REVIEW

REVIEW

Splatoon 3: Side Order

March 25, 2024

GOOD

  • Fresh roguelite mechanics
  • Fluid, responsive controls
  • Initial 'One-more-time' addictive gameplay

BAD

  • Single runs take a bit too long
  • 'Expensive' upgrade options
  • Little motivating you to use different weapons

OKAY

OKAY

Splatoon’s fresh take on the roguelite genre is interesting in principle but doesn’t quite hit the right balance between grind and enjoyment.

I really loved Splatoon 3. In fact, it was our 2022 Game of The Year. Sure, it wasn’t a huge departure from either of its predecessors but by combining the best bits from the previous games and including a great single-player game on top of a really exciting multiplayer base – there was a lot to love. That being said – shooters are not something I ever played growing up. I was just never interested in the genre and while Splatoon is a bright, colourful and family-friendly version it was the first of its kind to hook me and I stuck with it for a long time. However, as with most things the huge variety of new and backlogged games plus a busy schedule – means I eventually fell off it. And in a game with multiplayer this competitive (and my low level of skill going in) it’s not that easy to get back in.

So, I was quite excited to have another single-player mode presented in the trailers for Side Order definitely got me interested. Unfortunately, while the story behind the strikingly monochromatic world (so unfamiliar to Splatoon) and new roguelite mechanics brought something fresh and enticing to the table and started to scratch that ‘just-one-more-run’ itch, each run just feels a little too similar and the balance between grind and enjoyment weighed a little too heavily to the former. And so, while bigger Splatoon fans will likely find a lot to love here – it didn’t quite have the desired effect on me.

Splat-narrative

Ok, so before I get into the details about the new mechanics – it is worth spending a little time on the story and visuals in Side Order. While I wasn’t quite expecting the deepest narrative, the truth is – with 3 full games in plus the various DLCs, concerts, comics and more – Splatoon actually boasts a pretty heft lore at this point. And while I won’t go into it all here – it’s probably enough to know that this time around Agent 8 (the player) is tasked with taking on a mysterious AI being called The Order.

This Splatfest story background plus the unusually bland palette really brings something interesting to the aesthetic of the world we’ve come to know.

This malevolent creature’s obsession with (you guessed it) order – will likely ring some bells for Splatfest players who have stuck with the game for some time. Here, that idea is explored and expanded as a whole storyline and the game, rather than taking place in Splatoon’s physical reality – Side Order takes place exclusively within a virtual reality called the Memverse. This virtual world is bleeding into the real one though, and so the whole universe is at stake. This background plus the unusually bland palette really brings something interesting to the aesthetic of the world we’ve come to know. While, all hope is usually pinned on the protagonist Agent – this time around Pearl (taking on the form of a robotic support drone) plus familiar faces Marina and Acht all join the team too. And this time around, rather than a single-destination level-based campaign – the team is tasked with repeatedly taking on the ‘Spire of Order’ – the basis for the roguelite gameplay.

Roguelite?

Now, having thrown around the ‘roguelite’ moniker a few times – it’s probably worthwhile just explaining what I mean when I use it. A roguelite is a style of gameplay which consists of a player entering an area or series of levels for a single run. In this run, the player may gain upgrades, equipment etc, however, upon dying the player will lose much if not all of their acquired gear and have to start the run again, right from the beginning. It seems one of the main differentiators between a roguelike and a roguelite – is that the latter allows you to do some sort of upgrading between runs, therefore making subsequent runs a little easier. Within this definition – Side Order is a Roguelite.

SplaT-Rogue

The ‘Spire of Order’ is a 30-level tower. Now this is where things get a little complicated. Before entering the tower, you are tasked with selecting a main weapon (Dualies, Shot, Roller etc) based on the ‘palettes’ available to you – very limited at first. Once this is selected – you then enter the lift and make your way up. Each level presents you with 3 seemingly-randomly selected options. These three options not only vary in difficulty but also in reward. Tougher selections will lead to more credits (Membux) earned. And whilst this seems quite straightforward and may remind you of previous campaigns – this time around you will not only select based of difficulty; Each option has different completion requirements – an easy level may require you to protect a zone (Splatzones). A different (tougher) may task you with defeating multiple enemy spawn points and so on. And then on top of all this – each option will reward you with a different colour chip. A specific upgrade that can be immediately equipped to improve different attributes – the power/firing rate/spread of weapon, speed of movement or abilities of the Pearl Drone.

Depite some randomness, I quite liked the strategy of figuring out the optimum selection for each run.

Now, as you can probably tell – all this is quite a lot to keep track of. However, all these options allow you to tinker and try different setups to reach the top. And once you get a hang of all the different mechanics I quite liked the strategy of figuring out the optimum selection for each run. However, due to the random nature of the level options and colour chips that are offered – you can’t always create the exact setup that works best for you. This is a little bit of a two-edged sword. On one hand, the randomness forces you to try new combinations and keeps things feeling fresh. On the downside, however, if you do find a set-up on a single-run that works well – not reaching the top level means you will lose it all and not really be able to get that same set-up again. To mitigate this a little – some levels contain Vending Machines – and collected Membux can be used to buy specific colour chips and even change secondary weapons.

Spl-ite

And that’s not all… On some levels, you also take on Bosses. There are around four that seem to appear randomly. I enjoyed how tough they were and taking them always felt like a worthy challenge. A successful Boss Level gets you a key (which you can use to open lockers which contain new palettes giving you access to further weapons) and also earns you another form of Currecny (Prlz) which can then be used for the permanent upgrades that can be equipped between runs. Yes, between unsuccessful runs – while colour chips and abilities will be removed and you’ll need to start at the first floor again – you can use converted Membux and Prlz to buy permanent upgrades. These include anything from extra lives, to better shields and even possible ‘Continues’.

I enjoyed how tough the bosses were and taking them always felt like a worthy challenge.

So, how did I feel about all this. Well, on the plus side Splatoon 3’s controls are fuid and fantastic. Once you get a hang of it all – floating down on a Pearl Drone (yes you can sort of fly now), diving into a puddle of ink and exploding on the other side in a burst of paint and Jelltons (the new transport jelly-fish enemies) feel amazing. And so, when you have a good run, have selected some great Colout Chips that work and generally have a setup the feels good – it is exhilarating to know one mistake could send you back down to the bottom. And even when you fail (at least at first) there is a real addictive loop – and I was really keen to go back in ‘just one more time’. However, I’m generally not the biggest fan of roguelites. And my issues with them – came out quite starkly here again.

First, runs just feel too long. Spending nearly an hour getting to the top level and then losing is never great. And while I started off excited to jump back in – the fact that permanent upgrades are quite expensive (even if you choose the harder, higher-paying level options) means that if you happen to only have access to a weapon you’re not very good at – it all begins to feel very repetitive and grindy if fail a few times. And while the randomness tempers this a bit, having to try to work within that randomness to select specific colour chips to figure out your perfect set-up – was a balance I found more frustrating than fun. And when I compare it to previous campaigns – the fact that you are not forced to try every single different weapon was disappointing. I liked that I had to learn the other wweapns in specific levels designed for their use. Here I have to use whatever I’m have randomly unlocked for all the levels – and by the end of a successful floor run – I can’t say I was itching to jump back using an Umbrella.

Working with the variety of upgrades, randomness and other options was something I eventually found more frustrating than fun. 

Spl-it

So, what can I say… Am I happy that Splatoon 3’s DLC included a single-player mode? 100%, Yes! It got me back into a game I hadn’t played in a while. Am I glad they dabbled in a new genre? Well, here it gets a little more complicated. Yes, in a sense that it brought something fresh to the formula. And once you get the hang of all the different options, selections, setups and upgrades (both temporary and permanent) there is definitely an addictive gameplay loop to enjoy. However, runs that are a little too long for a Splatoon player at my skill level (on the lower end), and a combination of randomness and repetitiveness that feel out of balance means after many hours my initial enthusiasm eventually gave way to frustration – I can’t help but feel it’s not quite a game I’ll immediately jump back into right now. However, I can definitely see how some time or even a different skill-level player will make for a very different experience. And to be honest, even though it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, I really think that Wave 2 DLC of the 3rd game in a series is the perfect time to try something a little different and Side Order is therefore still a success in my eyes.

REVIEW CODE PROVIDED BY: NINTENDO


For more Nintendo Reviews click here.

March 25, 2024

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