Splatoon is one of the few franchises I can proudly say I’ve been with since the very beginning. In May 2015, Nintendo unleashed a brand new IP that revolutionised the third-person shooter genre. It went on to sell almost 5 million units, meaning it was purchased by over 1/3rd of the install base of the struggling Wii U console, outselling releases like Super Mario Maker and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Due to its unfounded success, an inevitable sequel was released for Nintendo Switch, selling an impressive 13.3 million units to date. Over five years later, a threequel, Splatoon 3, is almost here, but is it as fresh as the first two? Let’s dive into the ink and find out.
For those who don’t already know the basics of the series, Splatoon takes place in a fashionable world inhabited by evolutionary anomalies known as Inklings; human-squid hybrids capable of transforming between the two species at will. After reaching a certain age, Inklings are expected to participate in cultural battles known as Turf Wars, 4v4 competitions where the goal is to splat as much terrain as possible using your team’s colour of ink. Funnily enough, despite being half squid, the ink is not expelled from the inklings themselves, but rather from a variety of weapons that mostly resemble family-friendly items, like squirt guns, paint brushes, and water buckets. Once running low on Ink, it can be replenished by swimming through their own colour of it, with the opposing colour ink being a deadly substance that should be avoided at absolutely all costs.
When Splatoon 3 was announced last February during the airing of a Nintendo Direct, it brought about two major reactions amongst fans: hype and confusion. The hype was for obvious reasons, as it’s a new entry in a world-renowned series, but the confusion came from the fact that it’s another entry on Nintendo Switch. Without unique and more powerful hardware, wouldn’t the game look and play exactly the same as its predecessor? Would there be enough new content to justify another sequel so soon? Having now played Splatoon 3 in its entirety, the answer to those questions are complicated, but not at all disappointing. Don’t fret, squid-kids!
From a graphical and technical standpoint, Splatoon 3 appears and functions very similarly to Splatoon 2. Some minor improvements were made, but seeing as both games use the same developmental engine, there isn’t much of a drastic difference overall. I’d say it looks as though there is about a 20% increase in quality when it comes to models, textures, lighting, and physics. Nothing extraordinarily exciting, but a decent step-up from what was already major eye-candy. Gameplay still runs at a silky-smooth 60fps, but the hub is still capped at 30fps to prevent dips. The biggest changes comes from new content, as well as refinements that make the traditional Splatoon experience much more enjoyable. For example, the introduction newscast that announces what stages are currently on rotation for online modes, can finally be skipped. With the push of a button, the information is reduced to a textbox in the corner, uninterrupting your gameplay and allowing you to jump straight into the action much quicker than ever before.
Of course, the new content doesn’t end there; not even close. Instead of having to wait on an uninteractive screen during matchmaking, now you can shoot at dummies in a dedicated Practice Room. Battle Logs and Replays allows for you to go back and see all the previous match data you could ever want. As for multiplayer maps, there are 12 in total available at launch, with 5 of them being brand new. Each one is unique, and I was impressed with the variety of what could be considered a relatively small selection. When it comes to weapons, there are a few new types that join alongside the complete basic arsenal of the series past, including Splatanas and Stringers, with their function best described as windshield wipers and bow and arrows respectively. Both are a blast to use, with the Stringers being particularly complex. You’re able to shoot a set of three arrows either horizontally or vertically, depending on whether or not you’re standing or jumping when executing an attack. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you do, you’re sure to feel unstoppable. All of the returning weapons feel close to their originals, but there are a few balancing adjustments that hardcore fans are sure to notice. Additional weapons are obtained by using “Sheldon Licences” earned by levelling up in Turf War.
Fashion is a major part of the Splatoon series, and is not only a great way to show off your own unique style, but also provides a functional and strategic aspect. There are a few shops that can be visited in Splatsville Square, the main hub of Splatoon 3, allowing you to purchase not only weapons as mentioned before, but also headgear, clothing, and shoes using in-game currency. Every piece of gear has ability slots that provide passive advantages while wearing them, such as movement speed, ink tank capacity, and damage dealt. To explain in layman’s terms, additional ability slots can be unlocked by earning experience points when playing online battles, and there are methods of swapping out abilities by speaking to the fittingly named sea urchin character Murch in Splatsville Square. There are lots of new and returning gear items that are available in Splatoon 3, with my personal favourite being the new piece of headgear seemingly inspired by Marty McFly Jr.’s holographic lenticular hat that was worn by actor Michael J. Fox in the 1989 feature film Back to the Future Part II. Great Scott!
But wait, there’s more! The gear you choose to wear isn’t the only way to let your personality shine through online. Splatoon 3 introduces a locker room that lets you meticulously design both the interior and exterior of your own assigned locker. Within the dedicated locker room, you’ll find the lockers of many other players that you’ve recently matched with online, and if you find one that you particularly like, you can give them a “fresh” rating to show your admiration. Decorations for your locker can be unlocked in one of two ways, either by finding them hidden in the story mode overworld, or by purchasing them from the General Store in Splatsville Square. Lockers don’t have much of a purpose functionality wise, but it’s a cute little time waster to let your creative juices flow. There is a new catalogue system too, where you can earn catalogue points by participating in online modes to raise your catalogue level and unlock even more new items.
Raising your catalogue level can also reward you with emotes and splashtag elements that can be used to gloat about how far you’ve come in the game. Splashtags consist of a banner design, badges, and a title that can be created using preset options. They are visible at the start and end of every online match, and also pop up on the screen of players you’ve splatted while they wait to respawn. Emotes on the other hand, are only shown at the end of a match from players on the winning team. It’s a bit unfortunate that you can’t emote during battles like in Fortnite, but I suppose that would take away from the time that you should be spending inking turf, and much like squidbagging, it wouldn’t show quality sportsmanship.
Return of the Mammalians
It feels as though the story mode content in Splatoon is often overlooked, which is unfortunate since it’s one of my favourite things about the series. While it’s never anything super in-depth, as the online modes have always been the main advertising focus for Nintendo, there is so much charm and obvious passion that’s put into these short but sweet adventures. Splatoon 2’s “Octo Expansion” DLC showed just how much the Splatoon in-game universe is capable of when it comes to single-player content, and Splatoon 3 somehow pushes the possibilities even further. Return of the Mammalians completely subverted my expectations, and although it reuses many of the assets and concepts from previous games, the new ideas that are presented are nothing short of magnificent.
The Great Zapfish, a giant living entity that provides power to all of Splatsville, has once again been stolen. This time though, both Callie and Marie, members of the fan-favourite pop idol duo The Squid Sisters (who, fun fact, are actually cousins, not sisters), provide helpful instructions and comedic commentary on your journey through a newly discovered area known as Alterna, a mysterious land that’s littered with fuzzy yet deadly pinkish ooze. You’ll be joined alongside a cute little buddy named Smallfry, who will be of much help too.
Return of the Mammalians begins as soon as you follow Cuttlefish, Senior advisor to the New Squidbeak Splatoon, into a sewer grate located in Splatsville Square. He recruits you as Agent 3, trusting you with an upgradable Hero Suit and Hero Shot weapon to stop the evil Octarian army, presumed to be the ones who have taken the Great Zapfish hostage. Using found Sardinium, as well as Upgrade Points that are earned by naturally progressing, you can level up a skill tree and improve the capabilities of your Hero Gear. However, I strongly recommend ignoring this feature entirely if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, as there are no difficulty options otherwise. It felt very gratifying to have 100% completed Return of the Mammalians without the use of any upgrades, taking me about 10 hours in total. Even with this self-inflicted hardship, nothing ever got too overly frustrating.
There are six sites in Alterna to explore, with levels spread throughout the sites that you must enter and complete. The sites are basically big levels in and of themselves, with decorations, gold records (music tracks), Sardinium, and more to find and uncover. Fuzzy ooze is just about everywhere, but you can use Power Eggs, points collected in each level, to rid of the ooze and unlock new areas of the site. No two levels are exactly the same, as you defeat enemies, take on platforming challenges, beat time trials, and solve puzzles. Each level can be played using only one of a few select weapons at the start, but sometimes, you aren’t given a choice. For levels in which you can choose though, opting to use a more difficult weapon will sometimes reward you with additional Power Eggs.
To get some disappointment out of the way now, shockingly, there are no signs of Marina and Pearl, members of the idol duo Off the Hook from Splatoon 2, in the main campaign.
We already discussed the basics of 4v4 Turf War battles, but now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. Turf Wars have you using everything in your arsenal to splat as much of the ground as possible with your team’s colour of ink within just three minutes, as the team with the most ink splatted by the end of the match wins. Your ink capacity is quite limited, so you’ll need to consistently swim through your own coloured ink to replenish it. Splatting walls doesn’t count towards the final score, but it allows you to swim up them to reach and cover new ground. There’s more to shoot at than just terrain though, as splatting members of the opposing team will force them to have to wait a few seconds to respawn, preventing them from inking any turf and giving your team an advantage. Naturally, this means there’s also a chance that you can be splatted as well, so you’ll want to be careful not to be overzealous. If you do happen to get splatted though, as soon as you respawn, you can open up the map to Squid Jump directly to a teammate, but be careful, as the opposing team can see a clear indicator of exactly where you’re about to land. You can only lose so many Turf War matches in a row before you just want to rip the hair right out of your scalp, but winning is so unbelievably satisfying, especially when only by a small percentage, that it makes it all worth it. When I won a match by just 0.1%, the adrenaline rush it gave me was totally insane.
Something I’ve yet to mention, is that there are Sub Weapons and Special Weapons connected to your main one. Sub-weapons have a multitude of different types and are mostly used situationally, though they can be activated at any time by using up a chunk of your ink tank, whereas Special Weapons are extremely powerful, and can be used after filling an ink metre by splatting enough turf. There are quite a few crazy new ones introduced in Splatoon 3, with the grappling hook-esque Zipcaster being particularly cool to use, allowing you to zip across walls while still enabling you to shoot your Main Weapon. I’m also quite fond of the Crab Tank, an armoured tank that shoots devastating amounts of ink. If I were to go over every new and returning weapon type, this review would be way too long, so be sure to experiment with them. As for the Main Weapons, I got so accustomed to the dodge roll move exclusive to the Splat Dualies introduced in Splatoon 2 that it’s hard for me to use anything else, but almost every weapon is unique, so it’s important to try them all to find out which is right for your playstyle.
After every match, whether or not you were on the winning or losing team, there is a new feature that shows you how good you did statistically, rewarding you medals for being the best overall splatter, turf inker, popular target, etc. I can’t lie, it always feels good to be #1.
Anarchy Battles, referred to as Ranked Battles in previous Splatoon games, are strategic 4v4 ranked matches that are unlocked once you reach level 10 in Turf War. What makes these so competitive, is that wins and loses determines your rank, with S+ being the highest to achieve. With every win, you’ll rack up Rank Points, which are spent to participate in battle. Matchmaking is fairly set up so that you’ll be up against players of a similar rank, so you don’t have to worry about a skill imbalance. Playable as either a single round (Open) or best-of-five (Series), Anarchy Battles consists of four possible gamemodes based on rotation: Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz. Disappointingly, all of these modes are rehashed from Splatoon 2, with not much new being brought to the table. It’s great to play these modes on entirely new maps though, and they’re still as fun as ever.
There’s nothing like a good competition, but sometimes, you just want to work together; that’s where the co-op mode Salmon Run comes in, accessible via Grizzco in Splatsville. Performing well in Salmon Run will earn you Grizzco Points, increasing your paygrade and gradually unlocking exclusive new items for your inkling to wear and use in other modes. For the first time ever, the beloved mode is available 24/7, removing all of the downtimes that were annoyingly present in Splatoon 2 so you can now play it to your heart’s content.
Salmon Run partners up four players to defeat waves of enemy Salmonids. The weapon you’re automatically assigned changes each wave. Typically, there are three waves in total, with each wave requiring you to meet a Golden Egg quota in order to proceed. Golden Eggs are obtained by splatting Boss Salmonids, in which there are 11 types in total with a chance to appear. Once a Boss Salmonid is splatted, and the Golden Eggs are dropped, you must pick them up and bring them to the egg basket located in the centre of the map by any means necessary, even if you have to throw them, resulting in the loss of some of your ink. If a Salmonid proves too much to handle, eliminating you in your tracks, you can call out to your teammates to revive you. If all four teammates get eliminated at once, the game ends. In order to spice things up from Splatoon 2, Salmon Run in Splatoon 3 also has a rare fourth wave occurrence where a gruelling King Salmonid will spawn in. If by all odds your team manages to defeat it, you’ll earn fish scales that can be used to unlock new uniforms.
All of the online modes in Splatoon 3, with the exception of (Series) Anarchy Battles, can easily be played with friends online. While in the training room or at Grizzco, you can invite friends to join alongside you in public matchmaking, or you can create a private lobby. For obvious reasons, I’ve yet to be able to try out these features for myself, but presumably they work as intended. Wireless communication options are also available by visiting The Shoal in Splatsville if you’re wanting to set up a LAN party. There ain’t no party like a LAN party!
A Splatoon review wouldn’t be complete without at least the mention of its music. Even though all of the lyrics are spoken in a fictional gibberish language, you can’t help but to attempt to sing along to the up-beat tracks that perfectly match the energy of the gameplay. Most notable are the songs performed by Deep Cut, a musical trio featuring Shiver, Frye, and Big Man, who tackle a variety of different energetic genres. These new characters also host the Anarchy Splatcast, reporting the recent happenings and map rotations within Splatsville. Referring back to music though, I drew a particular liking to the instrumental background track that plays when visiting the General Store run by the adorable shopkeeper named Harmony. Make sure to give it a listen.
Nintendo has promised two years of free content updates for Splatoon 3, including new modes (X Battle and League Battle), weapons, gear, and stages, with a “large-scale” paid DLC expansion also confirmed to be on the way. On top of this, Splatfests, monthly in-game online events where you choose a team to fight for in special Turf War matches, will also be making their grand return, this time with a chaotic tri-coloured twist. Considering the longevity of replayability the continued support will provide, now is the perfect time to endure the wonders of the world of Splatoon, and that goes for both intrigued newcomers and established fans alike.
Splatoon 3 is inkredible, fine-tuning to perfection the series’ unique and colourful third-person shooter formula that I’ve adored ever since its inception on Wii U. Although it doesn’t take quite enough risks to differentiate itself from its predecessors, the excellent story mode and very welcomed new quality-of-life features makes it more than worth your precious time and money. At its core, Splatoon 3 takes the “if it aint broke don’t fix it” mantra to the best of its abilities, offering an unforgettable experience that’s guaranteed to provide hundreds of hours of fresh, splatastic fun for all ages.
Splatoon 3 launches for Nintendo Switch on 9th September 2022.
A copy of Splatoon 3 for review purposes was provided by Nintendo UK.