Splatoon 3 Review

Splatoon 3 Header

Conventional wisdom would tell you that three is the magic number, but Nintendo didn’t need three games to cast a spell with Splatoon. When it arrived in 2015, it was by far the most exciting new IP that Nintendo had come up with in years, to the point that a third of all Wii U owners snapped it up. The sequel, on the far more popular Nintendo Switch, arrived just four months after the console’s launch and easily managed more than twice as many sales as the console’s popularity exploded. Splatoon 3 is now rocking up with a slightly more chaotic attitude and the potential to reach even more people.

So, what is Splatoon? It boils down to being a multiplayer shooter where, yes, you can kill the enemy team, but the real aim is to splatter the environments with paint as a way of claiming territory. Each match is a short and pithy 3 minutes, which is just enough time for that initial foray, battle for supremacy and stage a last-ditch comeback. As the music speeds up and the clock counts down, your heart rate picks up as you frantically try to cover that final bit of extra ground and secure the win.

Turf War is the main mode, but it’s also joined by Anarchy Battle once you’ve levelled up enough, adding a variety of game objectives and modifying modes like Capture the Flag and Control in truly inventive ways that fit the ink-obsessed game world. Alas, we weren’t able to try these out, given limited online time prior to release, but the main multiplayer experience felt solid enough and the fundamental game modes remain.

Splatoon 3 Tri-Stinger Weapon

Also returning from the previous games are a host of inventive weapons, all capable of spewing out ink in different ways. It’s up to you to pick the right one for the job, whether it’s the standard issue Splattershot, sniper rifles, paint rollers, paint buckets, brushes, umbrellas or the new Tri-caster triple-shot bow and Splatana ink-flinging sword.

One of the best ways to learn the ropes with these weapons is to head down a sewer grate and take on the single-player story. The Zapfish has disappeared again; you’re handed the role of Agent 3 and tasked with bringing it back, delving into a strange underworld with new enemies to face, and strangely fuzzy Octarians. There are rather unexpected new antagonists, and the world structure is nice and engaging — you unlock areas by throwing your Little Buddy smallfry, charged up with Power Eggs to devour weird fuzzy purple gloop, and have plenty of freedom to either clear the whole world of fuzz or make a beeline for the objectives, as you see fit.

Each level is a bite-sized encounter, sometimes throwing you into an assault course filled with enemies, other times giving you an off-kilter painting task, or a single-shot sniper rifle challenge. They’re interspersed with some fun boss battles and build up to a lengthy final multi-stage mission and bombastic final boss. I’d have loved to see more of this narrative level design through the first two-thirds of the campaign, but it has a good finish.

Splatoon 3 Slammin Lid

Another way to check out the weapons is the Salmon Run, a returning co-op horde mode that tasks you with defeating waves of Salmonid enemies, taking out bosses and then snagging their eggs. It’s a mixture of pure survival and concerted attack that’s still so moreish, especially after dropping the previous time restrictions. It’s made even better with the addition of new bosses and a new Kaiju-sized King Salmonid that sometimes spawns to add a fourth, even more desperate round at the end. Being able to throw eggs is also a fantastic improvement, letting you get eggs in the basket at the last second or chaining throws to teammates for efficient banking.

Considering that Nintendo got so much of the core concept right with the very first game, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Splatoon 2 covered a lot of the same ground with fresh ink, bringing a cluster of new maps and weapons, while sticking with a similar structure for the single player and throwing in Salmon Run for good measure. Splatoon 3 is similarly an evolution, not a revolution. It’s an excuse to return to this bizarre world and once again dash through the single player, dive into Turf War, lap up the new Splatfests and pull a few shifts in Salmon Run all over again. In a word, it’s homely.

Long-time fans will immediately recognise the way that Splatoon 3 locks the multiplayer to feature just two maps at a time, how weapon variants come with predetermined throwable and ultimate attack loadouts, and plenty more besides, but they will also be able to appreciate all the smaller ways that Nintendo has improved and tightened up the experience.

Splatoon 3 Splatcast Listen

For example, when loading up the game and at the top of the hour, there’s still an announcement broadcast from the new presenter trio to reveal the new map selection, although you can now let this play in the background instead of having to sit through it. When matchmaking, you can more fluidly change and test your loadout between rounds in a shooting range while you wait. And Salmon Run is now available to play whenever you want, instead of being restricted to certain times. These are all great improvements, even if they’re the kind of significant quality of life overhauls that we’ve come to expect.

Perhaps the biggest new addition is the two-stage Splatfests. These regular in-game events will now pose three-way questions to the community — the Deep Cut idols of Shiver, Frye and Big Man each giving an answer and asking you to join and fight for their side. The first half will play out the same: matchmaking your team against another and tallying up the regional wins and losses. However, the second half now adds three-way battles into the mix, with the leading team defending the middle of the stage while two pairs from the other teams spawn on either flank.

Splatoon 3 Splatfest Tricolor Battle

Based on the Splatfest World Premiere demo that ran a couple weekends ago, it’s fair to say this still needs balancing. It’s a bit too easy for the middle team to be squeezed and for the other teams to stage a comeback. It’s a fun twist, but needs tweaking to bring it up to the same level of quality as the rest of the game.

Splatoon 3 is a bit like your mum making your favourite meal when you head home for the holidays. It’s been a few years since the last game — while there have been some great improvements and additions, it’s the same old Splatoon we know and love, and that’s still pretty great.
  • Paint-splattering gameplay is still utterly brilliant
  • Some suitably wild twists in the single player story
  • Lots of quality of life improvements throughout
  • Colours within the lines of what Splatoon 2 did
  • Some of these improvements could have been updates for Splatoon 2
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