Splatoon 3 Review
There are three things you need to know about Splatoon 3. The first is that it’s an evolution of the series, rather than a revolution. The second is that the story mode is absolutely fantastic. The third is that it’s far and away the best Splatoon game to date.
Let’s start with the boilerplate stuff, so we can get that out of the way and move onto the cool stuff. So, yes, Splatoon 3 is a lot like Splatoon 2. It looks pretty similar – though, personally, I think in general it looks markedly better than 2 – and it plays pretty similarly too. The core gameplay of Splatoon has stayed more or less identical throughout its iterations, and that’s a good thing, because the core gameplay is just about perfect, as far as third person shooters go. Very rarely does a series knock it out of the park with its first entry, but Nintendo did exactly that with Splatoon, and that same, excellent, gameplay is here in Splatoon 3, too. There are minor changes, of course, a few tweaks and adjustments here and there, alongside new weapons and abilities. But at its core? It’s the same Splatoon you know and love.
Let’s talk about those new weapons, because there’s actually some really interesting, if subtle, shifts in Splatoon 3’s design philosophy when it comes to competitive play. There are two aspects that I feel are at the core of the weapon changes and additions: utility, and mobility. These don’t factor too much into the new Main Weapons too much, though those new weapons are interesting in their own right — more on that in a bit. No, where this focus on utility and mobility comes from is in Sub and Special weapons.
Take, for example, the Zipcaster, a new Special that essentially turns you into a dope ninja Spider-Man. Once activated, you get 10ish seconds to zip around using what is essentially a grappling hook, and during that time you can also attack if you like. Landing at your zipcasting destination also does a bit of damage, but damage isn’t really the point of the Zipcaster. Instead, it’s designed to allow you to quickly move from one area to the next, rapidly gaining height to put yourself into a good position to snipe some enemies, or propelling you into the enemy’s backline to stealthily ink some turf while they’re busy pushing forward. It’s mobility first, and combat second, which is a refreshing addition to something traditionally gung-ho like Splatoon.
On the utility side of things, there’s a much bigger focus on supporting teammates and staying alive. Two new Special Weapons illustrate this focus pretty well: the Big Bubbler, and the Tacticooler. The former is a deployable shield that makes it impossible for enemy ink projectiles to damage teammates inside the bubble, while the latter throws down a dispenser for energy drinks that can be picked up by allies, granting a bunch of buffs that make moving, splatting, and respawning a lot quicker and easier.
There’s more examples of both of these design aspects – the Reefslider gives a rapid boost forward before exploding in a deadly ball of ink, the Ink Vac nullifies front-facing damage and throws it back, and the Wave Breaker sends out rings that have to be dodged by enemies, lest they get damaged and tracked – but the main gist of it is that there’s a lot more flexibility in how you approach battle. There’s a lot of room for strategy and meta-crafting here, but if I had to guess, we’ll see Turf War combat move outwards towards more extreme styles of gameplay. With these additions – as well as some returning and readjusted subs and specials like Ink Storm which are good for map control – I can see players becoming both more aggressive and dynamic in their plays, as well as shifting to a much more defensive, reserved play style should the tables turn. That it’s actually viable for a player to play a primarily supportive role outside of map control and sniping is a huge boon for the health of Splatoon’s multiplayer going forward.
Going back to those Main Weapons I mentioned earlier, the flexibility that’s present in Splatoon 3’s Special Weapons is on display here, too, though to a much lesser degree. There are two new weapon types: the Stringer, and the Splatana. Stringers are bow-like weapons that change their function depending on a number of factors. For example, if you spam the fire button, you’ll send a wide spray of three shots forward, while charging it up first will fire off a much more focused grouping that can stick to a surface and explode after landing. Firing from the ground makes that initial spread fire horizontally, while firing from the air means it’ll spread out vertically. It’s an extremely flexible weapon that will undoubtedly be used to great effect by some very high-skill players that I will undoubtedly come to despise with time.
The Splatana is a little more interesting, in that at first glance, it can be difficult to tell exactly who or what the weapon is for. It behaves a little like the Inkbrush, in that it’s a close-range melee weapon that can be spammed to effectively erase enemies in front of you. But it also sends off a small, forward-facing wave of ink that does a decent, if not particularly worrying, amount of damage upon hit. If that’s not enough, you can also charge it up, which has two purposes — it’ll pretty much guarantee a one-shot if the melee swipe hits an enemy, and it sends out a much bigger, much more dangerous projectile wave that’s easy to dodge but devastating if you don’t or can’t. The charged melee attack also lets you do a quick step forward if you’re holding the analogue stick in a direction while unleashing it. The result is a weapon that feels a little bit unwieldy, but also does a little bit of absolutely everything except super long-range combat. In the right hands, it’s got a lot of potential, and may even unseat the Octobrush as the close-range weapon of choice, but I can absolutely see a lot of people bouncing right off it. My one tip for people who want to pick a Splatana up though: the time required to charge it up is a lot shorter than you think it is. Figure that timing out, and I reckon you’ll be tearing it up on the splattlefield in no time.
The basic movement set and the way battles start have both had a few tweaks as well to help smooth things out a little bit. Battles start off with each player in the sky, choosing from a pretty wide area in front of what would traditionally be the spawn point to launch onto the battlefield. Respawning offers the same option, and it’s a small but meaningful change that offers a lot more flexibility in how you start your match, rather than having everyone always start from the same point each round. In terms of basic movement, things are more or less the way they were in Splatoon 2… with one nice addition: you can now perform a quick jump in the opposite direction while in swimming mode, allowing you to quickly bail if there’s a murderous squid or octo ahead of you. It’s a very small and very situational addition, and I personally didn’t get a great deal of use out of it, but when I needed it, I was very glad it was there.
Alrighty, moving on from all that silly multiplayer nonsense, and into the meat of what separates Splatoon 3 from its predecessors — the story mode. As mentioned in my intro, it’s good. Like, really good. Like, maybe the best single-player campaign in an online shooter to date. Let’s set the scene.
Some years after the finale of Splatoon 2, Inklings and Octolings alike have converged on a new city called Splatsville, located in the deserty Splatlands. There’s a new idol group, Deep Cut, on the scene, and they’re absolutely amazing (Big Man is the best and I will fight you on this). But, uh oh, the Great Zapfish has been abducted. Again. Because of course it has, because this is a Splatoon game. Naturally, this means that power is less than reliable, and it’s up to our hero to follow a seedy old man down the sewers to try and bring the zappy bud back home.
Upon first landing in The Crater, it seems like you’ll be going through Splatoon 3’s story much the same as you did in Splatoon 2. There’s a hub and you have some levels to go into, you retrieve baby Zapfish, and that’s that. You’ll meet your new squadmates, the New Squidbeak Splatoon, headed up by the former Agent 3 – the first Splatoon’s playable character – and flanked by Agents 1 and 2, Callie and Marie, respectively. They’ll initiate you and your tiny friend Smallfry (okay, actually, maybe Smallfry is the best) as the new Agent 3, and you’ll be off on your way.
But you didn’t think things would be exactly the same, did you? After running through the usual gauntlet of introductory levels, you’ll end up in the underground city of Alterna. It’s infested with fuzzy ink and there’s a gigantic rocket ship, and it’s all a little bit strange and funky. But here’s the good thing: the levels in Alterna are bloody amazing. I’ll be honest, after the initial levels in the Crater, I was beginning to get worried that Splatoon 3’s story mode was just more of the same. I was extraordinarily wrong.
Alterna is split up into six areas, and each area has a dozen or so levels to take on. Some of these levels are the more traditional story levels you’d expect to see in a Splatoon game — although all of them are definitely a step above what you’ve probably experienced in prior games in terms of quality. Those levels are good, but they’re not the main draw of Splatoon 3’s story mode. No, the main draw is the more experimental levels, the weird and wonderful levels… the Octo Expansion-style levels. Yup, there’s a whole stack of challenge levels that genuinely could’ve been lifted straight off the cutting room floor of the Octo Expansion. They’re creative, often challenging, and absolutely revel in forcing you to think outside of the box and use the game’s mechanics in new and interesting ways.
Now, some of these Octo-inspired levels are incredibly difficult. There’s a couple I still haven’t finished, because my old, ageing bones just can’t keep up. There’s some I spent literal hours on — one of which was a level that just required you to jump and dodge a bunch of circles. It sounds easy, but it was an incredible challenge and easily some of the most fun I’ve had with the series. Despite that challenge, there wasn’t a single moment in the entirety of the story mode’s runtime where I got frustrated due to the game. There were times where I did something dumb or my controller flaked out, and I absolutely got frustrated then, but it was never something the game did. Every single moment, from start to finish, was an absolute blast, each level more memorable than the last, and some boss fights that, while I can’t really talk about them, are going to blow some damn minds when other players get to experience them.
I think I’m allowed to say that Deep Cut show up throughout the story mode, and I actually wanted to talk briefly about these characters and the characterisation in general throughout the game. Deep Cut is deeply interesting in both the story mode and in Splatfests and newscasts throughout Splatoon 3. I guess you could call them an idol trio, made up of Frye, an Inkling, Shiver, an Octoling, and Big Man, a huge freaking manta ray. They’re an absolute delight to watch and listen to, both in speech and in song, packed with heart and personality. Callie and Marie get some wonderful characterisation too, along with some subtle but absolutely present character growth. It’s great to see these characters take centre stage in a much larger role than in previous games, and the way they’re implemented is really charming.
On a similar note, I’m really impressed with how Nintendo has implemented the “chaos” theme at the core of Splatoon 3, after chaos won out over order in the final Splatfest of Splatoon 2. I expected a grim, uneasy, post-apocalyptic hellscape, and I thought that would come to fruition upon opening up the game and seeing my hooded player character sitting in the middle of a desert. Getting to Splatsville revealed something a little different. Instead of grimdark chaos, we get more of a warm, friendly chaos. Splatsville is a multicultural city, with a wide range of cultures on display. It’s messy and chaotic, as big, multicultural cities often are, but it’s inviting and comforting, a place where everybody can be themselves. We can see this in Splatsville’s very own Deep Cut, with Frye being very clearly inspired by South Asian culture, and the band’s music being a rich tapestry of South Asian, Japanese, and Brazilian fusion. It’s a chaos that feels comfortable, and a perfect setting for a game about squids, octopodes, and other wonderful sea creatures coming together to play some silly games and listen to dope music.
Speaking of dope music, the soundtrack to Splatoon 3 is nothing short of breathtaking. There’s a healthy mix of hard rock and more melodic, heartfelt songs, and all of it is an absolute bop. The rest of the game’s presentation is similarly great — but Splatoon has never really waned in that respect. It looks good, it performs well, and the art direction is as strong as it’s ever been. I have very very few complaints about the look and feel of Splatoon 3 — it’s just about perfect.
And of course, I couldn’t get through an entire review of a Splatoon game without mentioning the extracurricular activities, and there’s a few available here. The biggest, and best, in my opinion), is Salmon Run, which has had a small but nice overhaul. It’s still pretty much the game mode you remember, but they’ve added the ability to throw eggs into the basket rather than having to swim up to it every time. It’s also open 24/7 rather than only certain times of day — a sore point for Grizzco employees in Splatoon 2 that has thankfully been changed for the better.
There’s also Tableturf Battle, a new card game-based spinoff of Turf War, which has you placing cards on a grid to take up the most spaces and, hopefully, prevent your foe from placing theirs. Whoever ends up with the most spaces filled is the winner, and there’s a lot of strategy available depending on how you want to play it. There’s also heaps of cards available to collect, although unfortunately the game is single-player only at launch. Sometime down the line you’ll be able to play against other players, but for whatever reason, solo matches against CPU players will have to do for now.
You can also decorate a locker with stickers and objects earned throughout the story mode (and available for purchase at an in-game store), and customise your player card with titles and backgrounds to make it a little more you. All of this is simple stuff that probably didn’t need to be there, but it’s a nice little touch that makes the game feel a little more personal when you’re playing it.
Splatoon 3, while more of an evolution than a revolution, is the best the series has ever been. Between an utterly fantastic story mode, some great new weapon additions, and tweaks to the tried and trusted formula you’ve come to know and love, Splatoon 3 is everything you’d hope it would be and more. Some will say that it’s “just more Splatoon”, and that’s true, but that’s far from a bad thing in a series that has been, and continues to be, so consistently strong.
+ Big Man and Smallfry are the best
+ Some fascinating changes and tweaks to a rock solid base
+ Story mode is the best Splatoon has ever been
- Tableturf Battle is only available offline at launch
- Everything but story mode is locked behind initial online battles
- Big Man isn't on-screen the entire time