‘Splatoon 3’ Review: The best ‘Splatoon’ is the one that everyone is playing
It’s hard to believe that Nintendo’s kid squid ink shooter is a decade old, so let’s just stop age-spiraling right now please. Splatoon 3 is 90% the same DNA as its previous iterations. That’s not a bad thing. Splatoon’s splish-splashing core gameplay ain’t broke and nobody’s fixing it, but with that is the notion that they’re not fixing other things. As the honeymoon phase wanes from its September 9th release, how does the game hold up… and do the new features make up for some cracks in the paint?
What’s New Squid Kid?
For the uninitiated, typical Splatoon play involves two teams of four Inklings (or Octolings in this installment). Each player can arm their squid self with a variety of weapons varying in power, rate of fire, range, and style. These weapons spread ink that you will need to cover as much as the map in as possible to win. Swimming in your ink speeds you up and also replenishes your ink when needed. Secondary weapons like suction bombs and special weapons like giant, aggressive paint stamps are also key parts of your blotty arsenal.
A couple of new additions and quality of life features bolster a solid and still fresh multiplayer. New maps and a banging set of new tracks are immediate draws for veterans. Collectible splashtags, badges, and emotes revitalize battle rewards. The new Stringer weapon class offers a more mobile precision option that is capable of a wide explosive charge, while the Splatana provides a medium-melee alternative that has yet to settle into the developing meta. New movement options in squid form are also nice to see. Squid Surge has you charge upwards on an inked wall, and with Squid Roll, you can change directions without losing momentum. Not to be outdone, a surprising and innocuous throw feature in the PvE Salmon Run mode fits in as a delightful no-brainer.
Splatoon 3’s campaign in the sci-fi land of Alterna is varied and challenging. You’ll be able to finish it in about four or five reasonably committed sessions, and will likely spend more time exploring and collecting hidden materials. The new story mode is most similar to the Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion DLC, so fans of that are in for something good. For me, outside of the multiplayer, the campaign represents a strong second pillar of the game. In games past, the campaign was cute, but never rose above weapon practice and lore building. Story mode now feels like a requirement to get the most out of the game and I’m more than okay with that.
Bells, Whistles, and Lockers
Customization is the deepest and most addictive it’s ever been in the entire series. Your character is now working through a catalog at the new Hotlantis store to purchase decorations for your locker. Trinkets run the gamut of in-universe brand stickers, soda cans, miniatures, and the ever popular Easter Island head statue. You can also stuff your locker with the clothes and weapons at your disposal. Seeing other player’s personalities shine from their lockers, posts, and wardrobe is such a fun and natural experience. It really reinforces why Splatoon has the frenzied fanbase that it does. Heads up: you will have to play a couple of matches and rank up before you can access your locker and all that the shops have to offer.
I can’t stress enough how enthused I am of features unrelated to the core gameplay. The new hub world called Splatsville is inspired by vertical residential apartment neighborhoods across Asia. It’s gorgeous. I wish it was more interactive in general, but seeing the way the place transforms during the Splatfest events is so dreamy. A new card battling game called Tableturf Battle easily dwarfs the Squid Jump minigame in Splatoon 1. It’s a grid-based territory control game that has you Tetris-ing together the most real estate. Each card has unique shapes reminiscent of weapons, characters, and enemies across the series. You’ll find more booster packs as you rank up and play the single-player mode.
Bad Aim or Bad Internet?
Sooooo that Internet though. It’s so difficult to comment on anything new about Nintendo’s much-to-be-desired online infrastructure. It’s fine when it works; it’s atrocious when it doesn’t. You will experience player drop outs, streak ending disconnections, and latency issues at some point. Nintendo has made several updates that assure us they are actively combatting this if you take them at their word. A small consolation for me is that disconnections force me to take breaks, reluctantly.
Like Captain Cuttlefish, the conversation on internet fidelity is just kind of old now? A game like Splatoon 3 needs a reliable internet connection to be perfect. We’re as far as ever from in-game voice chat since the game still requires the unanimously derided and bafflingly cumbersome Nintendo Switch Online App to work. Your best version of Splatoon is voice chatting with friends on Discord. That will just have to be the reality of this era of Splatoon. Hey, at least you can practice in the multiplayer lobby now.
Even today, the Splatoon franchise has so much potential. It feels good to see Nintendo continue to lean into the popularity of Splatoon. The new bells and whistles maintain and enhance the tight gameplay and whimsy that we love about the series. Turf War, Salmon Run, and the new campaign feel just as good as ever. It’s so close to perfect that I can’t help but focus on the crack. But the crack is tiny, and with a household that’s played hundreds of hours now, Splatoon 3 is the best Splatoon yet. Now go spill some ink.
Relevant links: Splatoon 3 page