Fans will be tickled ink to see Splatoon finally back for another round, and it’s been a long time coming. The gap between Splatoon 3 and Splatoon 2 is over double what we waited between Splatoon 2 and the original, but don’t go thinking that this means Splatoon 3 is a total revamp. In most of the ways that matter, Splatoon 3 is an evolution of Splatoon 2, which is not a bad thing at all given the success Splatoon 2 has enjoyed on the Switch. It’s new maps, new weapons, an interesting new story mode, but still the same inking action you’ll be used to from the past 7 years.
As I mentioned, the big thing that sticks out this time around is the new story mode, Return of the Mammalians. Initially it seems to stick to the same, somewhat mediocre, formula from Splatoon 2 of journeying into a linear canyon in search of the Great Zapfish, once again stolen by the villainous Octarians – to the extent that I kind of wanted to tap out after a few of the early, simple missions. However, this introductory section proves to be just a warm-up for the actual story mode, an underground city hub world called ‘Alterna’ infested with walls of fuzzy goop that will instantly turn your Inkling into a fuzzball if you touch it. Progress is unlocked by collecting eggs throughout each of the levels that you can use to power-up your buddy companion, Smallfry, to devour these walls, who also assists you in-game as a side weapon, capable of reaching distant targets both for combat and puzzle solving.
As the game world expands in Alterna, so too do the mission types, which change up the standard Splatoon formula way more than I was expecting, and the story actually features significant developments, told through well produced cutscenes. Return of the Mammalians actually ends up being a really enjoyable and fleshed out single player experience, with plenty of unique focused bite-size challenges, along more complex multi-stage set-ups later on, and some memorable boss encounters. It’s really a night and day experience compared with Splatoon 2, and while it isn’t incredibly long, and in fact can be advanced through rather quickly if you’re smart about what walls you take down first, but it serves as a great adventure to stand alongside the multiplayer.
Of course, Splatoon 3‘s main draw is still the online multiplayer, which will feel very familiar to longtime fans as it retains just about everything from Splatoon 2. You’ll still get jaunty updates from your local DJ’s upon booting into the online hub’s town square, although now you can actually move around and do stuff while they chat, rather than remain chained to the cutscene window. You’ll still launch into multiplayer matches, that are locked to two map selections at a time, depending on when you’re playing. And the gameplay is still the root Splatoon concept, of splattering ink around each map, trying to cover the surface in your team’s colour as much as possible, while splattering the enemies as you go.
There’s just quite a lot of little upgrades here and there, that expand and deepen the gameplay further. For instance, new weapons come in the form of a katana, or ‘Splatana’, and a bowcaster ‘Stringer’. These offer flexibility by offering horizontal and vertical-directed attacks, that can help you turn on a dime from splattering walls to pinpoint-taking out opponents. There’s also new ways to move around the battlefield and get behind your enemies, like a grappling-hook style special ‘Zipcaster’ that lets you quickly cross large distances, especially useful in some of the more vertical-oriented maps. As you progress and level up, you’ll gain access to new forms of these weapons that toss more new specials and abilities your way, including the ‘Tacticooler’ which is essentially just what it sounds like, as it grants buffs in the form of soft drinks that your buddies can then use. You can test all of your weapons, and even swap loadouts, in between matches fluidly in a little training area that loads while you wait for everyone to join.
While most of your time will be spent in the Turf War mode, there’s also the addition of Salmon Run now available 24/7 as well as Anarchy modes, which have stand-ins for modes like Capture the Flag and King of the Hill. Most players will likely find themselves alternating between Turf War and Salmon Run, which are by far the easiest to jump into and the most addictive. For those who haven’t played it before, Salmon Run is a co-op wave mode, now given a bit of an upgrade with some new baddies and bosses, that makes for the perfect companion for breaks in between Turf War sessions.
The only real sticking point at this stage, which is hopefully something ironed out in the next few weeks and probably due to the game’s popularity, are the connection issues that everyone seems to be experiencing. When trying to jump back into Turf War matches, you’re just as likely to get a communication error at the moment as you are to actually enter a match, even if you have a full lobby of players eagerly awaiting a re-match. Social media seems to show the issue isn’t isolated to any one location, but surely Nintendo will be on top of things to make sure player experience improves after a somewhat shaky launch.
As I said, Splatoon 3 is more of an evolution than a revolution, and while some of these changes feel like they could have been fit into an update or expansion for Splatoon 2, having a whole new title with new weapons, quality of life improvements, a great new story mode does feel like a pretty good deal. There’s no one feature that can be pointed to as a ‘must-buy’ reason to get Splatoon 3, except perhaps the revamped story mode, except for the assurance that it’s just as fun and addictive as Splatoon 2 was, except even more so. It’s the Splatoon you’ve come to love, just more of everything, and that’s a package that’s hard to refuse.
-Outstanding multiplayer fun, as we've come to expect from the series -New weapons expand strategies and offer new toys to play with -Story mode subverts your expectations and delivers way more than Splatoon 2
-Ultimately, is just more of what made the first two games work, rather than a total revamp -Connection issues abound right now at launch