Splatoon 3: Side Order’s roguelite action offers the evolution Nintendo’s chaotic shooter needed

Key art of Agent 8 outside the Spire of Order in Splatoon 3: Side Order.
(Image credit: Nintendo)

I adore the Splatoon series, and although I was a massive fan of Splatoon 3 when it launched on Nintendo Switch in 2022, I couldn’t help but feel like Nintendo’s latest colorful shooter was missing something. Thankfully, its newly released expansion, Side Order, has quickly proved to be exactly what it needed all along, as well as a fantastic evolution of the series as a whole. 

Side Order is the second wave of Splatoon 3’s paid expansion pass, and offers an entirely fresh single-player roguelite experience (including rogue elements like permadeath and random levels, but with some meta-progression), the likes of which the series has never seen before. Playing as the Octoling (half octopus, half kid) Agent 8, who also starred in Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion downloadable content (DLC), players are tasked with ascending the creepy ‘Spire of Order’ one floor at a time by clearing the challenges waiting on each one. 

Every time you enter the tower, you can expect the trials that await you to be different, with variations in objectives, difficulty, and bonus challenges randomized. These missions include destroying portals that are constantly spitting out waves of terrifying enemies called Jelletons, maintaining control over a zone by destroying enemies that get in your way (like the main game’s Splat Zones), and guiding balls over to goals safely.

Completing a floor will also add to your character’s Palette - a skill tree that can be gradually populated with useful abilities such as boosts to your weapon damage, the speed at which your powerful special attacks can be charged, and more. All of these are reset upon losing your lives, at which point you’re also booted out of the tower to start over, but your skills are converted into in-game currency, which can be spent on permanent upgrades to make your trek back up the spire a little easier. 

It’s an incredibly compelling loop, and within reason, players are able to select their difficulty on each floor as they progress. As you ascend higher and higher up the spire, those trickiest options are no joke, and there’s no doubt that even the most experienced Splatoon players will eventually find themselves swamped by a never-ending flow of Jelletons as they desperately attempt to fulfill their task. It’s fast-paced, chaotic, and utterly fantastic. 

Stay fresh

Agent 8 and the Pearl drone in Splatoon 3's Side Order DLC.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

My main issue with Splatoon 3 was the fact that it didn’t include any new main modes at launch to spice up the usual experience. Other than a tabletop card game called Tableturf Battle, all of the ranked and casual modes were exactly the same as Splatoon 2’s. Given that both games were released on Switch, players who weren’t die-hard fans of the series who’d already bought Splatoon 2 didn’t have an enormous incentive to dive into Splatoon 3 as well, other than the new weapons, maps, and base single-player experience, of course. 

Side Order, however, is truly refreshing, and although it’s another single-player mode, it manages to offer the newness that Splatoon 3 should have had from the start. I can’t emphasize enough how well the roguelite formula works for Splatoon. The constant variety in the challenges it offers, along with the option for difficulty beyond what we’ve ever seen in the series’ single-player modes, make for an expansion I have no intention of putting down even after rolling credits - I still have so much to unlock. Of course, the whole thing is drenched in the series’ usual charm, too, with endearing dialogue between characters and quirky music serving as your soundtrack for the full experience. 

Splatoon’s base mechanics of covering the ground in ink to slow foes down and transform into a cephalopod which lets you quickly swim and traverse surfaces, hide to ambush enemies, have always been delightfully unique. However, by stepping foot (or tentacle, I guess), into a new subgenre and offering further innovative ways to play, I feel like I’ve fallen in love with the whole concept all over again. 

All in all, Side Order’s replayability is immense, and while it’s a paid expansion that has arrived over a year on from the base game’s launch, it makes Splatoon 3’s existence more worthwhile than it ever has been for those who weren’t quite sold from the start. Will roguelite modes like this become a recurring feature if we ever get more Splatoon games? Who knows. But I, for one, welcome it as a worthwhile addition to its single-player content, as well as a creative evolution of the unique shooter action fans know and love.

For more games like Splatoon 3, be sure to check out our roundup of the best Nintendo Switch games. You can keep up with more future releases on Nintendo’s console with our handy list of upcoming Switch games

Catherine Lewis
News Writer, TechRadar Gaming

Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.