America - Front
America - Back
By Christian Evans 09th Oct 2022 | 2,791 views
The Splatoon IP has firmly established itself, since its release in those ‘halcyon’ days of 2015, as one of Nintendo’s core franchises. It may have helped having plenty of room to breathe on the beleaguered Wii U, and anyone looking for a fresh competitive experience got hooked; I certainly fell for it in a big way at a time when shooters like Battlefield and Call of Duty were feeling a little stale. Splatoon 2, which released on the Switch in 2017, felt more like a continuation game (albeit improved), necessitated by the forced early demise of Nintendo’s console predecessor. Now, five years on - plenty of time for the threequel to clambake in the oven - Splatoon 3 has arrived to serve up its latest cephalopod course.
For those of you that don’t know your Inklings from your Octolings, the core tenet of Splatoon centres around a 4v4 squad based third-person shooter, where you claim territory by covering it in ink. Opponents can be splatted to take them out of the battle, temporarily so in PvP, but aside from the obvious tactical advantage, the splat count plays no part in winning; Turf Wars for example is based purely on territory controlled when the timer ends. Ink supplies are not limitless, however. The very nature of a ‘squid-kid’ enables you to instantly change form to swim through your coloured ink, which recharges your ‘inkometer’ while allowing for quicker movement, though you’re unable to fire any weapons until you've reverted back.
Options are initially limited when first arriving at the new hub area of Splatsville, starting out with access to Turf War regular battles. Simply play matches across the 12 arenas (of which only five are, slightly disappointingly, new), acquire experience points and coins based on performance, and rank up. This then enables you to upgrade or buy fresh weapons and clothes, and play other modes. Each mode also houses individual rankings to aim for or defend, where the higher you climb the better the rewards. It’s your typical live-service gaming loop, but with the bonus of no micro-transactions, as everything is earned in-game — a rarity these days, but it makes the game very family friendly — or via SplatNet interaction on the Nintendo smartphone app. Of course, as is the corporate want in this era of subscription overload, online play is restricted to those who have subscribed to the Nintendo Switch online membership.
While the Turf War battles are the early port of call initially for online play, the other mode available from the start is the single-player story campaign, and it's close to being worth the admission price alone. Given the modern penchant for developers to scale back on dual purpose single/multiplayer affairs, it’s a relatively meaty affair taking double-digit hours to do everything if you so choose. Most importantly the campaign is great fun, and full of variety, while serving as a brilliant vehicle for becoming comfortable with the game's mechanics, weapons, and systems.
Each story level is based around the use of specific weapons or abilities, so while there's standard platforming and shooting to reach the goal, there are also (amongst others) one-shot sniper levels, rail shooting sequences, ‘dance’ battles, and my personal favourite - unlimited ‘zipcasting’ across chasms like a ‘splatty’ Spider-Man! The story location, Alterna, has a style and vibe very becoming of Splatoon, and certain collectibles dive deeper into the post-apocalyptic lore, revealing more about the Splatlands. The bosses are also suitably crazy affairs. Many of the collectibles can also be carried across the game in the form of locker items, stickers, or banners to be displayed as a badge of honour; customization and style of your online persona plays a big part for the inhabitants of Splatsville.
The hub zone, Splatsville, is a vibrant locale, populated with fellow Inklings and Octolings who have their own ‘grafitti-esque' images displayed everywhere, while peacocking their high-end gear to fawn over. The unique style and feel of Splatoon is best exemplified with the Splatfests that occur when Nintendo deems fit. The sun sets and the abundant neon fizzes around every corner, while Deep Cut, the new underground pop idol trio comprising of Shiver, Frye, and Big Man — who are all great additions, especially Big Man — throw out their sweet fresh tunes from the distinctively brilliant soundtrack. The Splatfests themselves are home to the largest game dynamic change: Tricolor Turf War, whereby three squads battle it out on behalf of their chosen event team, culminating in a 4v2v2 PvP, which potentially leads to very different strategies than normal battles.
Previous Splatoon modes Splat Zones, Rainmaker, Tower Control, and Clam Blitz all make a return, now grouped together as Anarchy Battles under two forms - open and series - with the main difference in series being exclusive solo matchmaking, as opposed to allowing play with friends in open. These replace the previous Ranked Battles. The mode rules are the same, for example control the splat zone for the longest time period within the time limit, but with a higher level of strategy required than Turf War. The ranking progression has seen an overhaul, where you aim to win five matches before losing three to bank rewards.
Splatoon’s answer to horde mode, Salmon Run, also makes a reappearance, this time with unrestricted access, extra maps, and new boss Salmonids. On rare occasions an extra wave will appear upon completion, with your squad facing off against the King Salmonid Cohozuna, a very tough assignment indeed, but with special fish scales on offer that can be traded for exclusive outfits and items it’s worth the pain of the many inevitable defeats. The new ability to throw golden eggs is a welcome addition to the mode, though it costs ink to do so, adding a tactical relay element that can save your squad's ambitions in a pinch, while improving the fluidity of playstyle.
Across all the various modes, new weapons like the stringers (a triple-bow), and splatannas (ink swords), are welcome additions, while several new specials add different dimensions to gameplay, the highlights being the devastating stamper, or as previously mentioned, the zipcast. The relocation to the Splatlands has also added two new moves: the squid surge and the squid roll. Both add increased dynamism and fluidity to traversal and are simple yet great additions. Surge allows a player in squid form to shoot up walls (a very useful skill when an opponent has got the high ground), while roll allows an instantaneous change of direction without losing momentum, which is super useful in tricky situations.
General gameplay across the board is tight and well balanced, with every available mode and map constructed with panache, and most importantly all are great fun to play. The only major criticism to level at Splatoon 3 is the lack of a big new online mode (depending on your point of view Tricolor Turf War may fit that bill). Matches can get frantic and frustrating, but in that good motivational way that any competitive game worth its salt does when you lose by a whisker; all game modes harbour that ‘one more game’ feeling. Splatoon 3 is immediately fun for beginners, with its thoughtful progression systems, yet still has a very high skill ceiling for any seasoned pros. There are bags of options regarding set-ups and character customisation to keep things constantly fresh, while the synergy on display with rewards across the game really encourages you to keep playing.
Splatoon 3 is a high-quality game that is at its absolute zenith; it's difficult to suggest how it could be improved upon barring fresh new maps and modes (though they will surely come in the free updates). It’s a legitimate argument at first glance to superficially suggest relatively minor iteration across the board at launch (the only completely new game mode is the card game Table Turf after all), but with all the great additions to its systems and gameplay across an already outstanding game, coupled with a terrific single player campaign, it becomes so much more than just another reskinned product, akin to being built on the shoulders of giants if you will. Is it as ‘fresh’ and ‘unique’ as when it burst on the scene in 2015? No, any sequel almost invariably isn’t, but it’s more fun, more refined, and more accessible in every way, while somehow managing to surpass the previous games in style and presentation. Evolution, not revolution, is the catch of the day, and that’s fine by me if it’s served up as exquisitely as Splatoon 3.