Review: Splatoon 3

While there have been many surprises from Nintendo this year, Splatoon 3 was one that was up there as the most unexpected. Many fans thought there wasn’t going to be a continuation in the series for some time, but given just how popular the series truly is. it ultimately makes a lot of sense. Splatoon 2 was one of the freshest titles to release in 2017 and introduced a slew of new mechanics from its predecessor that helped it stand out as a great time. It gained such popularity that it even saw the inclusion of the Octo Expansion which managed to make the popular Octolings playable as a nice change of pace. Now that Splatoon 3 is finally here on the same console, does it manage to stand up on its own or feel more like an extra expansion that came out a few years late?

While the story of Splatoon is never the focus, it starts out similar to those before it. The Great Zapfish has disappeared and is causing things around town to go awry because of it. The fresh young Inkling or Octoling of the player’s choosing is recruited to be the new Agent 3 and help solve just what is going on. Traveling down below the city introduces the players to Cap’n Cuttlefish who sends Agent 3 on their way to save Zapfish and find out what’s going on through a variety of stages. While they descend a massive crater, there’s a slew of weird fuzzy goop everywhere that when touched infects the player and turns them fuzzy. This can only be passed by using Agent 3’s compansion Lil Buddy who can eat the fuzz and eliminate it entirely in order to make progress. Throughout stages Agent 3 also notices that the Octarians seem to also be covered in this weird fuzz, but that doesn’t stop them from being their usual selves otherwise. By the time they finally reach the bottom of the crater, a familiar face arrives on the scene in the form of Octavian, enraged that his army of Octarians is missing and challenges Agent 3 and Cuttlefish to a battle. After all is said and done the trio are confused as Octavian didn’t steal the Great Zapfish and no one is sure what’s going on with the missing army of his. Before they can ponder it too long the ground below breaks with Agent 3 and Cuttlefish sent into the mysterious icy innards of the crater below. It’s up to Agent 3 and new allies found there to figure out what’s happening and how to put an end to it once and for all.

Those who have played either of the previous Splatoon titles will be mostly familiar with how things work this time around. Players find kettles, blast their tops off and descend into stages. These stages have a variety of styles from normal levels where they must take out Octarians and ink their way to the end to a new style inspired by Octo Expansion that are more like challenge modes. These challenge stages usually require things to be completed in a time limit, with limited resources or certain weapons. In fact many stages now offer multiple weapon options which lets them be mixed up and often times harder to use weapons offering a larger reward for completion. Along the way of the overworld Agent 3 will need to make use of their Lil Buddy to progress the fuzz that has taken over, and perhaps even manage to find a cool item or two to help to either learn more or decorate for the single player. While it’s nice that the stages feel more mixed up, it’s a shame that most of them are still in the odd Splatoon void and there hasn’t been a push for more organic worlds to base their levels on. It’s all fine at first, but seeing the lack of variety in environment quickly wears thin.

Of course Splatoon is not a title that lives or dies by its single player and it’s usually considered more of a side mode for the most part. The meat of Splatoon 3 comes with its multiplayer modes and most importantly Turf Wars and ranked. Turf Wars return better than ever with a variety of new maps, weapons and styles to don while heading onto the field with the goal to ink the most turf possible. These are where most players head to get fresh and the quick-paced fights last just long enough to be enjoyable without overstaying their welcome. Ranked battles are also basically the same with the addition of new maps. An interesting thing to note is that levels and rank from Splatoon 2 earn players a credit starting off in Splatoon 3 which is a nice bonus to begin with. Especially given that the grind to gain levels is a long one, and since weapons are locked behind levels, its nice that a few bonus tokens were given out that allow returning player to unlock a few weapons of their own choosing early.

There’s been a few changes around town including the brand new lobby system. This has players waiting in a lobby they can run around and ink up in order to try out weapons. This can be used while teaming up for a battle and also allow teams that fought together to continue matches for quicker ways to get back in the fight. The downside of this lobby system is that it cannot be exited after starting for some bizarre reason so if players want to change their weapons or gear after lobbying up they’ll unfortunately have to just wait until next round which feels like an odd oversight. Inside the lobby there’s also a new locker system players can check out for optional ways to show off. These lockers can be decorated and when playing with others will show the last bunch of people that participated in battle. It’s purely cosmetic of course, but a nice way to make use of the brand new stickers and collectibles to make a unique locker to stand out. Of course getting gear is just as important as decorating a locker and that’s up to the variety of shops at hand. This includes weapons, headgear, clothing and shoes to get decked out. While most of these can be gotten with the earned currency from playing matches, Sheldon’s weapon shop only takes licenses which are earned by playing online. It’ll take grinding to get enough licenses and money to get new gear, but is well worth it for fresh weapons and gear with new skills to help in battle.

The last major mode comes in the best of the bunch: Salmon Run. This mode returns from Splatoon 2 as the stylish way players can team up as a cooperative group in order to take down the terrifying Salmonids. Taking them on comes in three waves that change each time a match is gone into. The goal is to collect salmonid eggs and make it out alive in order to earn brand new rewards. Along the way boss Salmonid will show up to stand in the workers way and bring fierce foes that need to be taken down. There are new boss Salmonid that join the fray in addition to the King Salmonid himself who will sometimes appear at the very end of a job. He’s tough to take down, but a well-oiled team will have no problem tearing through his health for a victory lap. The best part of Salmon Run in Splatoon 3 is that it’s no longer bound by being open during certain hours and is instead freely available at any time.

The visuals and music of Splatoon titles are where they shine, and Splatoon 3 is no exception. Fresh beats make the game a delight to listen to and the characters, town and ink itself are all charming. There’s also the addition of a new weird minigame in the form of Tableturf battles which have players collecting cards to play in pseudo-turf wars against NPCs on the side. One of the biggest downfalls, however, is that it feels not a ton was changed from Splatoon 2 itself. One notable element is the weapon salesman Sheldon who is well known for talking the player’s ear off about weapons. In Splatoon 2 we saw a pitiful excuse for a fast forward button to try and get through his unskippable dialogue faster, and it makes an unfortunate return here with no improvement. The fact that there’s no outright skip function for his text is agonizing, especially for players who may wait a few levels before visiting again and have to sit through twice or three times as much information. It also feels like levels take far too long to gain while playing online in the early levels, as even being on a winning streak feels like leveling takes forever to reach the next level. There’s also the single player campaign itself which just feels like more of the same from the previous entries, making it a disappointment they didn’t try to expand the idea of a world further. It almost feels like a tease that at the beginning players start out in a large desert before travelling to a bizarre snow-laden land under the city only for it to still just be the same linear levels they need to complete. There’s so much more a single player for Splatoon could dive into, it’s just a shame we didn’t see it here.

Closing Comments: 

Splatoon 3 is basically exactly what it set out to be: a third entry in the Splatoon series. While it has a lot of small improvements, it also doesn’t feel like it does enough to differentiate it from its predecessors. Some of the minor issues like Sheldon were blatantly ignored, and other ones like levels feel like they need to be tweaked. The biggest improvement is making Salmon Run playable at all times, as it made no sense as an occasionally available mode. Hopefully throughout its lifetime we’ll continue to see improvements for Splatoon 3, and it will be exciting to be able to participate in Splatfests again. As it stands Splatoon 3 feels more like a delayed expansion than a brand new experience, but for those who just wanted more of the same old Splatoon, this will offer up more inking and splatting for them to partake in.