Splatoon, Nintendo’s hit third-person shooter franchise, has been a mainstay for the company since the first game was released in 2015, and Splatoon 3 faithfully follows in the footsteps of its predecessors. There’s the same eye-catching visual style and high-impact gameplay across multiplayer modes and a single-player campaign, albeit with many tweaks and improvements that make this the slickest version of the series yet.
Splatoon 3 drops you into the post-apocalyptic world of Alterna, where you play one of the many fashion-forward cephalopod-like humanoids, Inklings and Octolings. Alterna itself is quite a sight to see, too; the level of detail put into Splatsville as the game’s main hub immerses you in the Japanese-inspired urban world overrun with marine life. Armed with a wide arsenal of ink weapons, you can either tackle the single-player story mode, Return of the Mammalians, or head straight into one of the multiplayer game types.
The game provides an exciting but accessible entry into the franchise for those new to Splatoon, while also fine-tuning the well-loved mechanics and game types long-time fans are used to. As a newcomer, I opted to jump into the campaign to wrap my head around the controls some more (to avoid embarrassing defeat when it came time to hit the multiplayer modes).
The story involves teaming up with the New Squidbeak Splatoon and rescuing the Master Roshi-esque Cap’n Cuttlefish, all while navigating the mystery of fuzzy ooze that covers various parts of the world and recovering the stolen (again) Great Zapfish that powers Splatsville. For those wanting to get an edge in Turf Wars, the campaign is the perfect time to learn advanced tricks and techniques.
As with a lot of multiplayer shooters, pretty clear the campaign is not the main focus of Splatoon 3, given the under ten-hour runtime for the average player, but the cute cast of characters and the variety of puzzles you navigate to get through the story are fun nonetheless. The new addition of your sidekick Small Fry, who can be thrown a distance to clear objectives (or fuzzy ooze), adds an extra dimension to Splatoon’s tried and tested mechanics as well.
I will admit that while the controls are simple to get the hang of, they’re much harder to master than I anticipated. The use of the motion controls is a steep learning curve for the unseasoned, although the ability to reset your view is a welcome inclusion. If you’re not interested in making use of the motion controls, you can switch them off, although in doing so resign yourself to slightly less intricate and quick movements of the camera which can prove handy in the multiplayer modes.
The multiplayer game modes themselves are high energy, chaotic, and bring out the competitive nature in even the most passive players. Splatoon 3 sees the return of the 4v4 Turf Wars, which is arguably where a majority of players spend most of their time.
Unfortunately, as a solo player, I also found that a large chunk of the Turf Wars experience was spent waiting in the lobby for the matches themselves. Given the game sold 3.45 million copies within the first three days of launch in Japan alone, according to Nintendo, and has continued to amass huge numbers since, I was surprised to find just how long it took to find a match during my review period, with matchmaking errors also cropping up a couple of times. Thankfully, despite all the waiting, the lobby itself is well-designed and kept me (mostly) occupied while loading a match.
Getting into the actual Turf Wars, you’re presented with a wide range of unlockable weapons to suit different playstyles. The Splatana Wiper, new to Splatoon 3, is a standout, with a regular slash attack to fling out ink, and a charged slash that can splat close-range opponents almost instantly. The Splat Dualies also get an honourable mention as simple to use with a decent ink output and range. Most matches end up being incredibly close, with the upper hand passing between teams every few seconds in a majority of cases. The lack of overwhelming defeats or coasting wins makes Splatoon 3 all the more fun, and leaves you wanting to play just one more on repeat for hours trying to clinch a win.
Each match is accompanied by a fun soundtrack, full of upbeat, sometimes discordant tunes which add to the energy of the battles. The one main issue with Turf Wars is the map diversity; despite a wide range of maps that games cycle through, they all quite quickly blur into one thanks to very similar layouts and platforms, meaning that the desire to keep playing for too long does eventually wane. Beyond this, Turf Wars remain a solid multiplayer experience, although after playing the Splatfest-exclusive Tricolour Turf Wars, I do wish this was available more often, as it’s an exciting spin on the regular game mode.
The co-op Salmon Run is also equally fun, with high-stakes gameplay as you mow through waves of Salmonids and special enemies to collect eggs. One slip-up and missed egg can cost your team the whole match, and the range of enemies with different weaknesses and strengths keeps the mode fresh and interesting beyond the first few ‘shifts’.
Splatoon 3 feels like a fresh experience to me, despite being the third in the franchise, with slick movement, new weapon and skill load-outs, and changes to controls and settings. There is plenty to love, and the monthly Splatfests, paired with Nintendo’s commitment to two years of content following its release, feel like things will continue to be exciting well beyond launch. Given that – at the time of writing – the game can become quite repetitive, additional content will likely be the linchpin to its long-term success.
On the whole, Splatoon 3 is a family-friendly shooter that’s bright, dynamic, and well-polished. Depending on your experience, communication errors and lobby wait times can hold things back, but regular events to bring the community together, as well as the desire to dominate the leaderboard is likely to keep me coming back for more ink-fuelled anarchy for some time to come.
3 stars: ★★★
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 9 September 2022
The Nintendo Switch version of Splatoon 3 was provided and played for the purposes of this review.