Splatoon 3 review: Nintendo plays it safe but sticks to winning formula

Splatoon 3 team screenshotNintendo

The Inklings are back, but is Splatoon 3 a worthy sequel? Or is it time to get the mop out?

Nintendo, as a gaming company, do a lot to spark joy where it can in this dark world we live in, and in many ways, Splatoon as a franchise is emblematic of the way the House of Mario works.

Dragging the shooter genre away from first-person, gray-and-brown settings with heaps of gore, the first Splatoon struck gold thanks to its smart breaking of genre conventions. Sure, you could try and shoot your opponents with your paint-spewing weapon, but could feel just as much like you were contributing to the team effort by dousing anything and everything in your team’s color.

If that particular brand of colorful mayhem appealed to you back in 2015, and again in 2017, then make no mistake – Splatoon 3 will tickle your tentacles just the way you like it. Still, it’s very much an iterative release that does little to push the franchise forward, and long-term success will be judged by how Nintendo supports it.

Splatoon 3 key details

  • Developer: Nintendo
  • Price: $59.99 / £49.99
  • Release date: September 9, 2022
  • Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Splatoon 3 trailer

Big Squid City

Splatoon 3 Splatsville screenshotNintendo
Splatsville incorporates vendors and a lobby system

For the new squids on the block (buckle in, there are plenty more puns where that came from), it’s hard not to get carried away in the tide of playfulness that Splatoon 3 presents right from the off. Within minutes you’ll have customized your character and headed into Splatsville, the game’s main hub area.

From here, players can follow a curious old man down into the sewers to kick off the single-player campaign, or look to take part in multiplayer matches.

The former kicks off the Return of the Mammalians, a quest to dispatch some pretty suspect “fuzzy ooze”. While early snippets had suggested we’d be able to roam a more open playground, much of the single-player storyline here is focused around small vignettes that put Splatoon 3’s core tenets of shooting and traversal into sharp focus away from the rigors of multiplayer combat.

On the one hand, this allows for much more varied levels that feel impressively inventive at times, but on the other, it lacks flow. Still, if you were worried about the desert setting of the Splatlands feeling a little dull compared to everything else, you’ll be pleased to know that it doesn’t take long to mix things up.

In fact, like the colors strewn across a battlefield, I was impressed by just how many maps are on offer. Maps from the prior games return, and that means whether it’s the likes of Mahi Mahi Resort’s sinking platforms or the rotating walls of Museum D’Alfonsino, there are plenty of extra wrinkles to each match.

Hammerhead Bridge is particularly enjoyable since it’s finally been completed after its unfinished version debuted in the first game. It’s a small touch, but one veteran Inklings will no doubt appreciate.

Well-armed, well-heeled

Splatoon 3 Stringers weapon shown being firedNintendo
New weapons can change the tide of battle.

Splatoon 3’s collection of many of the prior games’ modes and maps extends to the weapon selection, too, meaning right off the bat there’s an impressive array of paint-spewing options.

Free from the concerns of metas and “best loadout” considerations, Splatoon 3 again just feels like Nintendo giving players the keys to a toy store and saying “go make a mess”. This time around, though, this metaphorical retailer also has some new inventory.

Stringers, a new weapon type, are bows with rapid fire and charge-shot capabilities, while Splatanas are sword-like options that can cake the area in front of you in your team’s color — or unleash a powerful slash that’s ideal for opponents.

Special weapons return, too, with classics like the Booyah Bomb letting users turn the tide of battle. New options include a speed-boosting fridge called the Tacticooler, and the Wave Breaker which marks the location of opponents in a limited radius.

It’s all stuff we’ve seen in shooters before, but Splatoon 3’s whimsy and cartoon charm just give it an entirely different flavor.

Weapons are one side of loadouts, with the other being Fits. These cosmetic options can affect stats, although you can mix and match between the items of clothing and perks you want. Some have abilities, too, although you need to use the item to unlock it.

That may seem like a grind, but Splatoon 3 is pretty generous when it comes to dishing out new weapons, gear, locker options, and more.

Friends that paint together, stay together

Splatoon 3 screenshot showing a level covered in paintNintendo
Messy night, lads?

Part of that comes down to just how delightful Turf War feels, even seven years on from its debut. The four-vs-four mode lets players cut loose in three-minute rounds to paint as much as possible, all while battling opponents in the middle of its perfectly-sized maps.

The magic of Turf War as a mode is in its small details, though, and the tactical considerations that come from them. Do you split the team into painters and splatters, with a joint focus on controlling territory and splatting opponents? Or do you try and avoid conflict altogether by staying beneath the ink to spread your color in the corners of the map where no one is looking?

New abilities slot seamlessly into our Inklings’ repertoire, too. The Squid Surge can help with vertical climbs that have been fiddly in the past, while the Squid Roll lets players swimming in ink fling themselves in a new direction. The latter has a brief invulnerability window, too, making it well worth taking the time to learn.

More modes return, too, with the quartet of Tower Control, Splat Zones, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz back from Splatoon 2. If you’ve played them before, then you’ll know how addictive they can be, but for my money, Clam Blitz is a frantically good time that blurs the line between a shooter and a sports title as players look to splat and score in equal measure.

Splatoon 3 screenshot showing the character customization areaNintendo

If so much is returning from the last game, though, what’s new? Well, I’m glad you asked. Tableturf Battle, a card-based version of Turf War, is a surprising addition, and offers both PvP and PvE options. It’s a fun diversion that’s unlikely to hold your attention for long.

Competitive players, or just those that love to watch the most harrowing moments of dismal play over and over again, have finally got their fish… sorry, wish. Replays are here, and they’re impressively malleable, with the ability to cycle camera views and share them elsewhere.

Finally, the friendship-destroying Splatfest events are back with a twist befitting a threequel. After years of two groups of players duking it out over “ketchup vs mayo” debates, Splatfests are now triple-threat affairs that constantly put the leading team on the back foot by putting them in the middle of the map as two rival squads move in. We’ll update our review when we’ve had more time to play, but it could be just the shakeup needed.

Stuffed Crust(acean)

Splatoon 3 Salmon Run screenshotNintendo

Splatoon 2’s PvE, horde-mode Salmon Run became a game in its own right, with the mode becoming incredibly popular despite being limited to certain timings each day.

The good news is that this is no longer the case, with Splatoon 3’s “Salmon Run: Next Wave” being available 24/7, meaning you can play Salmon Run in perpetuity.

As before, you’ll battle Salmonids to earn Power Eggs and deposit them to get yourself, but new mechanics like throwing Golden Eggs and a new King Salmonid boss wave make it tougher than before. Tackling the King Salmonid also unlocks additional currency for personalization options.

For now, though, we’re excited to hear more about Big Run, a mode that will bring Salmon Run to the game’s other maps.

Squid Rock

I couldn’t finish up this review without a mention of Splatoon 3’s soundtrack. While it doesn’t do anything drastically different from its predecessors in terms of its bizarre mashing together of genres, everything somehow feels more cohesive.

There are gibberish vocals over pop-punk riffs, bizarre synth combos over metal-style breakdowns, and much more besides. None of it should work, but it really does.

The Verdict

8.5/10

If you’re looking for a multiplayer shooter to fill your days with color this winter, then Splatoon 3 will keep you octopied (sorry). Its changes are small and easy to miss, but there really is nothing else like it at all.

A lot of the game’s continued success will come down to Nintendo’s own support of the game and its community, but after seeing the support for Super Smash Bros Ultimate and the recent Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC, Splatoon 3 is swimming in the right direction.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch

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