Splatoon 3: Side Order Preview – A tasty roguelike snack

Splatoon 3 Side Order DLC header art

Something hella strange is going on in Splatoon 3: Side Order, and that’s saying something for a game series that has some of the weirdest lore in video games. Heading back to Inkopolis Square, digital disruption scatters across the screen, and you wake up in a world that’s been mysteriously drained of all its colour – an absolute travesty considering how vibrantly colourful Splatoon has been for all this time.

Ahead of its release on 22nd February, we’ve been hands on with Splatoon 3: Side Order, a fun new single player twist on the classic Splatoon series action.

Instead of playing as Agent 3 from the main game, you will once again create a new character to represent the newly numbered Agent 8. Once again, they suddenly find themselves embroiled in a mission to save the Inkling world without having an inkling of what’s going on. All they know is that Pearl is there in floating robot form, and… well we can’t say what the dish is with Marina just yet, but that’s part of the whole mystery for this DLC.

At the heart of this story is the tower, an imposing obelisk in the more monochromatic Inkopolis skyline where you have to head to figure out what’s going on. Within you’ll find randomised level after level, building up to big boss battles, and if you run out of lives you get sent right back to the ground floor. If you hadn’t put it all together yet, then this is a very Splatoon take on a roguelike.

The first run through this takes the form of a prescribed sequence of ten entry level missions, building up to the first boss battle and narrative revelations. Along the way you get to grips with the various tweaks and mechanics that Nintendo has brought together. Similar to other Splatoon single player stories, there’s a bitesized nature to going through the levels here, and those levels combine a little bit of Salmon Run, a little bit of multiplayer with the roguelike progression for something that feels just a little bit new and distinct.

You’ll start each run by picking a weapon and ability combo from the range that you’ve unlocked within the mode, and that’s what you’ll ride with through your run. This is dubbed a Palette, though, because as you step into the tower with Pearl-bot by your side and take on each level you get a colour chip that will augment your abilities in some way. It could be a boost to damage at short range, increased ink recharge, making your ink poisonous, adding item drops to enemies and lending Pearl some abilities to use in support. Over the course of a run, you can morph a slow and precise Splatcharger into a faster firing shotgun, almost.

After that introductory run, you’ll always have a choice of three levels to take on. Each one will have a different difficulty level indicated, which rewards you with more Membux to use through a run (or save up for some permanent unlocks), and a specific colour chip that you get to immediately slot into your palette. For well versed Splatoon players, it’s pretty easy to just go for the highest difficulty available – from Easy up through to Rigorous – but that won’t prepare your build very well and you can easily end up with colour chips that do nothing for your current weapon.

Step into the level and there’s a few different modes, like blowing up portals through which the weirdly transparent enemy fish emerge, holding a control point, escorting a tower, trying to take out roller sharks that run away from you, and more. They’re generally riffing off the multiplayer modes, but give that short and sharp bitesized gameplay that Splatoon is known for. Every tenth level throws a boss battle at you, with a range that we’ve seen in our hands on time that will challenge you in different ways.

Adding roguelikes into games seems to be all the rage these days, taking something familiar and putting a different spin on things. That’s what awaits you in the tower at the heart of Splatoon 3: Side Order. There’s plenty of familiar ingredients in what Nintendo are plating up here, but the end result looks and feels just that little bit different to chow down on.

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