It’s time for us to consider if we are a squid or a kid once again – or if perhaps we can find an equilibrium between the two identities. Splatoon 3 is just around the corner, and I recently got a look at the squishy sequel. The good news is that, if you’re looking for more of the same seafood from Splatoon, Nintendo hasn’t dramatically changed the menu.
Splatoon has always occupied a fascinating place in the Nintendo catalog. While the company has shown it’s not afraid to go into the realms of adult games, especially with Bayonetta 3 coming later this year, Splatoon is a shooter built on the back of its family image. Instead of the realistic military or fantastical sci-fi variants that dominate the charts, it’s a nautical, Nickelodeon-esque ink party.
Sitting down to play Splatoon 3, I was reminded of how simply charming that backdrop is. The series-patented sense of kid-friendly cool oozes all over the scenery, and that’s even before you get to inking the place up.
After some time with Splatoon 3, though, the sentiment that sticks is enthusiasm for the sheer variety on offer. There are three main pillars to the experience: a single-player mode, classic Turf Wars, and the horde-like Salmon Run.
To start, we tried out three different levels of the new single-player campaign, each showing a different focus, further underlining that variety. In one level you’re using your ink to push around various intractable objects to solve puzzles and find keys, while in others you’re using specific weapons to take out enemies. While what I saw seemed very introductory, if the developers have pushed ideas as far as they did in Splatoon 2, then this could certainly be a great Nintendo Switch title to bring on the move for some light shooter-based puzzle solving.
On the more cooperative side is the returning Salmon Run. This horde mode sees four players team up against increasing waves of baddies. It’s a setup that pushes the boundaries of Splatoon’s subversion of the shooter genre, as players are dropped in via a helicopter in a cutscene – evoking Apocalypse Now and Warzone. Just with a lot more marine wildlife and pink goo.
In the level I played, we only had to survive three waves – banking growing amounts of salmon eggs, dropped by various enemies, in each round. We played a pretty low difficulty, so the resistance of the oncoming, dead-eyed fish was not what it could have been. That said, it’s not hard to imagine clutch moments where three players fall and the last squid standing pulls off some ink-ified heroics to bring back the effort from the brink.
However, the centerpiece is the series’ classic Turf War mode, with 4v4 battles returning. We tried out two new maps – Eeltail Alley, an open space with a higher level connected by bridges, as well as Sturgeon Shipyard, which is full of grates you can drop down through for a quick escape by turning into a squid.
If you’re familiar with the franchise’s multiplayer, the same rules apply here. Your goal is to paint more of the arena than the other team, and whoever has more paint on the tarmac by the timer’s end is the winner. While the maps are new, if you’ve played Splatoon before, you know what you are getting into.
All three of these pillars are also supported by the game’s enormous arsenal of ink-slinging weapons too. In total, we counted 26, though this is obviously subject to change. Of the new toys, the Tri-Stringer was a particular standout, being a bow that can shoot three shots at once – either horizontally or vertically. If you charge up a shot, the projectiles will land and then explode to spread ink around. While it doesn’t seem best-in-class in any particular sphere, it’s versatile – able to both cover a decent area and take out opponents if you land multiple projectiles. While nothing revolutionary, novel toys like this help build out the sense of newness needed in a sequel that otherwise leans on what came before.
That’s a throughline in Splatoon 3 from what I’ve seen. If you were hoping that the team behind the series spent five years cooking up something entirely new, you might be disappointed. However, the timing feels right for a refresh on what’s already been established and Splatoon 3 is offering that and then some. This is a dense package, with variety available through the three major modes, and that’s before you even get into the game’s Splatfest events. If Splatoon 3 makes good on its promises, there should always be something to jump into. That said, this is most definitely a sequel of iteration, rather than reinvention. It’s good to keep that in mind before going squids-in.