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Splatoon 3 Review

Back when we were squids

splatoon 3

Splatoon has quickly become a staple franchise in Nintendo’s first-party roster, and for good reason. It neatly fills a gap in the gaming giant’s library that’s becoming increasingly important in the current gaming landscape, the humble multiplayer shooter, and does so in unmistakably Nintendo fashion. It’s also quietly outpaced the other multiplayer heavy hitters like Smash Bros and Mario Kart in release schedule, which brings us to the newest entry with Splatoon 3.

While I’ll admit I very much only dabbled in the last two Splatoon games, satisfied with consuming whatever single-player content I could eke out of them and having a quick bash of the multiplayer modes before moving on, Splatoon 3 caught my attention from the very first teaser trailer. It seemed to me that, three games deep, Nintendo EPD had well and truly honed both its aesthetic and gameplay ambitions for the series and was ready to debut their complete vision. It almost reminded me of Naughty Dog’s 2004 franchise send-off Jak III, not just because of the wasteland, Mad Max vibes, but because of the potential for a finely-tuned experience that builds on the risks taken by its predecessor.

splatoon 3

Set in a brand-new, very hot and sandy region called The Splatlands, Splatoon 3 begins with you choosing to play as either an Inkling or Octoling (from the very outset, for the first time), customising their hair and outfit from a small selection of options and then jumping on a train to the city of Splatsville. From here, the world is your oyster (heh) and you’re free to roam around this new hub location, taking in the sights, shopping, chatting to the locals or stopping by the various destinations for different game modes. But the first stop that most players are going to want to make is over to the single-player portion of the game.

Return of the Mammalians is the game’s all-new story mode which sees your chosen ‘ling once again become “Agent 3”, joining a couple of familiar faces in Callie and Marie as Agent 1 and Agent 2 as well as the new Captain. They’re hot on the trail of former Captain, Craig Cuttlefish, who recruits you for the express purpose of helping the team yet again rescue the Great Zapfish from a mysterious villain. It doesn’t take long before the entire gang is whisked away to a strange, unknown world called Alterna and faced with a much bigger, much furrier threat than they’d imagined. Also the game’s new hosting trio, Deep Cut, is here for some reason.

splatoon 3

Splatoon 3’s story mode takes the familiar concept of chucking players into a series of short, sharp levels designed to hone and test the skills they’ll need to be truly competitive in the game’s multiplayer modes, but does it in a new and unfamiliar world. Alterna is split up into six islands, all snow-covered remnants of what seems to be a dead world. You’ll traverse each island, completing the levels contained within to earn Power Eggs which you then expend to have your sidekick, Smallfry, chew through the strange, fuzzy ooze blocking your path on just about every inch of land. Touch the ooze and you’ll become as fur-covered as Alterna’s unfortunate Octarian population and fail, making it quite the deadly bit of gating.

Return of the Mammalians’ levels are an inspired and largely very fun collection of various bits of Splatoon gameplay. You’ll engage in simple point-to-point runs, platforming and combat challenges, some light puzzle-solving, a handful of fantastic boss battles and one absolutely ball-breaking marathon gauntlet of a post-game level, all in the name of dousing the joint in ink. Most levels will give you a choice of starting gear, giving you the opportunity to get to grips with the game’s suite of weapons and abilities including new stuff like the Tri-Stringer, Splatana and the ridiculously-fun Zipcaster. It took me maybe half a dozen hours to complete everything there is in the mode (setting aside at least an extra hour for that one, final challenge), collecting a bunch of loot to take back to the multiplayer modes and my customisable online locker.

Tangible rewards aside, there’s also a lot of wider lore-related incentive for Splatoon fans to dive deep into the story mode. I can’t say much, but I was pleasantly surprised by how far this game pushes the stylistic and narrative envelope as a Nintendo title to establish its setting. The whole thing also looks and sounds wonderful, dialling the trademark Splatoon freshness up to an 11 with plenty of eye-catching designs and infectious, earworm-y songs. I’m especially impressed with how sharp and fluid everything is; it’s a bigger achievement in image quality than I’ve seen from just about any other Switch title that nearly looks too good for the ageing hardware.

Once you’ve had your fill of the single-player campaign and feel confident to take your skills online, Splatoon 3 offers a fairly similar online multiplayer situation as the last game at first glance but quickly reveals itself to be another smart evolution from Splatoon 2. Turf Wars is still the go-to mode, and still a ton of fun. Welcome tweaks include an explorable lobby where you can hang out between matches, practice with your weapons, check your gear and even customise your own locker, and an improved spawning experience once you get into a match. The new maps are all pretty great and make good use of the new opportunities opened up by things like the Zipcaster.

splatoon 3

Salmon Run is back as well, and this time you’re able to play it whenever you want (why Nintendo ever elected otherwise in the previous game is beyond me). I’ll admit I didn’t spend too much time with Salmon Run in Splatoon 2 but this time around I’m having a ton of fun with it. One new wrinkle sees players able to toss the Golden Egg they’re holding, making it important to coordinate with your teammates to get score quickly and efficiently.

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Easily my favourite new gameplay offering though is Tableturf Battle. I’m a sucker for a good card-based minigame in my video games, and this one doesn’t disappoint. You’ll build a deck from cards that represent all manner of simple-to-elaborate Tetris-esque shapes, playing them in turns to fill up as much of the board with your colour as possible. There are all kinds of nuances and strategies to learn that begin to become clear as you take on harder and harder CPU opponents. I reckon I’ll end up spending more time in Tableturf than anywhere else.

Final Thoughts

The crucial thing with Splatoon 3 is going to be longevity, but between the new Anarchy Battles, upcoming Splatfests and rotating catalogues of new items it seems like Nintendo has mostly the right idea. This is definitely an upgrade over Splatoon 2, even if it’s not an entirely fresh new take. It’s a complete and finely-tuned package with a little bit of everything for everyone, and the bottom line is that the core of Splatoon’s multiplayer mayhem will forever translate to a great time.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch // Review code supplied by publisher

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splatoon 3
Splatoon 3 Review
I ink, therefore I am
Splatoon 3 builds on everything that its predecessor got right, opting to further refine the formula rather than drastically update it. The thin array of new modes, weapons and abilities is just enough for now but longevity is going to be the make-or-break consideration for the game going forward.
The Good
Fantastic single-player campaign
Welcome quality-of-life tweaks across most modes
The Zipcaster rules
Visuals and music are an absolute delight
Tableturf Battle is addictive as hell
The Bad
Some might find it all too similar to Splatoon 2
Still suffering from some post-launch network woes
8.5
Get Around It
  • Nintendo EPD
  • Nintendo
  • Switch
  • September 9, 2022

splatoon 3
Splatoon 3 Review
I ink, therefore I am
Splatoon 3 builds on everything that its predecessor got right, opting to further refine the formula rather than drastically update it. The thin array of new modes, weapons and abilities is just enough for now but longevity is going to be the make-or-break consideration for the game going forward.
The Good
Fantastic single-player campaign
Welcome quality-of-life tweaks across most modes
The Zipcaster rules
Visuals and music are an absolute delight
Tableturf Battle is addictive as hell
The Bad
Some might find it all too similar to Splatoon 2
Still suffering from some post-launch network woes
8.5
Get Around It
Written By Kieron Verbrugge

Kieron's been gaming ever since he could first speak the words "Blast Processing" and hasn't lost his love for platformers and JRPGs since. A connoisseur of avant-garde indie experiences and underground cult classics, Kieron is a devout worshipper at the churches of Double Fine and Annapurna Interactive, to drop just a couple of names.

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