By Gabriel Fisher
Splatoon 3 was an immediate breakout success, as any Nintendo property is, upon its release. Many fans and newcomers praised it for the gameplay and style, but it wasn’t without criticism either. So how does it stack up to its predecessors? To find out, one has to take a look back at the series’ roots.
On May 28, 2015, Nintendo released Splatoon on the woefully underperforming Wii U, generally considered to be their first new, big intellectual property since 2009’s Xenoblade Chronicles. It was their more family friendly attempt at a third-person shooter, as a response to the ever-popular Call of Duty franchise, and by the standards of the console, was a smash hit – selling 1 million copies within its first month of release and selling a total 18.25 million copies during its entire lifespan. The new franchise found itself with a sequel just two years later in the form of Splatoon 2, now on the extraordinarily popular Nintendo Switch, and that sequel would spawn major downloadable content in the form of the Octo Expansion extra story. And now, in 2022, Nintendo released Splatoon 3, to much fanfare.
In Splatoon 3, the player controls a customizable character in the form of an Inkling or Octoling, two humanoid species evolved from Squid and Octopi respectively, as well as a Salmonid little buddy, a species evolved from salmon, who live in a vast desert called the Splatlands. The cephalopod of your choosing will then make their way to the city of Splatsville – not Inkopolis, as the previous two games took place in – and be greeted by an all too familiar news bulletin that the power of the city, the Great Zapfish, had once again vanished without a trace. With that tiny bit of plot lightly laid at the player’s feet, they are then free to do whatever they please, be it diving straight into the online modes or the single player story mode.
Splatoon 3 is a game with big shoes to fill following Splatoon 2, and while it does so in many ways, it falls short in others. The gameplay of Splatoon is just as fun as it ever was, plus some quality of life improvements – character customization, lots of novel weapons to try, and very solid combat. Of course, the ability to turn into a squid and quickly swim from point A to point B, as the first game’s marketing campaign so eloquently drilled into your skull with the “you’re a squid now” commercials, makes a return. However, it is now complemented by some new perks – the Squid Surge, a charged maneuver which lets the player swim up walls faster, and the Squid Roll, a dodge roll that leaves the player invulnerable for a split second and makes for a good quick-turn option. While subtle, the mechanics add an extra bit of nuance to the game that can improve the experience.
On the topic of the gameplay, all of the weapons the player base has come to love, or hate, have made their grand return, plus two brand new weapon types. The first new weapon is the Stringer, a bow that charges up a shot that explodes on the ground after a few moments. The second is the Splatana, a sword that can shoot ink beams a la The Legend of Zelda as well as attack at close range. These new weapons are fun, but are ultimately somewhat weak, with the Stringer’s limited power and the Splatana’s limited range. But thankfully, the special moves every weapon comes equipped with are just as, if not more, fun than ever. In particular, the Zipcaster comes to mind, a special move that allows the player to zip around the map by grappling onto walls and floors, in an almost Spider-Man like fashion.
In terms of modes, Splatoon 3 has a lot to offer – the classic Turf War and Ranked Modes are back, Splatfests have three teams now – which will be touched on later – as well as a new and improved Salmon Run, a co-op player vs. enemy mode that tasks the player to work with their teams to gather golden eggs for the ever-mysterious Mr. Grizz while evading being taken out by the Salmonids. On top of new bosses, including a massive raid boss, it is also improved in the sense that it can now be accessed at all times, as the time period was limited in Splatoon 2. It improves upon the story mode as well, using a similar sense of progression to the second game’s “Octo Expansion,” while also serving as a suitably dramatic finale to the story the last two games had presented – without spoiling anything, it gets crazy. But it also brings a new game mode entirely: Tableturf Battle, a tabletop card game that imitates the Turf Wars in a more strategic manner.
Aesthetically, the game is easily the prettiest one thus far. The maps are very well designed, the textures are nice, the colors are pretty, the models are much more expressive, the music is as lively and experimental as ever, and there are customizable lockers and victory emotes. The characters even seem as if they’ve aged slightly since Splatoon 2, which is a neat touch. But easily the most notable aesthetic addition are the new idols that announce the Splatfests and battle stages – now there are three of them. Shiver, a cold, collected Octoling with a sharp glare and Japanese-inspired aesthetic, Frye, an energetic inkling with an Indian and Middle Eastern inspired design, and of course, the fan-favorite Big Man, a gentle giant manta ray with a soft demeanor, who only speaks by saying “Ay.” They’re a lively bunch that bring a fun energy to their banter and Splatfests, which seem to have a celebration inspired by Japanese, Indian, and Brazilian culture all at once.
But as every bit as fun and energetic as the game is, it’s not without some pretty major issues. Besides the new weapons being a tad underpowered, what’s by far the biggest downside to Splatoon 3 is its online connection. Nintendo is notorious for its poor online services, but this game seems to get the serious short end of the stick. Connection failures, disconnections in the middle of matches, vendors in the plaza not serving the player because they “aren’t connected to the server,” and many other issues plague the main matches and Salmon Run. There is also one Splatfest exclusive game mode that most players seem to find unbalanced – Tricolor Turf War. In this gamemode, the team in the lead halfway through a Splatfest will be forced to defend against players from both other teams, although those two teams have less players. Despite their attempt to balance this, however, many people believe the defending team is at a remarkable disadvantage. It also feels very similar to its predecessor beyond the aesthetics – with many of the same weapons returning, it was bound to feel that way.
This opinion, regarding the game as good, yet very flawed, seems to be shared by some members of GRCC’s video game club, Raider Nation Gaming. Overall, they think the game is good, the highlights being the more accessible Salmon Run and the improved Story Mode, with one of the members named Jorge Dominguez stating that “I see myself playing a lot more Salmon Run than I did in the previous game because of this.”
However, GRCC gamers also call into question the balance of the weapons and the poor online service, with member Cody Boggs stating that “The actual online in-game experience isn’t as good as it should be. For a major IP like Splatoon, we shouldn’t be having peer-to-peer connections,” before they go on to take a jab at Nintendo for their notoriously poor online services.
Overall, however, if you can get past the iffy internet connection and some odd balancing, Splatoon 3 is a phenomenal shooter game and the arguably best version of the series to date. One can only hope that the various issues can be fixed in the future with updates, and let the game truly reach its full potential.