Splatoon 3 Review

Splatoon 3 Review Image

Candy-coloured ink-based chaos makes a return on Nintendo Switch, as Splatoon 3 whisks you to the sun-scorched Splatlands to reignite old Turf War rivalries. The original Splatoon was fit to burst with creativity, remaining a standout effort from Nintendo to bolster its software library with something fresh and unexpected – even as its Wii U console sales momentum somewhat bleakly faltered. Splatoon 2 then proved to be a breakout moment in Nintendo Switch’s early lifecycle, after which the ingenuity in stage design shown with the Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion elevated the game’s single-player content into the inky stratosphere.

You’ll be happy to learn that Splatoon 3 continues to splurge a trail of inky brilliance, delivering a gameplay experience that still continues to feel just as fresh today as it did back when the original game was first shown at E3 2014. Switching between humanoid and squid forms to dominate ink-soaked battles whether competitively or co-operatively remains unique and distinctly “Nintendo” within the team-based third-person shooter genre, as your team sets out to coat their turf and splat the competition.

Splatsville is your hub world this time around, a bustling inner-city street with high-rise flats, neon-lit signs and a rail system that frequently passes overhead. After re-orientating yourself in the game’s brief tutorial, you arrive to see a live Anarchy Splatcast broadcast from Splatsville musical icons Deep Cut – Shiver, Frye and Big Man – who reveal that the Great Zapfish has once again been “squidnapped,” meaning that the whole city is no longer powered.

Splatoon 3 Review Screenshot 1

Descending into the sewer, the now retired Cuttlefish believes that the Octarians are behind it – gearing you up with a brand-new Hero Suit and recruiting you into the New Squidbeak Splatoon as Agent 3. It doesn’t take long to realise that something wider than the Great Zapfish’s disappearance is amiss, piles of Fuzzy Ooze suddenly coating the Splatlands which Cuttlefish warns will give you an “instant full-body beard” whether you want it or not if you come into contact with them.

You have a partner in crime on your solo adventure this time around in Smallfry, your comically-animated little buddy who’s able to be thrown to attack faraway crates, switches and enemies. He also serves another purpose in that he can be fed Power Eggs to be able to gobble up Fuzzballs and remove the ooze that blocks your path forward in the single-player overworld. If the story’s mystery doesn’t spur you on, then de-oozing each area certainly kept me occupied for a long while.

Nintendo understandably doesn’t want me to spoil too much about what happens within the game’s story mode to retain its surprises, but, for me at least, its ink-based moment-to-moment action and pun-ridden character interactions are the best that the Splatoon series has offered up until now. There are Balloon Fish to explode, Splat Switches to trigger and Octosnipers to evade, but the clear benefit to conquering the substantial story mode – aside from witnessing the energetic thrill of its brilliance – is to familiarise yourself with the new ink-based weaponry that’s placed in your tentacles before heading into game’s expansive multiplayer component. For that reason, it will be an essential boot camp for most, along with Sunken Scrolls to gather and other in-game rewards – such as Tableturf Battle card packs, stickers or decorations for your locker – to unlock.

Splatoon 3 Review Screenshot 2

You’ll need to be your freshest to succeed in the online arena. The multiplayer experience feels more like an evolution than a revolution this time around, but, as with the original and its sequel, Nintendo has been clear that Splatoon 3 will be supported with a two-year content roadmap and “large-scale paid DLC.” It’s hard to wholeheartedly predict what will be delivered in that time but judging by past efforts it will continue to keep enthusiastic Inklings and Octolings alike engaged with the game through new weapons, stages, Splatfests and more.

What’s here has still been refreshed and refined, though. You still have Splatoon’s pulse-racing four-on-four Turf War matches sat alongside Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker and Clam Blitz, which fall under an Anarchy Battles banner. These haven’t changed from before – the variety coming from wielding new Main or Special Weapons such as Stringers and the Reefslider as well as competing on new stages like Scorch Gorge and Eeltail Alley. It’s a shame that there isn’t a new multiplayer mode, Nintendo instead opting to introduce Tricolor Turf War to the game’s frequent-but-not-frequent-enough Splatfests.

There’s been a clear focus to improve the game’s matchmaking experience, not only letting you leap into the Lobby or choose which multiplayer mode you want to Super Jump into more quickly but letting you experiment with weapons in the Test Range while you wait to be teamed up. This one’s a straightforward refinement, but one of many nuanced touches that Nintendo has made to streamline your time exploring everything that Splatsville has to offer. The multiple shops are back to let you buy weapons and clothing as you work to level up your Inkling (or Octoling) online, with a new addition coming in the General store which, run by Harmony, offers an expandable Catalog offering items that you can customise your in-game locker with.

Splatoon 3 Review Screenshot 3

There are Salmonid hordes to overcome in the co-operative Salmon Run mode, but it too hasn’t seen any really substantial changes. Now riding in a helicopter to the job sites that Grizzco Industries sends you to secure Golden Eggs from, there are new stages to fend for your survival on and Boss Salmonid to topple – the flying saucer-like Slammin’ Lid and the tower-like Fish Stick as two examples. It’s still a chaotic riot with friends – or even random players online – but it’s hard not to be once again left feeling shortchanged with the lack of any real shake-up here, especially as the third mainline game in the series.

The development team has always had fun implementing minigames into Splatoon’s universe and Tableturf Battle may very well be their best yet. This card-based battler has you placing cards to claim turf, and, while clearly a distraction from the main event, is something that I will keep returning to far more than what’s come before.

I likely won’t be the only critic to quote the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” phrase, but that was my overriding impression from my time with Splatoon 3 so far. It’s hard not to feel torn about the outcome. On one hand, this is the best that the Splatoon series has ever been from launch and I’m excited to ink my team’s turf with a Splash-o-matic for months to come. But on the other, the sensational Return of the Mammalians story content is the standout attraction here while the multiplayer modes lack the reinvention that many will have hoped for.

There’s still no other game that delivers as refreshing a multiplayer experience quite like Splatoon effortlessly achieves. It feels just as fresh now as it first did back on Wii U, and, while more of the same isn’t necessarily bad when the series’ remains consistently brilliant, new weapons, stages and Boss Salmonid can only freshen up and re-energise the game’s multiplayer modes so far. However, what’s here has been tinkered with and refined to near perfection. Inkling and Octoling stalwarts will approach this threequel with a renewed sense of purpose in wanting to prove that they’re the freshest squid on the block, but it will be the content roadmap that inevitably determines whether Splatsville’s worth sticking around in.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo

Total Score
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