Splatoon 3 improves on almost every aspect of the previous games in the series. And barring some connection issues and making finding modes/new areas oddly tough, Splatoon 3 is an outrageously fun game and easily in our running for 2022’s best Nintendo game.
Splatoon is a wonderfully wacky concept; Make a family-friendly, bright third-person shooter. Add a huge splash of neon paint. Sprinkle in a post-apocalyptic punk aesthetic and make the protagonists adolescent music-obsessed, headset-wearing cephalopods. Oh yeah, and this time… let’s add a card-game mechanic that remixes Tetris and Tur War. It really shouldn’t work. However, as I dove head first into Splatoon 3 not only did I understand (probably for the first time) why this has become another of Nintendo’s tentpole franchises – but I also had a whale of a time. It’s definitely an incremental sequel and won’t be ticking many ‘reinvention-type’ boxes. However, it does just enough to keep things fresh while leaning into all the best bits of the previous games… as they say, if it ain’t broke don’t splat it.
While so many (understandably) exclusively play Splatoon games for the online multiplayer modes, for me Splatoon 2 was all about the single-player. I’m a huge fan of platforming and puzzle games, and the Octo Expansion in particular really managed to weave a quirky story around some really great puzzle-platforming gameplay. It felt unique, in the way it cleverly layered these with the various mechanics of the paint-sploshing weapons, specials and even the special way inklings move, hoping between their forms. I really enjoyed my time with it. And if you felt anything like I did about those previous games, the good news is that Splatoon 3 really leans into those same ideals, providing an engaging mode that you can have a great time tackling on your own, offline.
…it manages to weave a quirky story around some really great puzzle-platforming gameplay.
This time around, you’re enlisted as Agent 3 and again tasked with returning that great Zapfish that powers the city. Yes, that part is probably rather familiar, however, this time there is more story to uncover. An interesting tale that is called the Return of the Mammalians and as your progress through the various mini-challenges across Alterna – the new area to be explored, not only will you meet some familiar faces from previous games but you’ll also challenge a range of new enemies and a wonderfully nonsensical – furry ooze. If you want you can run through the story completing only a handful of required challenges. However, thanks to the joys of living during loadshedding and how fun each short, engaging challenge is I found myself keen to complete 100% of the story mode. Not only does this unlock more customisation options, but you also get quite specific details about how the world ended up the way it did. I really found it worth it. (Just be warned there is a rather devilishly tough on-rails target challenge near the end of the game that I will admit made me scream in frustration).
For anybody jumping into Splatoon for the first time, I would say the story mode is virtually a must. It does a really great job of introducing you to the game’s many mechanics, weapons types and abilities without it feeling like a dull and slow tutorial. However, I would urge even those that have played the game before, to at least try their hand at the story mode – not only is it probably more enjoyable and substantial than you imagined – but you’re also introduced to your lil’ buddy: A tiny, unexpectedly ugly-cute, Smallfry Salmonid (imagine a fish that hops on land and wears an orange mohawk). It becomes your rather useful companion along the journey and I now know what my next plushie should be.
Unfortunately for us playing in South Africa a discussion about the online experience would be incomplete without talking about how easy it is to find matches. As all the types of modes online (Turf War (Regular), Tower Control, Clam Blitz (Anarchy) etc) require multiple people connecting – finding a complete roster of players for a game to proceed isn’t necessarily a given. However, given how popular Splatoon is – the truth is this last week was probably the best time to play the game. Unfortunately, for both myself and several other local players I’ve spoken to over the last few days – this has been a bit hit and miss. There were times that some struggled to find any matches at all, while others have had a much smoother experience. In my own experience, I found Anarchy battles reasonably easily, but have seen the dreaded “Communication Error” screen way more often than I’d like to have especially when logging on for the first time and trying to hop into a regular battle. Nintendo did send out an update and that does seem to have helped things along, however, I still seemed to have a more stable experience when playing online later in the evening (after 9 PM) and finding a first match definitely seems to be the tricky bit – as once you’ve done so, at least some players tend to stay on for later match-ups.
With that out of the way, I’m happy to note that this is also the first time I’ve really enjoyed the online gameplay. The new weapons (especially the Tri-Stinger) and specials are a small but fun addition and the speed and chaos of each battle somehow seem to have been upped a little, while I somehow found controlling my own player in the heat of battle a little easier. Even the squid surge and squid roll are relatively minor additions but again just give you that little extra in terms of overall mobility. This may have just been because I’ve played a little more than the previous games but while Splatoon 3 is definitely just an incremental move from what we saw in Splatoon 2 it definitely feels very well-balanced and more welcoming than the previous games. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a very good competitive Splatoon player and probably not in the best position to discuss how the Splatoon 3 will affect the overall meta – so I decided to reach out to one of our best local players Brandon “Fumble” Jones for their early thoughts on the game:
“As it stands right now, I think it’s a little too early to have a great idea as to where the comp meta is going to go, we’ll have more of an idea as people spend more time with the game and figure things out. I will say that overall everything feels a lot more fast-paced compared to Splatoon 2 and closer to how chaotic Splatoon 1 was, which is a good thing in my opinion. The new base mechanics that were added, squid roll and squid surge, are great. I think people are still getting used to them because I haven’t really seen many using them effectively in my ranked matches. I even tend to forget about it in the middle of a battle. But I do think they’re great additions. Squid surge is a lot more situational but will be great for getting the jump on some people. But squid roll is for sure the more interesting mechanic. Once more people get used to it, I think 1v1s are going to be a lot more intense and fun to both play and watch.
I like the two new added weapon classes. My initial thoughts on them are that they’re fun but feel like a hybrid of two weapons but aren’t as great as them. They’re not “pick-up-and-play” weapons either as I think the skill floor on both is higher than other weapons. Only time will tell where they’ll fit in the meta but I can say that I’ve already come across people who know how to use them well in ranked and gave me some trouble. I also love the new specials. Every special feels it could have an impact on the way a match goes but nothing feels overly oppressive such as ink armour and stingray from Splatoon 2. Again, it’s still early to say for sure, but the standouts for specials in 3 so far are Big Bubbler and Tacticooler.”
Splatoon 3 is definitely just an incremental move from what we saw in Splatoon 2, but it definitely feels very well-balanced and more welcoming than the previous games.
Splendid Salmon Runs & TableTurf Shenanigans
One of the features I’m most happy about is Salmon Run Next Wave – the updated version of Spaltoon 2’s Salmon Run. Salmon Run was one of my favourite modes and while I always felt completely out of my depth on the competitive side of things – this cooperative mode allowed players like myself with lower skill to still have a great time with others. And so it always drove me mad that it was only available in short spurts. Thankfully (as with most of Splatoon 3’s new features) there’s further improvement here. Salmon Run matches are available at any time and have even been tweaked with some extra Boss Salmonids, the ability to easily throw golden eggs and even King Salmonids that appear after several successful excursions. It’s a wonderful experience all around and unlike the other spotty online modes – every time I’ve tried to find a Salmon Run match – I’ve been able to do so. This really is simply one of the best reasons to play Splatoon 3.
And talking about modes, I can’t leave without at least touching on TableTurf Battle. As extraordinarily mad as it sounds, Nintendo has decided to take the basic premise of Turf War (the mode where two teams must out-ink their opponents by painting a shared area in their colour) and bade it a one-on-one card game with a few Tetris elements for good measure. At first, I wasn’t into it. The rules aren’t very clear of perhaps I wasn’t quite paying enough explanation, however, I jumped into the first few games and quickly lost everyone. However, after that initial disappointment I decided to run through them again, and after some trial and error and realising that the strategy lies not only in placing as many of your own blocks as possible, but actually blocking your opponent by creating coloured barriers early on, and then filling in what’s left, I eventually really started to enjoy myself. Don’t get me wrong it’s really just a ‘side dish in Splatfilled buffet’, but after getting an understanding of how the strategy works – I quickly levelled up and found myself happily building a few special decks and taking on some familiar opponents and whiled away an hour or two on a card game when I was supposed to be taking jobs from Grizzco. And so ultimately, it really is worth taking that extra bit of time to learn the game, even if just to give you a pleasant and slightly calmer change of pace.
Now, other than the TableTurf Battle’s slow-burn and some significant connection issues my only other gripe with Splatoon 3 is that there is one thing that it still hasn’t yet got right, Something that has driven me a little crazy in Splatoon games and inexplicably still appears in this one; An insane penchant for hiding certain modes/functionality/basic mechanics from the player. As an example, it took me ages (and a guide) to find the single-player mode in Splatoon 2. Yes, apparently there is a line of dialogue that mentioned I should check out the Sewer – however, I missed this in there was simply no further in-game indication that a single-player mode existed. This time around, it took me ages to find where TableTurf Battles were hidden. And even the new locker room – containing a locker that you can customise with items, stickers and weapons you collect along the way is pretty hidden too. Now, I know some will point out that at least you can access the clothing and weapon stores from your menu – however, even then they are only accessible if you’re online and if you’re not – it doesn’t give you the option to connect it simply kicks you out and you have to get yourself to the lobby to connect. It’s unnecessarily convoluted and really provided my only real irritation.
Salmon Run continues to be simply one of the best reasons to play Splatoon 3… while TableTurf Battles give you an unexpectedly engaging, slightly calmer change of pace.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) Splatoon 3. Yes, the online concerns are completely valid and those hoping for a big overhaul of the game will be left wanting. However, for me, it is the next iteration of a series that just keeps getting better, And in this third instalment, not only do they cater to the single-player crowd, but they have improved on virtually all other modes and mechanics, providing a fantastic package that caters to a multitude of tastes and best of all is neon-paint splashing fun at it’s best.