending doom all over again.
Multiplayer is obviously the main element of every Splatoon game, and although the option to play locally does exist, it goes without saying that the majority of players will be playing online. Again, I was personally only able to test out Turf War and Salmon Run during the review period, both of which I played online against random players, and unfortunately, I encountered some connection issues with Turf War in particular. Being booted from lobbies and matches was a very regular occurrence, and I’d often be sat waiting in the lobby for minutes before being told there weren’t enough players, before immediately joining a full one when trying again. Hopefully these issues will be ironed out at launch, because they proved to be very frustrating.
Outside of the battlefield, one of the things I’ve always loved about the Splatoon series is how vibrant its world and characters are, and Splatoon 3 does a wonderful job of continuing this trend. Splatsville (known as the ‘city of chaos’) is quite easily the series’ biggest and most bustling hub world yet, and is full of super charming and funny NPCs, from the amazing new idols, Deep Cut (I love you, Big Man), to the shop owners (I would die for you, Mr. Coco). Fans of dad jokes will also be pleased to know that the threequel is as packed with aquatic puns as ever - from the shoe shop, Crush Station, to the hot new place to buy headgear, Naut Couture.
There’s also a brand-new single-player story mode, which is the perfect place to get used to the different weapons and mechanics, and get to know some of the NPCs. Once again, you’ll be fighting against the Octarians, except this time, they’ve all mysteriously sprouted hair. You'll uncover the mysteries of the land of Alterna, and the ‘Fuzzy Ooze’ that covers it.
Much like the previous two campaigns (and Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion DLC), the writing is an absolute treat - it’s full of funny lines and some hilarious interactions between characters, and the adventure will see you traversing various fun levels. While many of these follow the more traditional Splatoon campaign format - with levels which will see you navigating different obstacles to get from point A to point B - a number of them feel much more reminiscent of Octo Expansion which, for those unfamiliar, offered creative challenges for players to overcome. For example, there are a number of timed target-shooting levels, where missing a target will have you instantly fail the mission. Elsewhere, you might find yourself tasked with smashing crates to recreate a statue. Completing every level isn’t mandatory - you access them all via a big hub world, and many of them can be skipped - but there are some brilliant ideas here which make incredible use of the game’s unique mechanics. You can complete every level within about 10-12 hours, and believe me when I say that it’s well worth your time.
Tableturf Battle is a completely new mode, and is essentially a board game spinoff of Turf War. I’ll be honest, this wasn’t a feature I was particularly excited about prior to trying it, but I ended up getting hooked. The turn-based battle system sees each player place down cards, which all cover a different amount of tiles, in different shapes. Once a tile has been covered, it can’t be covered again (either by your own ink, or the enemy’s) unless you use a special attack - so you have to think carefully about your placements. On top of the basic starter deck which everyone receives, you can also earn new packs of cards from the story mode and through the new Shell-Out Machine in the lobby in order to build your own decks - allowing for an (almost) unlimited amount of possibilities. It’s probably not going to be the go-to mode for the vast majority of players, but it’s far more engaging than I expected it to be.
For me though, the best additions to Splatoon 3 are the simple quality-of-life changes. For starters, while waiting for a multiplayer game to begin, you can run around with your weapon in the lobby with the other players, inking the walls and splatting targets - it’s nothing groundbreaking, but compared to the previous two games, where waiting for a match consisted solely of staring at the list of player names pop in, it feels so much better. Salmon Run is now available to play all the time, too, rather than at certain hours of the day, to which I’m sure we can all say, ‘finally’ - there really wasn’t any reason for it not to be like this before, but better late than never, right? Also in Salmon Run, you can now throw Golden Eggs a short distance (and into the Egg Basket, if you’re close enough), which feels monumentally better, as delivering Eggs is now less disruptive to the flow of the game.
One of my favourite new inclusions is the introduction of medals awarded to players at the end of multiplayer matches - they don’t award you more points, or change how the game is played, but seeing a little bonus medal pop up to tell you that you got the most splats that game, or covered the most turf, is really satisfying. There are some more obscure ones, too, such as “number one super-jump spot” - they do a great job of making all of your efforts feel worthwhile, even if you didn’t win.
I’d also like to give a brief shoutout to the music in this game. Splatoon’s wacky OST has never been to everyone’s tastes - its strange instruments and Inkling vocals make for an interesting listen, to say the least. But as someone who’s always enjoyed it, Splatoon 3’s soundtrack is full of absolute bangers. As always, each in-fiction band’s vocals are distinctive, which adds so much personality to the game and the characters within it, and there’s some really catchy tunes.
Although I’ve been full of praise for Splatoon 3, a lot of it is essentially being carried over from my love of the previous two games - although the threequel offers some really nice improvements, as well as great additions to Salmon Run, its lack of any significant new modes lets it down. This is without a doubt the definitive way to experience the series going forward, especially with the promise of new updates for the next two years, but it doesn’t run any better than the second game did. And much of what has been added, such as the new stages and weapons, really feels like it could have been added to Splatoon 2 as DLC.
A new ranked mode (or even a new casual mode, for that matter) would have helped cement this as a worthy new title - as the second instalment available on the Switch, I personally feel that more should have been done to set the two apart. That’s not to say you should avoid Splatoon 3, though - if you’re a big fan of the series, it’s absolutely worth your time, and to anyone who’s never tried the other games, this is definitely where you’ll want to start. For some, the story campaign alone might be enough to justify the new title. While the gameplay is freshened by the new roster of special weapons, some may not feel that this is enough to warrant a totally new entry - and if you were never hooked on the gameplay from Splatoon 2, nothing is going to change here.
All in all though, I’m in love with Splatoon 3, and writing this, I’m already itching to get back into the action. The fast-paced gameplay is as fluid and compelling as ever, and the various loveable residents of Splatsville are going to become fan favourites, fast.
Pros: Super fun gameplay, great new single-player campaign, loveable new NPCs (especially Big Man)
Cons: Lack of new gameplay modes, online connection issues
For fans of: Splatoon (who’d have guessed?), Fortnite, aquatic puns
Splatoon 3 releases for Nintendo Switch on 9 September. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.