Even well after the launch of the original game, Splatoon remains one of the biggest surprises to come out of Nintendo in the modern day. A brand new IP in an unexplored genre for the company, launching on the floundering Wii U? Prospects for its performance were dim, but Splatoon earned its place among Nintendo’s pantheon of flagship titles through compelling gameplay and a unique aesthetic. Today, Splatoon 3 makes a splash on Nintendo Switch, promising further refinement and additions to the series.
Let’s Splat The Zone Red
Splatoon is an unconventional take on the third-person shooter genre. Rather than be a game focused around racking up high amounts of kills, it’s a team-focused game wherein the goal is to claim the most territory with your team’s ink color. When a surface is inked that’s your color, you can swim through it, hide in it, and refill your ammo meter in it—all with the same button. If you’re stuck in an enemy’s ink, you steadily take damage, cannot hide, and you’re slowed down considerably. Despite the overall premise of the game being unconventional, it’s very easy to get to grips with and less overwhelming than most other competitive shooters out there.
Where you prioritize placing your team’s ink depends on what mode you play, but generally, the more you’ve inked, the better. How you go about inking the area and wiping the floor with your enemies will naturally most be affected by what weapon you choose to play. Weapons are also a key differentiator from standard shooters. While there are normal weapons like pistols, dual guns, and snipers, there are also other weapons unique to Splatoon like Rollers and Splatanas. These unique weapons capitalize on Splatoon’s already very unique premise and give you more options for strategy and expression.
While it’s too early in the game’s life to tell which is the best weapon or to determine balancing, what’s important is that every weapon is fun to use. Each has a drastic effect on playstyle and approach to combat and capitalizes on the various options that changing into a squid provides. Physical weapons are good for sneaking through ink and getting the jump on unsuspecting enemies, while long-ranged weapons can let you safely ink parts of the map from a distance. Experimenting and finding a play style that suits you best will take a while, and I mean that in a good way.
On top of that, there are also Sub-Weapons and Specials. Sub-weapons can range from standard items like squid-friendly grenades and sticky grenades, to more obtuse items like a robot that slowly eats at enemy ink. Specials are devastating skills that charge up over time and change depending on what weapon you’re using. The overall strength of the weapon additionally affects charging time.
All told, Splatoon’s core gameplay strikes a pitch-perfect balance between being easy to learn, but hard to master. It’s a brilliant take on the competitive shooting genre, taking core elements of shooting gameplay into something that has wholly its own identity.
Salmon’s For Inking, Not For Eating
Much like how the core gameplay is a unique spin on the competitive shooter genre, Salmon Run is a unique spin on the zombie shooter genre. First introduced in Splatoon 2, you’ll work together with four other players to fend off a horde of Salmonid, collecting the Golden Eggs they carry all the while. It’s not enough to just survive and collect, however. You’re under a constant timer to meet the Golden Egg quota, which only goes up the more you play. You’ll start at a fairly modest quota, but the game will steadily demand more and more from you the further you progress, all while adding a variety of Salmonid to contest with.
Boss Salmonids require more strategy to take down and are the ones who will carry Golden Eggs, but smaller enemies will also get in your way. Some will flank you, and others will try and steal your eggs before you grab them. Teamwork and skillful play is an absolute necessity in surviving the waves the game throws at you. Any miscommunication or lack of strategy will cost you dearly.
Salmon Run is unquestionably my favorite mode in the game. It is stress-filled and deeply rewarding all at once. Unlike in Splatoon 2, you’re also free to play this mode whenever you feel like.
If you want to go solo and delve into what single-player content is on offer, not to worry, Splatoon 3 has you covered and then some. An involved story mode is just a hop and skip away from the main multiplayer plaza. Here, you’ll be wrapped in a story that follows the events of the first two games and the Octo Expansion. Callbacks and old characters are found aplenty as you set out to explore the vast, strange landscape called Alterna.
What covers Alterna is a dangerous, hair-like substance that can only be used through the aid of your little companion called Smallfry, and powering up through Fish Eggs. Fish Eggs are obtained through finding various levels and challenges scattered about each of Alterna’s main islands. After paying a minor entry fee (depending on the level) to enter, you pick out one of the level’s pre-selected weapons and take on its challenges.
I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of variety in stage design here. In one stage you may be hopping over shockwaves to survive, and in another you may be rail grinding for dear life above a bottomless pit. Some can be more puzzle-focused and have you navigate decently complex labyrinths, and finally, there’s your standard run ‘n gun challenges that usually define single-player shooters. All of it is good stuff, and I was always willing to do the challenges with every weapon I was able to, helped by the overall brevity of each challenge.
Interspersed between certain challenges in Alterna are boss fights that vary in size and complexity. These boss fights have a great, rhythmic energy to them that feel almost like dances instead of boss fights. They also make clever, but easy-to-grasp use of the inking mechanic, like making your way up the boss’s back by making a trail of ink to climb on, or hiding from them inside it. They are a lovely supplement to the main meat of the single-player mode all-in-all.
The last part of the single-player comprises collectibles. Scattered throughout Alterna are extra goodies that the player can find if they remove enough of the hair-like mess that entangles it. Some are also hidden outright, so being attentive is important in finding anything extra. These extras can contain lore tidbits that help answer some of the series’ longstanding questions, to other things like decorations to use in multiplayer.
The single-player content in Splatoon 3 is excellent, all in all. I would even go so far as to say that it may be worth buying the game for it alone. Even once you complete the main story, it just throws even more quality content at you. When compared to even some of the best shooting game campaigns out there, Splatoon 3 is certainly no slouch.
Your Life as a Squid Kid
Splatsville, the City of Chaos, is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time outside of multiplayer and single-player gameplay. Here, you can chat up its civilians, read messages left by other players, and watch the city’s star idols engage in banter. You can also check up on updates on things like upcoming events, map rotations, the current Splatfest, and more.
One problem with this game that you’ll be quick to notice is that the game is quite restrictive on how you choose to play it. Things like what game mode is available and what maps are available aren’t things that you can pick at your own jurisdiction. Instead, the game picks them out for you and changes them after a set amount of time has passed. Want to play Moray Towers in bog-standard Turf Wars with some random folks online? Better hope that’s what the game is currently serving you, because you’re fresh out of luck otherwise.
Another restriction of online play is, well, the servers themselves. They are massively unstable and have huge difficulty maintaining any sense of smoothness. Out of each of my play sessions, 1 out of every 3 matches either disconnected right at the start or didn’t work at all. So not only will you be wasting time waiting for your favorite game modes and maps to pop up, but when they do, chances are you won’t get to enjoy them that much. You’ll be too busy disconnecting and reconnecting to the servers to actually enjoy yourself. Out of all the problems with the game, this is by far its biggest blemish, as it makes simply playing it normally an exercise in patience.
When the servers do work properly, the experience can be smooth, but this is all too rare for such a competitive-focused game.
The last element of the game is one of its most important. Splatoon 3 is a very nice-looking game. With an unfaltering and buttery smooth 60FPS, the game is as fluid as the ink you trudge through. Couple that with incredibly responsive control and some of the best gyro implementation you can ask for, and you have airtight gunning on top of that. It’s also got a high resolution in both handheld and docked play, making the action as sharp as a tack.
What really shines about Splatoon 3 is its art direction and design. There’s a punkish, urban aesthetic to everything that really fits the overall vibe of the game well. It’s very expressive and easily spells out the rebellious, youthful ways of Splat Zone life.
Character designs are another factor in bringing Splatoon’s character design to life. Besides the now iconic Inkling characters, there’s a whole host of others that will overwhelm you with their larger-than-life attires and looks. It’s a zany, spirited world with people of all shapes and colors that leaves a big impression.
Splatoon 3 is an incredible game that further evolves an awesome twist on the competitive shooter genre. Unfortunately, it’s let down by what is perhaps its most important component, the terrible and limiting online functionality. Luckily, the game is fun enough that I think legging through the exhausting online problems is worth it, and it has an excellent single-player mode to keep you occupied as well. Expressive, vibrant, and endlessly indulgent in its uniqueness, Splatoon 3 is very much a worthy follow-up to its predecessors.
SPLATOON 3 IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Nintendo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt