There’s no doubt in my mind that Splatoon 3 is the best title in the Splatoon series, and one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch. A revitalized campaign with razor-sharp focus on challenge and fun will satisfy any platformer fan, whilst the multiplayer elements deliver the most efficient, energetic and extensive experience yet. The Splatoon series has always been good, but it doesn’t get much fresher than this.
Splatoon 3 is the latest entry in the Splatoon franchise, a series that caught many by surprise with its debut in 2015. Being Nintendo’s first original franchise in quite some time, the high expectations of many were met by the brilliant first title. The original Splatoon had a strong life on a relatively weak console, before upgrading to the Switch for Splatoon 2. The sequel game was equally well received, and set up what to expect from future sequels.
So how does Splatoon 3 fit in all of this? I’ve had a full week with the game since its record-breaking launch on Sept. 9, and immersed myself in everything the game has to offer. Dozens of matches, tens of card games and one fully completed campaign later I have a lot to say about Splatoon 3. There’s much to unpack in this triumph of a game, so I’ll be breaking it down into sections for readability.
Without further ado, it’s time to cover yourself in ink and turn into a squid, kid. We’re about to dive in, and there will be puns.
Graphics – Reely Slick Visuals
This is probably the part where I will have the least amount to say. The graphics of Splatoon 3 don’t deviate hugely from its predecessor, but there are some areas of difference. Adjustments in lighting, contrast and time of day across returning multiplayer maps make them look better without any huge overhauls. The graphics were already good in Splatoon 2, and now they’re a bit flashier. Looks great to me.
One difference to past Splatoon entries is the variety of environments. The game opens in a desert valley around Splatsville, with scorching warm orange hues. This is quickly juxtaposed by the cold waters and mechanical structures of Alterna, itself being a hub to launch into a variety of other environments across many levels. The city is the largest Splatoon hub yet, full of buildings, cosy shop interiors, a sleek modern lobby and plenty of hidden spots to just enjoy the Splatsville view.
Performance is as smooth as ever too, being a flawless 60fps experience no matter how crowded the experience gets. Some online matches can get chaotic, but the game is optimized for any scenario and powers through without a hitch.
Audio – Tons Of Tunas
A key part of the Splatoon franchise is the music. We were all waiting to find out who the next idol group would be before the game’s release, and the Internet celebrated the reveal of Deep Cut – especially Big Man. The Squid Sisters and Off the Hook have both held real life concerts in Japan to huge audiences, and for good reason. Music and the way pop culture moves around music is essential to Splatoon, and Splatoon 3 delivers.
The music for multiplayer modes is as action-packed as ever, even more so than Splatoon 2. Tracks like “Paintscraper” deliver some of the heaviest rock ever heard from the series, whilst the new “Candy Coated Rocks” track from Damp Socks feat. Off the Hook combines smooth guitar with flowing piano, creating a unique and energizing track for battle.
The Splatfest-exclusive “Anarchy Rainbow” from Deep Cut is a particular highlight. A colorful, musically scintillating fusion of Japanese and South Asian-inspired vocals and instrumentation, built on a foundation of a hard Brazilian beat. The same can be said of most of Deep Cut’s tracks, which takes the music of the series to new heights beyond the J-Pop and Western Pop boundaries. Shiver’s vocals in particular are noticeable in their songs, with her voice following the traditions of Japanese Folk singing and making the songs soar.
The musical experience of Splatoon 3 is made complete with the campaign. The land of Alterna is a bizarre one, and the tracks reflect this. The overworld themes are an experimental fusion of electronic music that sets the tone for your forthcoming adventure. Towards the latter part of the campaign, both the level music and the overworld become genuinely ominous as it sets the mood for what’s to come. The auditory journey created by the Splatoon 3 music team is as wild, deep and dynamic as the game is, and gives a lifelike authenticity to Inkling society.
Campaign – Solving The Fishtery
Without a shadow of a doubt, the campaign of Splatoon 3 blows both previous campaigns out of the water. There won’t be plot spoilers in this section, but I will briefly describe the exact moment the campaign had me hooked. The first small section of the campaign begins extremely similarly to that of both Splatoon and Splatoon 2, with familiar levels and familiar characters leading to a familiar fight. Then however, the story, setting and mechanics go in a completely different direction.
The player is put in a unique scenario for the Splatoon series of losing their gear and one of their friends. What ensues is a mission across the region of Alterna in the best Splatoon levels ever created. These levels aren’t afraid to sacrifice length for quality, delivering a mixture of creative and challenging short levels amongst longer, elaborate ones. The past level mechanics of Splatoon join some new additions and create some imaginative scenarios. Just some examples of these are a tower made of blocks you have to build by inking switches, a pit that can only be traversed by using an enemy’s own body, and a battle against enemies invisible in the mist.
Whilst some of the levels are harder than found in former campaigns, the rewards are higher. Power Eggs are now used to respawn after death and to unlock new levels, whilst Sardinium and Upgrade Points add new depth to the upgrades system. Sardinium is used to gain access to new tiers of upgrades, whilst the Upgrade Points are used to unlock individual upgrades and abilities.
Everything you do in the campaign of Splatoon 3 feels like it has more purpose than before. Completing a level means that you now have extra Power Eggs to respawn more on a tougher level, but it also means that you can remove some of the mysterious Fuzzy Ooze that blocks the path of progression. That still isn’t all, as finishing a level also adds a line of lore to the Alterna Logs, a new device that gives information on the back story of Splatoon 3.
The Sunken Scrolls also return as collectibles hidden in the overworld, and you’d think that with the Alterna Logs being used for lore that the Scrolls would lose value. This is surprisingly wrong, as Splatoon 3 once again pushes itself to deliver for the player, and makes the Scrolls now usable as a display object in your character’s online locker (more on those later). Nintendo does not miss a single trick to deliver maximum fun at all times.
It would be remiss of me to discuss the campaign and not mention the plot, so I’ll be vague here. The story of Splatoon 3 has considerable implications to the lore of the world, and changes our understanding of what we have been through in past titles. The game doesn’t shy away from moments of genuine drama, whilst still providing the light-hearted and hilarious dialogue the franchise is known for. The final boss is unlike any other, being genuinely challenging and utterly unforgettable in its scope. Plus, the music absolutely bangs.
Whilst not explicitly being a campaign, I should use this space to mention the Tableturf Battle mode. Being a fan of single player card-based games, this was right up my alley. Players put together a deck of 12 cards collected throughout the world of Splatoon 3, and play a tabletop version of Turf War against NPCs. It’s kind of like if Turf War and Tetris had a card game baby, placing different blocks of ink on a board to maximize your ink space. It’s a fun way to cool off after a stressful online game or a particularly challenging campaign level; and an enjoyable game mode in its own right.
Multiplayer – Gettin’ Schooled
The online multiplayer will likely make up the bulk of playtime for most, being seemingly endless in its content and addictingly swift in its matches, giving that ‘one more game’ mentality. Whilst there are no new online game modes in Splatoon 3, I’ve had a week to process all the new additions that have come to the multiplayer experience.
The first standout new inclusion are the two new weapons. The Stringer is a bow weapon that charges up bolts of explosive ink, and can be particularly deadly when aligning a fully charged shot perfectly on a rival Inkling or Octoling. The other weapon is the Splatana, a sharp and speedy sword that can deliver rapid-fire ink sprays or charged vertical sprays of ink. Mastering these is a fun challenge, and can take a while to fully understand the best ways to use them. These are complemented by the new specials, which mix-and-match with returning and new weapons to give a lot of unlockable unique combos. Turf War matches feel extra tight when all eight players can have a loadout capable of turning the tides of battle at any moment.
A bunch of new maps also require plenty of matches to familiarize yourself with them, which is now easier to do than ever with the offline recon mode that lets you hang around a map by yourself for a whole hour. My favorite of the new stages probably has to be Hagglefish Market, a lively sea market full of color, cargo and boxes. I do also like Scorch Gorge, for how it takes us back to an area resembling the tutorial environment of the game.
Salmon Run, the PvE mode of Splatoon’s online, is given new life with a bunch of new bosses, including a new King Salmonid that will appear periodically. The bosses add more variety and more surprises to each run. We have not yet been able to experience a Big Run as these only happen every few months, but I’m looking forward to when we can.
Whilst the multiplayer modes themselves aren’t different, engaging with them feels so much better due to a host of quality of life improvements. Getting into a battle is faster than ever with quicker menus and shortcuts to get right into the fun. It’s also a lot easier to play with friends, with the Lobby now being an explorable room with a training area. This room allows you to jump into games with your existing friends, or to hang out with some new ones from your last match, as you wait for another to load up.
Social experiences with other players also come in the form of the locker room. Inside the lobby is a room full of lockers, which can be decorated with a host of stickers, weapons, clothing, plushies and more. It’s a lot of fun scrolling through lockers and seeing how others choose to express themselves, marking which ones I enjoy as I go along. This feature was surprising in how enjoyable it is despite never appearing before and being seemingly trivial. It’s a very basic thing that the developer’s could’ve gone without making, but the fact they did demonstrates the heart put into every element of the game. It’s also exciting, because the dream of many Splatoon fans to one day be able to own an apartment in a bustling Inkling city is getting closer. Maybe in Splatoon 4!
Verdict – Fin-ishing Trouts
There was only one thing I didn’t like in Splatoon 3, and it was a personal gripe. The tutorial the game opens on has mandatory motion controls, but with my disability I can’t use them. I could still use the sticks to aim left and right, but I did have to seriously struggle to get through the tutorial and reach the game’s hub, where the settings open up and allow it to be turned off. It’s a long shot, but if Nintendo could patch this so you can access settings early, the barrier for entry to disabled gamers may get that bit smaller. Any other struggles I had were fixable by using the system wide button remapping, but it would have been nice to change them in-game.
Splatoon 3 is the most refined and expertly crafted Splatoon experience to date. Immense care was put into every aspect and it shows in the final product. A more expansive and engaging campaign combines with the most intuitive, refined multiplayer experience and a whole load of unlockables and customization to create the best title of the Splatoon series, and a headlining act of the Switch console. This game is not one to miss, and it sets a new standard for Nintendo’s online experiences. The Squid Sisters would be proud, because Splatoon has never been fresher.
Bobby played Splatoon 3 on Nintendo Switch with a review key graciously provided by Nintendo UK.