I didn’t realise how much I was looking forward to Splatoon 3 until I sat down to play it last week. Competitively coating turf with candy-coloured ink in Splatoon 2 until Judd or Li’l Judd waved their victory flag became a near-daily pastime for me in Nintendo Switch‘s early years, but after the game’s final Splatfest, like many, I haven’t been drawn to return to Inkopolis Square as much as I would have liked to.
It was Pearl’s Team Chaos that emerged the victor from the Splatocalypse and we’re now weeks away from seeing what impact that triumph may have on Nintendo’s direction for this threequel. The research-packed Splatoon 3 Direct was more than exciting enough to get your tentacles wagging, and it offers the best breakdown of everything that awaits you in the sun-scorched Splatlands if you haven’t caught up.
My fleeting hands-on time with Splatoon 3 was spent tackling three early missions in the game’s single-player story mode, splurging ink everywhere in the core Turf Wars multiplayer mode and teaming up for some cooperative play frantically gathering Golden Eggs in Salmon Run. I didn’t get the chance to try the deckbuilding Tableturf Battle minigame, but that’s something that we can all look forward to getting our tentacles around soon.
The original Splatoon and its sequel both had a riotous story mode, but it is the Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion that set a seemingly impassable creative benchmark for the series’ solo play. Splatoon 3’s Return of the Mammalians shows some early promise that it will build on that success, but it’s hard to gauge how outlandish the adventure that awaits us will be from the three missions that I played.
Whether overcoming ink-related platforming challenges to retrieve keys to unlock the path to the mission’s exit point in 1-1: Get to Know Alterna, Your Only Choice to finding myself armed with the new bow-like Stringer weapon in 1-9: The String’s the Thing, such missions continue to be the perfect introduction to familiarise you with the game’s responsive character movement and the ever-increasing weapon types available to you.
I need to spend more time with the Stringer, but it stands out from the crowd in that you can fire ink horizontally or vertically based on whether you are standing or jumping. The Tri-Stringer that the story mode hands to you to experiment with takes this one step further, letting you fire ink in three directions at the same time or to power up a charged shot that freezes in place on impact before exploding seconds later. Nintendo naturally finds playful invention with this weapon, a carefully placed shot allowing you to trigger a three-button switch or challenging you to land a charged shot on a moving board so that the resulting explosion takes out otherwise shielded Octarians.
Coating the ground in ink to claim it as territory for your team in the game’s four-on-four Turf Wars mode has been a mainstay for the Splatoon series, and it remains just as chaotic and energetic as it ever was. The mode hasn’t been changed, but the differences that we expect have always come from the new stages and weapons that you can wield to splatter your ink across them.
We were able to ink up Scorch Gorge and Eeltail Alley, which are two new additions among the 12 stages that will be available in-game with free post-launch updates to introduce more over time. Scorch Gorge offered a more open battleground, while Eeltail Alley’s narrower design with its higher walkway presented the chance to sneak behind enemy lines to ink turf closer to their base. Neither stage was a dud – I don’t think the Splatoon series even has any clangers – but Eeltail Alley was more my style.
The chance to practice in the Test Range – which you can now do while waiting in the Lobby – is a smart move, especially given how many weapon types there are. Rollers, Sloshers, Brushes, Dualies, Splatlings, Brellas and more, there’s a lot to choose from especially when you start unlocking new variants. Everyone will find what works best for them, and the Splash-o-matic is back and still remains my “comfort” weapon of choice.
I was excited to check out the new Special Weapons, though. In our Turf War matches, I came across three new additions in the Tacticooler, Wave Breaker and Reefslider. The Reefslider is hilarious. Leaping onto the back of an inflatable shark, you point it in the direction that you want it to slide in before then hammering the ZR Button to make it explode whenever you like. The Wave Breaker is more tactical device that creates shock waves that can mark enemies locations, while the Tacticooler is a fridge with four cans that once gulped temporarily increase your speed and reduce your respawn time if you’re splatted.
Grizzco Industries continue to put you to work in Salmon Run, now carrying you to job sites in a helicopter. We teamed up to fight back the Salmonids on the new Sockeye Station with mixed results, overcoming the hordes in our first effort before being overwhelmed on the third wave after the difficulty was ramped up. Much remains familiar with this, but there are changes such as the chance to throw the Golden Eggs that you have scooped up and new Boss Salmonid that you will be confronted with – I came across the flying saucer-like Slammin’ Lid and the tower-like Fish Stick in our escapades.
The Splatoon series has always been vibrant to behold, but its fluorescent ink really pops on the Nintendo Switch OLED Model‘s 7-inch screen. Going back to Splatoon 2 on the revamped hardware was a treat in itself, and I can’t wait to sink more time into Splatoon 3 with friends both portably and when docked at home.
From my brief time with it so far at least, Splatoon 3 feels fresher than ever – Nintendo having worked hard to deliver a threequel that’s more than the same old simply splattered in a new coat of ink. With the allure of a two-year content roadmap, plans for “large-scale paid DLC” and the outright ink-based carnage that awaits in the Splatfest’s Tricolor Turf War, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that early impressions indicate that Nintendo has scored their next big hit.
Splatoon 3 will release exclusively at retail and digitally on the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch worldwide on 9th September 2022.