Platform: nintendo switch
Splatoon is perhaps the trickiest franchise for Nintendo to navigate. Although it debuted on the Wii U in 2015, where it was overlooked by all but the most committed of the famed developer’s enthusiasts (by virtue of that, well, being a Wii U release), it was already as close to perfection as the series was likely to get. On paper a simple multiplayer team-based shooter, Nintendo’s creative weirdness gave everything a family-friendly lick of paint – or, technically, neon ink – by replacing the genre’s typical bloody battles with a series of area control skirmishes, conducted by anthropomorphic squids. shape-shifting people to swim in pools of colored mud.
This first Splatoon was such an immediate distillation of everything great about the genre that both 2017 Splaton 2 and this latest entry struggles to significantly differentiate itself from the original. In place, Splaton 3 offers a handful of smaller scale tweaks, refinements and additions that elevate, rather than revise, an already winning formula. Indeed, the biggest difference is that by simply being on Switch, millions more gamers can experience the simple genius of the game.
For the uninitiated, Splatoon 3 the stock in trade remains its Turf War mode, where teams battle it out in three-minute online rumbles, trying to cover the largest area of an arena in their respective inky hue. Mixing pistol shooting in humanoid form with ingenious navigation in squid form – able to swim anywhere you’ve splashed ink, including vertical surfaces – makes matches far more tactical than the initial frantic melee can appear.
The new cards introduced for Splaton 3 make better use of those vertical navigation skills, too, with layouts designed to reward players that account for the full 3D space, and a new “Squid Surge” move that lets you zoom around the world at high speed. in the form of a squid. Another new move technique, the ‘Squid Roll’, lets you burst out of a pool of ink in the form of a squid. These are relatively small changes to the formula, but once mastered they can have big impacts on the outcome of a match.
The popular Salmon Run mode of Splaton 2 also returns, providing a cooperative multiplayer experience where teams battle waves of enemy salmonids. The big improvement here is that the mode is always available, rather than being limited to scheduled events. A few tweaks to the formula – the ability to launch salmonid eggs or challenges to escort egg shipments to safety on the battlefield, for example – also enhance an already great experience.
Splatoon 3 feels more like a series of refinements than a whole new experience.
There’s also a lot more meat on the bones in the single-player campaign, which takes place in a new region called Alterna. While this is still, ultimately, a glorified tutorial for the various weapons and tactics players can use in multiplayer campaigns, it offers a deeper story that actively attempts to subvert the sentiment that Splaton 3 is just more of the same. It doesn’t always succeed, but between stringing together a series of ingeniously designed challenges that train and test mastery of the game’s various mechanics, hidden objects to discover, and terrain to free from a strange hazy ooze, it manages also to extend the Splatoon universe lore in interesting ways – often with surprisingly dark undertones, to boot.
There’s also an almost RPG aspect to the single-player mode, where you’ll level up the skills of your player-created character, but that’s one of the most frustrating elements of Splaton 3. Essentially, it takes two in-game currencies to unlock new skills, sardinium to open “cells” of new abilities, and upgrade points with which to purchase them. The problem is that the latter are earned for just about anything you do, including just spraying ink, while the former are extremely rare. The result is that you’ll have an overabundance of points to spend on upgrades, but the upgrades themselves are stuck due to a shortage of Sardinium. Luckily, this is a problem that’s limited to single-player only, but it’s still an annoyance.
The most significant new addition to Splaton 3 is the Table Turf Battle, an in-game collectible card game. Maps are found throughout the single-player campaign, and the mode itself is an interesting spin on Turf War’s core concept of claiming territory. Rather than splattering your opponents, you’ll lay cards of different shapes on a board to cover the most space. It’s quite simple to grasp, but an element of Tetris–style shape matching means that 12-round matches can get surprisingly complex.
Beyond that, Splaton 3 really feels more like a series of refinements than a whole new experience. The online lobby now allows you to test weapons and organize teams with friends; the weapon assortment is itself expanded with some really fun additions such as the Tri-Stringer, an arc-like weapon that fires three shots simultaneously, with charged shots exploding a second after embedding themselves into surfaces; and it’s now possible to skip the intro broadcast when starting the game, letting you know which maps are currently in rotation. They are all very welcome refinements, improving elements of the game that the Splatoon the community has been complaining for years, but nothing really different.
Which brings us back to Splatoon as a concept being practically perfect the first time around. It’s a testament to Nintendo’s designers that, seven years later, all the base game really needs is a proverbial nip, but it also means any new entry is going to feel like a variation on a theme. five years later Splaton 2, and with no hardware boost to take advantage of, players can expect more from a brand new installment, but it’s hard to imagine what else Nintendo could have improved here. In the end, it’s more or less the same thing, but in the best possible way.