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‘Splatoon 3’ Review: It’s Off the Hook

‘Splatoon 3,’ the latest multiplayer outing from Nintendo, is finally out. Is it a worthy follow-up to the storied series?
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Splatoon 3 is here, and it’s everything fans wanted. Fresh weapons, maps, and characters bring new life to the franchise. The lobby is a training area now. Salmon Run is finally available around the clock. Critically, you can skip the news updates!

However, returning fans might also notice that Splatoon 3 is really more Splatoon 2.5… and Splatoon 2 was just a Switch port of the first game.

Whether or not that’s a bad thing depends entirely on your opinion regarding the first two Splatoon titles. These stylish, fast-paced multiplayer games are one of the most recent first-party IPs from Nintendo, and they’ve become a full-on cultural phenomenon in Japan. They’ve been pretty popular in the US, too. Younger players and competitive gamers alike have flocked to the ink-soaked world of Splatoon.

Whether you’re completely new to the franchise or a grizzled vet, Splatoon 3 includes quality-of-life changes that make it easier than ever to play. It’s not going to change your mind about Splatoon if the first two games failed to move the needle for you, but it’s got a series of iterative updates that make it essential for any established fan.

Diving in

If you’re new here, don’t worry; it’s not hard to get into the deep end with this aquatic-themed series. Splatoon is a third-person shooter in which players control an Inkling (or Octoling!) that can transform into a squid at will. The main gameplay loop involves spraying brightly-colored ink all over the map and then turning into a squid to slide swiftly through that ink.

The game is mainly geared towards multiplayer battles, with the core gameplay loop lending itself well to tense, three-minute matches called Turf Wars. In a Turf War, the goal is to cover more of the map in your team’s ink color. There are four players per team, and you can cover more ground by working together. If you hit enemies with your team’s ink color, they can be “splatted,” sending them back to their spawning zone and slowing their progress.

There are other game modes, too. Many players first get wet with the single-player mode, which is light on story but heavy on exploration and unique gameplay mechanics. There’s also a co-op mode, called Salmon Run, and a ranked competitive scene that uses different rules than Turf War. 

Dripping Ink

The game is renowned among fans for its distinctive style. The Squid Kids you play as are positively dripping in fashion and personality–just like they’re dripping in ink when they mix it up in Turf War. Upgrading your character’s look and maximizing their loadout is just part of the fun when you’re first starting out. There are tons of weapons to choose from, too, with each offering a distinct playstyle and gameplay pattern.

Moreover, Splatoon’s funky soundtrack and bright visuals give it an element of vibrancy and vitality that make it exhilarating for new players and returning fans alike. It’s hard to feel too bad about a tough loss in multiplayer when the upbeat music is spurring you to get back out there. Just equip a new weapon or outfit and splash back into action!

The cast of characters has also expanded this time around to include a new group of idols who act as the face of the game. This group is called Deep Cut, and they’re made up of members Shiver, Frye, and Big Man. While Shiver and Frye look like the normal idols fans have come to expect, Big Man is a giant manta ray. And he’s the best.

New Weapons

There are two new weapons in the mix for Splatoon 3. The first is the Stringer, which is the Splatoon version of a bow and arrow. This weapon is something of a hybrid between the existing sniper-style weapons and the more mid-range Splattershot. The Stringer emphasizes medium-distance gameplay and rewards patient players. The Stringer also has noticeably poor coverage ability, focusing more on splatting enemies than inking turf.

The other new weapon is the Splatana Wiper, a windshield wiper blade wielded like a samurai sword. It has a similar playstyle to the existing Inkbrush and Roller weapons, which are also close-ranged weapons that favor aggressive play. Notably, the Splatana Wiper has much worse ink coverage and surprisingly better range when compared to the other brushes in the game. Like the Stringer, it’s more geared towards splatting opponents than covering the ground.

These new weapons are also joined by a handful of new secondary and super abilities. Among these are the adorable Tacticooler, a super that distributes energy drinks to your team and grants them stat buffs. Other new super abilities, like the Crab Tank and a new impenetrable force field, help to keep the gameplay fresh and varied when compared to Splatoon 2.

Salmon Run

If you don’t feel like wading into multiplayer and facing off against human opponents, you’ve got options. You can jump into the single-player mode, which will show you the basics of movement and combat, or you can mix it up in Salmon Run. Salmon Run takes four players into a survival mode, where they battle against three waves of computer-controlled Salmonid enemies.

Players need to collect Golden Salmon eggs in this game mode, which are carried by imposing Boss Salmonid. Working together with your teammates, you need to outsmart the Bosses to get their loot and carry the Golden Eggs back to your team’s basket at the center of the map. Victory is far from certain; Salmon Run is a difficult game mode that will really test players’ skills. 

Splatoon 3 offers up some new features for Salmon Run, too, including a handful of new Boss Salmonid. In addition, there are even massive kaiju-like Salmonid that function as end-of-round tests of everything you’ve learned so far. What’s more, the game mode is finally open all day, every day, breaking the frustrating occasional availability it had back in Splatoon 2.

Quality-of-Life Updates

Interestingly enough, some elements of the new game that returning players are most excited about wouldn’t even be noteworthy to newcomers. These include small touches like customizable nameplates, a practice mode you can mess around with while matchmaking, and the ability to skip Deep Cut’s news broadcast, which plays every time you open the game. 

These are all pretty basic features that should have really been in place back when Splatoon 1 hit stores shelves in 2015–but, hey, we’ll take it. Nintendo is famously resistant to making the most basic online features available in its games, so these are small victories worth celebrating for Splatoon fans. Now, if only Nintendo would enable in-game voice chat. 

These quality-of-life updates also extend to the general feel of the single-player campaign. Players interested in just clearing the single-player levels can do so in a few sittings if they ignore the optional paths, or they can take several hours to find every secret and challenge level hiding in the short campaign. Splatoon 3 isn’t going to rival a true single-player narrative experience like Xenoblade Chronicles 3, but it’s still fun to crash through the cheerful and story-light single-player levels.

Was All This Enough to Merit a Sequel?

There’s some genuine criticism to level at Splatoon 3. It clearly runs in the same engine as both of its predecessors. It features an almost shot-for-shot identical opening to Splatoon 2, down to the layout of its tutorial. Many of its maps are returning arenas from the first two games. A majority of the weapons were introduced in the first game, with a handful of extras that first appeared in Splatoon 2

So this all begs the question… why did we need a third Splatoon game? Nintendo could have simply bundled the new weapons and maps in with a new story mode and released the whole package as a large DLC expansion for Splatoon 2. This would have followed on the heels of the Octo Expansion, the massive add-on that gave the second game playable Octolings and several new story missions. 

Critics similarly took issue with the naming of Splatoon 2, a game that was clearly an enhanced port of the Wii U original. At least in that case the new console was enough of a reason to justify the big numeral after the title. With Splatoon 3, the reason for the brand-new game seems to be that Nintendo is aware fans were willing to pay $60 for more maps and a handful of weapons.

Bottom Line

Sure, Splatoon 3 is largely a retread of everything we’ve already seen in Splatoon 1 and 2. It’s a big, glorified DLC pack that exists as its own standalone game. Nintendo is basically charging $60 for a lobby feature and some new maps. This is all undeniable.

But, despite all that, Splatoon 3 is a fantastic game. For my money, it’s worth every penny. Any chance to jump back into the wet and wacky world of Splatoon is a treat, and, despite our grumbling, I’m just happy to see the game performing so well after Nintendo took such a big swing on it.