When compared to other Nintendo titles, Splatoon 3 is a bit of an oddity. When you look at online-focused series — Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, and the handful of Mushroom Kingdom-centric sports titles — the big N typically releases a single game per console generation, opting to support entries with post-launch updates as opposed to splitting up the player base with multiple titles.
Splatoon 3 bucks this trend. Its predecessor has been going strong for the past five years, but rather than letting it ride out the rest of the Switch’s lifespan, Nintendo has unleashed a new game into the wild — no surprises here, it’s already selling like gangbusters. The question remains: does this new entry do enough to justify its existence?
Whether you’re a Splatfest legend of a greenhorn Inkling, you’ll be dumped into a brief tutorial that’ll lay out the Splatoon basics: you can lay down ink on the ground and walls using your weapon of choice, and you can swim through it to both move quickly and recharge your ‘ammo.’ Shortly after, you’re dumped right into the heart of Splatsville, which serves as the new central hub for Splatoon 3. In a nice change of pace, those who have a Splatoon 2 save file can import it, which grants a few early unlocks, allowing you to try out more advanced weaponry sooner.
From there, you have a couple of options. If you’re like me, you’ll jump into the single-player story for a bit of offline practice. I am far from a Splatoon loremaster, but unsurprisingly, knowledge of previous events isn’t a prerequisite, though I’m sure longtime players will glean a bit more from dialogue and references to past entries in the series. While most will breeze through the campaign in 10 hours or less, there are some rewarding payoffs as you explore the island of Alterna — specifically, we finally have an explanation as to what happened to mankind, and why the world is inhabited by hybrid squids and octopuses.
Splatoon 3‘s story mode unfolds across 70-plus stages, which feature everything under the sun, including platforming sections, waves upon waves of enemies, a handful of puzzle sections, and several boss fights to boot. There’s a bit of something for everyone, and it’s not exactly a pushover from start to finish. If there’s one area that does fall short, it’s the enemy design and variety — simply put, you’ll be splatting through the same few types of Octarians for the entirety of the campaign, which can get old rather quickly.
Of course, you might opt to skip the story mode and jump online right away. Turf War, the mode that started it all, is back in full force, pitting two teams against each other as they try to claim as much of the map as they can with three minutes on the clock. Admittedly, not a ton has changed with this one, but everything’s been refined and polished to a fine sheen. With only three minutes on the clock, you’ll spend a not insignificant amount of time in between matches — thankfully, a new lobby system makes it easy to tool around with new weapons and hone your craft as you wait for the next battle to begin.
As expected, there are a plethora of unlocks to acquire spread across a handful of stores, and while you can always opt to travel to each on foot, you can also warp right to your boutique of choice in the game’s menu, further streamlining the loadout and purchase process. Once you’ve racked up enough experience playing Turf War, you can dive into Anarchy Battles, which swap out the more chaotic tug-of-war skirmishes for objective-based ones. Splat Zones has you capturing and defending zones across the map, while Clam Blitz tasks players with collecting and depositing clams scattered around the map. Tower Control and Rainmaker also make a return — in fact, all of the aforementioned modes made their debut in past entries, though Nintendo has been hinting at new modes coming post-launch.
That’s not to say that everything’s a retread though. Splatfests are back and better than ever, splitting players into three sides/factions this time, paving the way for some rather chaotic and wild matches. Salmon Run, the wave-based co-operative horde mode, has been revamped with new enemies and a ton to unlock, and better yet, it’s available 24/7, no longer being a timed, rotating option. Rounding things out are Tableturf Battles, a new minigame that mixes Tetris with Turf Wars. As its name suggests, these new battles play out over a tabletop, with players working their way through new rivals, ranking up and unlocking new cards and decks along the way. Unfortunately, Tableturf Battles are offline only, there’s always the chance that Nintendo will add online play in a future update.
While a few post-release additions and updates would certainly help round things out, Splatoon 3 has so much to offer on launch. From its imaginative and over-the-top single-player campaign to the smorgasbord of online and co-operative modes, there’s enough content here to keep newcomers and veterans busy for months on end. I doubt Splatoon 3 will win over those who weren’t impressed with either of the first two games, but I imagine it’ll get a seal of approval from just about everyone else.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Nintendo.
Splatoon 3 might not reinvent the wheel, but it more than makes up for it with the most fully-featured and polished entry in the series to date.