WHEN Splatoon released in 2015 on the Wii U, I found myself absolutely enamoured with its frantic online 4v4 gameplay, to the point where I ultimately burnt out and found myself looking for another game to play.
I admired Splatoon 2 and its success from afar, but I barely dabbled in it, as my interest in the Switch at the time was at an all time low. Keen to make amends for that mistake, I’ve spent the last few weeks heavily invested in Splatoon 3, and although things aren’t perfect, its addictive multiplayer, solid single player and welcome new content additions make for a damn good third person (ink) shooter.
Splatoon 3 quickly introduces you to the Splatlands, a desert wasteland that serves as the game’s setting. After customising the look of your humanoid Inkling or Octoling player character and your buddy the Smallfry character who plays a starring role in the single-player campaign, you will find yourself in Splatsville, a bustling city that acts as the hub world for the Splatoon 3 experience.
The streets are littered with a myriad of cutesy marine creatures, with the Inkling and Octoling inhabitants representing other Splatoon 3 players, making Splatsville feel like a true living city with a sense of community. This is further amplified by the posting feature that has been a constant through the Splatoon games, which allows users to upload a drawing to display when you encounter them in Splatsville. While I’m sure Nintendo strictly monitors these user-generated posts, the vast majority of them are fantastic, often showing off creative fanart or memes both new and old.
Also present throughout Splatville are an array of boutique stores, with dedicated clothing, headgear and shoe stores happy to take your hard earned cash in exchange for a stylish new getup. Clothing equipped to your character is a great way to personalise your Inkling or Octoling, but they also have abilities that can be unlocked for them as you gain experience while wearing them, with buffs such as faster ink recovery and quicker respawns just some examples of what’s on offer. Gear can have up to four abilities unlocked on them, and abilities can even be rerolled if you want to make some changes. It’s a feature that most are probably not going to notice, but it’s a neat addition that serves as a great way to marginally improve your loadout while looking fresh at the same time.
There’s also a general store that sells random collectibles that you can use to pimp out your personal locker in the multiplayer lobby, for friends and recent players you’ve encountered to have a peek at.
I wasn’t expecting to like the locker feature as much as I did, but I quickly fell in love with it, as I wanted everyone to see the latest fresh pair of shoes and shirt I’d just bought, whilst also making sure everyone saw the poster in my locker that you can only attain by rolling credits in the story mode.
Splatsville also has a weapons store where weapons can be purchased via a special currency known as Sheldon Licenses, as well as a brand new playable card game called Tableturf Battle, which sees players use their deck of cards to attempt to occupy more territory than their opponent, which mirrors the aim of Splatoon’s traditional Turf War mode.
In short, there’s an overwhelming array of things going on in Splatsville, and we haven’t even covered everything.
When it comes to visuals, Splatoon 3 isn’t much of an improvement on the visuals present in Splatoon 2, but like its previous entry, Splatoon still looks great despite being on dated hardware. The visuals exude style as Splatoon games always have with plenty of vibrant colour and a pleasant cartoony world, serving as yet another example of Nintendo’s ability to still make their games look fantastic on a system that is graphically far weaker than its competition.
Performance is also surprisingly strong as well, with only a few instances of frame drops throughout my time with the game in handheld and docked modes. Splatoon games have always had excellent soundtracks, and I’m happy to say that Splatoon 3 is no different in the music department, with plenty of bangers packed into its soundtrack.
Splatoon games have always had a duo of hosts that appear on broadcasts notifying players of important events such as what multiplayer maps are currently in rotation, but Splatoon 3 bucks the trend with the latest group Deep Cut, and adds a third member to the mix.
You’ll be seeing plenty of Shiver the Octoling, Frye the Inkling, and Big Man the Manta Ray as they not only keep you up to date with what’s happening in Splatsville such as what maps are currently in rotation in multiplayer, to community events such as Splatfests, but they also appear as the antagonists of the single player campaign. Despite being the baddies in the story mode, they’re an undeniably loveable trio, with special shoutouts to my boy Big Man.
Splatfests are community events which see players join one of three teams of their choosing based on a certain theme, such as Rock, Paper Scissors, or what you’d take with you to a Deserted Island, like Gear, Grub, or Fun (I can’t see it being much fun). I joined Team Grub thinking it to be the winning answer, but my fighting was in vain as we were demolished by Team Grub. A special 4 v 2 v 2 Tricolour Turf battle mode also appears exclusively during these timed Splatfests events, pitting all three teams against each other at once to see who can cover the greatest majority of the map in their teams colour of ink.
Although Splatoon 3 has a single-player story mode and the returning PvE multiplayer mode from Splatoon 2 known as Salmon Run, I think it’s fair to say that the main mode of the Splatoon experience is its PvP multiplayer.
The multiplayer content present in Splatoon 3 is essentially the same as it was in Splatoon 2, however there are more weapons and maps than ever before.
In case you weren’t aware, weapons in Splatoon shoot ink instead of bullets, which can be used to mark territory on the map, kill members of the opposing team, and also traverse, as transforming into squid or octopus form (which can be done at will) allows you to move at a faster speed through your teams colour of ink.
Speaking of shooting, the act of shooting and traversal in Splatoon 3 are both a joy, and this applies across each and every mode in the game. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as laying down a trail of ink, and diving into it in squid form to quickly navigate around or sneak attack unsuspecting foes, and it’s always an enjoyable time when you unlock a new weapon to try.
The simple pick up and play nature of Splatoon has always made it a great game for anyone to play, but what’s even more impressive is how mechanically deep and engaging it feels despite its simplicity.
A big reason for this is the sheer amount of weapons in Splatoon 3. You’ll constantly be gaining access to them as you level up and get ahold of the aforementioned Sheldon Licenses, which are required to purchase them. There are various different weapon types to choose from, from ranged sniper type weapons, to close range weapons like the Roller or Splatana, but they all play great, with your mileage with them largely hinging on whether or not they fit your play style.
Multiplayer is separated between two modes, Regular Battle and Anarchy Battle, which serves as the Ranked Mode in Splatoon 3.
Regular Battle consists only of Turf War, a fast-paced 4v4 affair that has been the core mode since the inception of Splatoon. Matches are short and sweet at just 3 minutes, with the goal being to have the majority of the map covered in your team’s ink at the end of the match. Turf War may not be a ranked mode, but that doesn’t make matches any less competitive, as their short nature makes matches insanely frenetic and gripping. You often aren’t even sure which team won until the end of the game either, making matches even more tense and engaging. It’s clear to see why Turf War has been Splatoon’s bread and butter for all these years, and despite being present in all Splatoon games thus far, it still manages to constantly feel fresh.
The same can be said for the competitive ranked mode known as Anarchy Battle, which features four different modes that are a little more involved than Turf Wars’ simple aim of marking territory with your ink and stopping the opposition.
Tower Control is a payload style mode where two teams fight to assume control of a tower that when controlled, will slowly creep towards the opposition’s base. The win is awarded to the team that pushes the tower the most. This mode was my personal favourite given its similarity to the Payload mode in Team Fortress 2.
Rainmaker is similar to Tower Control, with teams required to maintain possession of the titular weapon, with the win awarded to the team that pushes the Rainmaker furthest into the opposition’s base. When the Rainmaker is dropped, it forms a shield that makes it impossible to pick up until heavily inked, resulting in frantic affairs where both teams fight in a small space of the map.
Splat Zones on the other hand is a King of the Hill type mode where teams fight to occupy designated zones on the map, with the winning team the one that occupies said zones the longest. It’s the simplest of the ranked modes for sure, but matches are still exhilarating.
Clam Blitz is the last of the Anarchy Battle modes, and requires teams to collect Clams that are scattered around the map, in order to create a Power Clam that when hurled into the goal at your enemies base will reward your team with points, whilst also exposing the goal for further scoring opportunities, as once the goals barrier is broken by a Power Clam, individual clams can be thrown in also.
Eight clams are required to create a Power Clam, and dying will see you drop some of your clams, so the mode results in a crazy dash around the map attempting to collect clams and evade the opposition. Collected clams can be thrown to teammates, so playing strategically with your teammates is the key to success.
Success in Anarchy Battle matches will boost your competitive rank, which is then used to matchmake you with players at a comparable skill level. If Turf War is a little too basic for your tastes or you just want to play with a more competitive crowd in more interesting and strategic modes, then Anarchy Battle mode is for you.
Mutliplayer is brilliant when you can get into a game, however you will likely find yourself let down by the lacklustre performance of the Splatoon 3 servers more often than you’d expect. I was often greeted by an alert reading “A communication error has occurred.” when attempting to play online, which results in you being booted off matchmaking and needing to search again. No matter if I was in docked mode or handheld, or made use of a wired or wireless connection, this error didn’t discriminate.
To make matters worse, once in a game, you’re not exactly safe from disconnection either, as matches will abruptly end if any players leave the match, which is absolutely heartbreaking.
My desire to play made me more willing to handle the frustrations caused by these errors, but I’m not lying when I say that in some instances it basically forced me to play singleplayer or nothing at all. To the games credit though, the ability to access the training arena while matchmaking is a welcome pro, allowing for you to get plenty of shooting practice in as you wait to find a match.
Unlike Splatoon 2 where the PvE mode Salmon Run was only available for small periods of time, it’s always available to be played in Splatoon 3, which is a great addition. Alongside three others, your goal in Salmon Run is to retrieve the Golden Eggs that drop from the Boss creatures and return a specified quota of them to your basket before the timer expires, all in the while handling the various Salmonid foes that emerge for the water around the map.
The mode is a hectic affair best played with friends, however it’s still a great time when lobbied up with randoms too.
My favourite thing about Salmon Run is that each wave has the player assigned a different weapon, which serves to ensure that the gameplay loop of collecting eggs and splatting Salmonid doesn’t get as tiresome and samey as it otherwise could have. With its own separate levelling system and rewards, Salmon Run serves as a great PvE mode with a decent amount of content.
Although primarily a multiplayer experience as I’m sure you’ve gathered from the review thus far, Splatoon 3 also features a short but thoroughly enjoyable Single-Player campaign titled Return of the Mammalians.
As your Inkling or Octoling avatar, you are tasked with traversing Alterna, a mysterious location consisting of six different sites, which for some reason are covered in a fuzzy ooze that when touched envelops its victim in hair.
Whilst continuing to take the fight to the Octarian army, who have been the villains since the very first game, you’re also tasked with cleaning up the mysterious fur sludge.
Where Return of the Mammalians succeeds the most is the level of creativity seen in its missions. Some missions see you needing to reach the goal without running out of ink, while others require you to break all the targets in the level in order to successfully complete it. The story mode campaign also has missions that introduce you to weapon types you may not yet have experienced in the multiplayer, giving you a welcome taste of what’s to come, while also serving as a tutorial to familiarise yourself with different weapons and the play styles that suit them best.
You don’t have to play every mission to progress through each site, however you’ll likely want to, as the short but sweet missions provide plenty of entertainment.
You can blast your way through the Single-player content in 4-8 hours depending on your level of completion, which is quite short, however I can’t help but feel like it’s enough given the amount of content present elsewhere in Splatoon 3.
The Return of the Mammalians story mode was a joy to play through, as it oozes creativity with its multitude of short but supremely sweet missions that force you to mess about with weapons you may have otherwise not tried.
There is no doubt in my mind that Splatoon 3 is the greatest way to experience the series thus far. It brings along the same frantic gameplay present in the original two releases, whilst making quality of life tweaks and additions to polish what is already a refined experience. Other than the servers being a little bit disappointing in moments, I loved everything else I experienced.
With an enviable amount of content across its various modes, a brilliant soundtrack, solid visuals, and an already insanely large player base, Splatoon 3 is a brilliant game I wholeheartedly recommend picking up. If it can fix the issues with its online matchmaking, it can be even better.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron