Action Review Rogue-Like Shooter

Splatoon 3: Side Order – Review

Released back in 2022, Splatoon 3 was the latest entry in Nintendo’s very successful competitive shooter series. Despite some hiccups with its multiplayer and inconsistent servers, it was the game that gave me a long-term interest in the series. More than a year later, the hotly anticipated expansion has arrived to give us even more. Splatoon 3: Side Order brings some fresh gameplay styles to the table.

Order in Chaos

With Splatoon 3’s central theme being chaos and punkish rebellion, the story of Side Order instead follows the opposite extreme. By heading to Inkopolis from the first two games, you’re suddenly thrust into a plot centered around complete order and servitude. Veteran Splatoon players will be happy to see the return of some old fan favorite characters like Pearl and Marina, who take center stage in this additional chapter of the story. Furthermore, rather than play as your own character from the main game, you play as an Octoling named Eight. As the name suggests, “Side Order” is really its own beast, rather than an extension of the main game.

Acht in Splatoon 3: Side Order

Thrust into a digitized world called the Memverse, you’re tasked with clearing the Spire of Order and stopping a rogue AI from sapping everyone’s free will. Quite the leap from the more simplistic plot of the main game, but no less handled in a way that’s jovial and fun. While I’m not the most well-versed in Splatoon’s lore or continuity, I still got a lot out of the writing here. Not only are the character interactions sharp and charming, but the overall setup prodded my intrigue quite well. Debates about order vs. chaos carry a lot of inherently interesting topics with them, but it’s the way Side Order handles it that makes it so fun.

It’s less about raw philosophy and more about motivation and character choices. Splatoon’s world is something that’s inherently at odds with the Spire of Order because most of its inhabitants are driven by self-interest and their own style. But Splatsville, the town of the main game, is a testament to how that can also lead to some disastrous consequences. How and why Splatsville is the way it is never gets explained, but it’s a looming contrast that helps give Memverse more of an edge.

Some kind of glitch created in Splatoon 3: Side Order

All told, I really like the story of Side Order. It’s not mind-blowing, but the character dialogue when coupled with strong visual storytelling and optional diaries gives the events more weight. While my experience with Splatoon 2 was limited, Pearl and Marina’s bond immediately resonated with me. Before I knew it, I asked myself, ‘When did I get so invested in a story about squid kids?’

Rise, and Rise Again

The main draw of Side Order is the new single-player campaign focused on climbing the many floors of the Spire of Order. Like with the main game, each level is a short and self-contained challenge with variable objectives and enemies to splat with your weapons. Unlike the main game, however, Side Order is a full-on roguelike. If you get a Game Over, you’re sent all the way back down to the first floor and will have to work your way up again. This means that any big risks you take or any mistakes you make will have a far greater punishment, raising the stakes for those who seek greater challenges. 

Splatoon 3: Side Order - Futuristic wireframe city

As I’m still completely awful at the competitive end of Splatoon, I appreciate the added single-player content seen here. The single-player campaign from the base game was one of my favorite parts about it, so more of that with an added twist is pretty much nothing but good news to me. Roguelikes are also highly replayable, so I would be able to go at this for a long time to get my fix of some solo Splatoon action. 

To clear a floor on the Spire of Order, players must pick from between three different challenges. These challenges differ in objective, difficulty, and reward. Some are easy and offer smaller rewards, while others are difficult and offer potentially much greater rewards. As for each challenge, these are more like miniaturized versions of the competitive multiplayer modes. A few are about safely delivering payloads to their destinations, like through golfing or shooting at them. Others are more straightforward, involving defending an area of a map that you’ve inked or destroying portals that spawn enemies.

These objectives are all quite quick, and completion times for each level typically ranged anywhere from 20 seconds to 2 minutes. Overall, I would say that there is a solid sense of depth offered by the Spire of Order, but that wouldn’t give the full picture to what it’s all about.

Playing With Palettes

At the start of each floor of the Spire of Order, you’re given a Palette that will augment your abilities. Palettes range from giving you buffs to your movement speed, buffing your damage, weapon fire rate, and decreasing ammo depletion rate. There are more things besides, like buffing your companion Pearl to do special attacks, but the overall gist is that you can augment yourself to lean into certain playstyles.

The main catch to this is that the difficulty of objectives will steadily rise as you make your way through each floor. Do too many low difficulty tasks early on, and you may wind up being left helpless as your Palettes aren’t strong enough to keep up with new demands. This means weighing objectives carefully and leaning into your strengths is a key factor to making it to the top floor. Some harder objectives may also offer multiple Palettes at once, so being risky to ensure your survival for longer may also be worth it.

Palette in Splatoon 3: Side Order

The main reason that Palettes fall short for me is that they turn the experience into something of a numbers game. Palettes don’t really make much of a difference in terms of strategizing, so much as they just make you deal more damage and play a bit more optimally. The benefits provided by Palettes are so broadly negligible that the difference only starts to be felt near Side Order’s endgame. However, in terms of moment-to-moment play, I wouldn’t say that this offers anything game-changing at all. You hit a little harder or move a little faster, but what you’re doing is no more interesting because of that.

This would be more forgivable if the level objectives were more varied and unpredictable, but they’re not. It took only a few retries to notice the same reused levels and objectives that I’d already done before, and the lack of enemy variety doesn’t really help things. About the only thing that stayed consistently exciting were the boss battles due to their high challenge. Outside of bosses, I found Side Order to mostly be pretty easy despite not being all that good at Splatoon to start with.

Splash Damage upgrade in Splatoon 3: Side Order

All of these issues combined made my long-term interest in Side Order languish fairly quickly. I did enjoy doing the one complete playthrough, but the content on offer meant that I wasn’t interested in doing any replays. Roguelikes naturally have a lot of repeated content, but the mechanics and design here meant that playthroughs never really did that good of a job distinguishing themselves from one-another. Considering the whole appeal of this mode is to offer up something that can be played endlessly, I don’t think it’s a good thing that I grew so disinterested so quickly.

A Helping Hand

For those who are less skilled in roguelikes, Marina will offer the player some assistance through changing the characteristics of the Spire of Order permanently. This can include giving the player more lives, raising defense, or raising item drop rates. However, the currency needed for this can only be acquired through gathering Palettes and then subsequently getting a game over. Although these are big boons offered to the player, they don’t come free of charge. The more of something you’ll want, the more you have to pay for it. The only way to do that still means getting better at the Spire of Order.

Buying upgrades in Splatoon 3: Side Order

This walks a really elegant line between helping players who need it, while also making sure they can’t get complacent. Dying over and over won’t do you much good, but players who strive to get better will be given that extra boost to help them go the distance. Throughout the Spire of Order are various breadcrumbs and checkpoints that give players some long-term motivation to keep trying. This didn’t do a whole lot for me since I found it to be easy, but this is good for younger or less experienced players.

Within the Spire of Order’s checkpoints are vending machines and keys. Keys will typically be rewarded after a boss fight, while vending machines are break areas that let you buy upgrades and skip floors. Keys will open up lockers in the Spire of Order’s lobbies that give you access to diaries containing story, extras for multiplayer, or accessories that may help you in your next run in the spire. These are an appreciated layer of choice and permanence to bring up players who may be struggling with this new style of play.

Metallic creatures

Verdict

Splatoon 3: Side Order adds that cherry on top of an already sweet package. While I would not say that this is an essential purchase, it will do its job in satisfying those who crave a bit more from Splatoon 3. The roguelike elements of Side Order are somewhat undercooked and didn’t hold my interest as long as I would have liked. However, elements like the new boss battles, the writing, and the music made it worthwhile for at least the one playthrough. Splatoon addicts will also likely be satisfied with a mode that can be engaged with for as long as they feel like. Overall, this is a nice side dish, even if it falls short of being a great entree.

SPLATOON 3: SIDE ORDER IS RECOMMENDED

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Purchase: Nintendo Store

Enjoy Shooter titles in the anime style? Why not check out Neptunia Virtual Stars?

Many thanks go to Nintendo for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.

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