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Hands on with Splatoon 3’s Side Order expansion

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Now, it’s possible that someone may have purchased the Splatoon 3 expansion pass to explore Inkopolis Square again; it’s ok to admit the main reason is you want the Side Order expansion. The good news is that’s precisely what I’m here to preview now! Time to grab your Dualies, and let’s get splatting.

As seen in the trailer for Side Order, Agent 8 is travelling to Inkopolis Square, only for something to glitch out. You awaken in a bleached-out version of Inkopolis as you’re greeted by Pearl, seemingly turned into a little flying drone.

I initially expected a similar set-up to Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion, but Side Order is really something else‚Ķor at least from what I’ve seen so far. An entity called the Order is corrupting the virtual world Agent 8, Pearl and Marina have found themselves in. The Spire of Order is initially sterile and colourless/bleached, as seen in the promo images. The final Splatoon 2 Splatfest outcome steered the direction of Splatoon 3, resulting in Anarchy over Order. Instead of just leaving it as a ‘what could have been’, Side Order feels like a dip into where the Splatoon team could have taken aspects of the game, should the outcome have tipped in Order’s favour.

Not only is Inkopolis Square very different, so is the musical duo Off the Hook. I won’t go further into characters or story elements to save something for you to discover when the DLC launches. What is important is that Agent 8 is tasked with making their way through the Spire and defeating the bosses along the way to stop Order from impacting the Splatoon world.

Instead of travelling around on a subway through specially designed challengers, Side Order goes with a different approach. In this DLC, Agent 8 will take on the Spire, facing multiple potentially randomised levels. What is apparent straight away is that Side Order is a rouge-like take on Splatoon. From the time I had with the expansion, I am all for it!

If you haven’t inked up some turf for a while, there is an introductory run, easing you back into the game and an excellent introduction to what the main Spire runs will look like. It’s worth getting used to what the Pearl drone can do, as she can help you hover across gaps and provide extra special weapon attacks when the ability is unlocked. Even over the seemingly short two hours, it became apparent how useful they help you through the challenges when dealing with ever-increasingly powerful swarms.

So, what actually happens on the floors? You get a stage which can be fairly flat besides the odd geometrical shapes, more vertical stages, stages with big moving sections amongst others. Then there are the objectives. No matter the objective you’ll be dealing with a lot of these swarms, and the further into a run the more variety I encountered. No matter how low-level the enemies are, I found it takes no time for them to become overwhelmed once the less straightforward types enter the stage. For example, you can be tasked with inking/destroying portals that spew out swarms of robotic-looking fish enemies. The other objectives I came across will be familiar to Splatoon players, with splatzones and rainmaker challenges present. The 8-ball challenges have also returned from the Octo expansion in the form of ‚ąě-ball challenges. Instead of guiding the 8-ball around from falling off platforms as it remains very much weighted to the ground, the ‚ąě-ball floats around. At times, this feels more difficult to control as you have enemy types that will actively target the ball to knock it away from knocking it into its zone.

From what I played and watched, there are a lot of level layouts that all need to be approached differently depending on the randomised objective/goal. Then chuck in your weapon load out/Palette, and there are plenty of factors that will ensure runs can stay fresh as you learn and adjust to all the variations. Seeing the earlier levels with still fledgling abilities and limited ink power, I also saw the giant leap in firepower and ability with Agent 8 further into a run. I also got to see a run with a lot more Colour Chips, utilising a Splat Charger upgraded in a way that makes me really curious to what kind of ways players will upgrade these weapons, making them near indistinguishable from their original use.

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There appears to be a big focus on customising and steering your Spire runs. I don’t know how often you’ll be coming across new weapon/palette loadouts, but I came across a few that already caused me to approach the objectives differently due to the shorter range on a Roller. If you want to unlock further Palettes you’ll need to use the different weapons available as you can only earn the keys needed for unlocking items the first time per weapon.

Colour chips are earned after completing the selected challenge, with various enhancements and unlocks. You can focus on boosting ink, faster refill or movement, or you can increase your ‘lucky combo meter’, which has its own benefits that I wasn’t quite clear on. You can also lean towards making the Pearl drone more effective, or unlock a preferred special weapon. A neat touch is that as you earn more colour chips, your appearance and ink changes in line with the mix of the colour chips. This gives you a visual indicator of which way your stats are leaning.

For each floor, you are given three options for the Colour Chip that you want to earn, what the objective and the level of difficulty is. It felt like it offered plenty of flexibility, taking into mind what area of upgrades you want to focus on, if you just need an easy level to limp onto one of the vending machine floors or if you really don’t want to take on that objective. The vending machine levels are floors that come midway between the 10th floor boss battles, it’s also optional if you wish to battle on. The vending machine allows you to spend your currency on refilling an extra life or buying available Colour Chips.

While you could try and just pick the easier levels and zoom up the floors, not only would you likely be setting yourself up with a more haphazard build, but then there’s also the Danger Floors. There are two types of special floors; Danger Floors and Bonus Floors. Danger Floors will attach to one of the selections, bumping up the difficulty, but you don’t have to select it. However until you clear a Danger Floor it will stay there, not only that but the more you put it off you’ll wind up with more clogging up the floors!

Then there’s the Bonus Floors, here you have two randomised options; Colour Saturation or Bonus cash. Colour Saturation will fill in the entirety of your Colour Chip Palette with a particular theme of upgrades, which will last for as long as the floor takes you. This means you can potentially go wild on a floor with a high powered Pearl drone or dealing heavy splashy damage. The Bonus cash gives you a condition to win all or some of the bonus amount, for example I got ‘no moving in octoling mode’. This left me having to pop out of Octopus mode to lay out a path to swim through; I was fine attacking as long as I didn’t move. Instead of it being one wrong move and you’ve lost it all, it’s a countdown with the earnable bonus ticking down when you break the condition.

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As with other Rogue-like games, you start at a point where you are pretty limited in ability. In Side Order, you start your run with one life and base health and armour levels. As you go through a run, you’ll earn a currency that you’ll collect after finishing a run, either by dying or completing it; this currency can be used towards permanent upgrades. The first thing I wanted to do was to purchase additional lives, this of course keeps you in the Spire for longer. It doesn’t take much to get swarmed and have an abrupt end to your run. Even in the time I had with the game I was able to unlock enough that would keep me climbing the Spire further.

If you’re familiar with the genre, you’ll know how the cycle goes; doing runs so you can earn enough to unlock more upgrades, survive for longer, and earn more currency to unlock more expensive upgrades.

By the end of the month, everyone will get to check out Side Order; I know I am looking forward to taking on the Spire of Order and really getting stuck into those runs. If you want to play some more Splatoon with a different spin, then Side Order might just be off the hook.


Splatoon 3 Expansion Pass: Wave 2 which contains Side Order is out on February 22nd.

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About The Author
Paul Roberts
Lego enthusiast, Picross Master and appreciator of games.

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