Even after five years, there’s no shooter that can compete with Splatoon, and the latest entry in the series hones its unique style and frenetic gunplay to a ridiculous sheen.
Splatoon 3 doesn’t deliver any earth-shattering changes compared to the previous entry, but it does provide some vital improvements to the overall experience. Through a host of new features, an utterly bonkers story mode, and some great quality-of-life improvements, Splatoon 3 is the best the series has ever been. It helps that the game’s final act will leave your jaw on the ground (probably covered in paint).
A Mammalian Task
Splatoon 3’s story mode wisely focuses on shorter, more digestible levels. The story opens with your character arriving in The Splatlands, and after following a mysterious figure, you’re recruited into the “Splatoon” by Captain Cuddlefish. Your mission is to find the Great Zapfish that’s been stolen from Splatsville and investigate the origins of a mysterious ooze-like substance that sports fur, called Fuzzy Ooze.
You’re introduced to your tiny salmonid companion Smallfry almost right away who becomes an integral part of the overall experience. Smallfry can be thrown like a grenade to distract or attack enemies or even activate switches. While he’s certainly cute, Smallfry functions more as a new mechanic and something that helps differentiate the story mode from multiplayer in look and feel. Each level integrates your little buddy into gameplay in novel ways, and his ability to distract enemies can be absolutely vital. Smallfry even gets his own little skill tree so you can make upgrades!
There are seven zones you’ll visit throughout the course of Splatoon 3’s campaign, each with a handful of levels to play through. Most tend to hyper-focus on some specific aspect of gameplay, like sliding on rails or using a particular weapon.
In this way, campaign levels artfully introduce you to new weapons or gameplay elements that serve as a great bridge to multiplayer, but once you’re fully acclimated, the latter half of the story takes the opportunity to go completely off the rails in a lovably bonkers way. Most plot beats (particular early in the game) are pretty understated, but the overall narrative takes a deep dive into Splatoon’s lore, up until the last couple of hours blows things wide open.
Splatoon 3’s final act has one of the most jaw-dropping gameplay segments to ever appear in a Nintendo game. While I can’t describe any more, this phenomenal climax amps Splatoon 3’s absurdity up to an 11 and stands out as one of my favorite gaming experiences this year.
The other main single-player addition is Tableturf Battle, a card game that lets you face off against NPCs of increasing difficulty. This mode pits you against one opponent, and it’s a kind of fusion of a card game and Tetris, with the goal being to cover more turf than your opponent through a series of turns. It smartly combines the core gameplay of Splatoon with a card game, ultimately providing a fun albeit slight distraction with room to grow.
Familiar But Fresh
Franchise devotees will feel immediately at home in Splatoon 3, and they’ll delight in the enhancements made to multiplayer gameplay — which have always been at the core of the Splatoon experience. The main game mode is Turf War which sees two teams fight to ink the most turf in a 3-minute battle. All of the weapons and specials from Splatoon 2 return, but there are some meaningful additions that make things feel more robust.
A new bow called the Tri-Stinger and a melee weapon called the Splatana feel different from anything else on offer, making them worthwhile additions here. The Tri-Stringer is particularly fun to use: You can charge up a shot that launches three arrows that trigger a delayed explosion following impact. New specials include the Tacticooler, a deployable support item that gives your entire team stat-boosting drinks, among others.
Weapon and loadout variety keeps even basic multiplayer matches interesting for hours on end. Part of the beauty of Splatoon is that weapons like the ink roller and Tri-Shot feel so different that when one starts to feel old, you can switch things up and make matches feel fresh. Of course, there’s so much more to Splatoon 3, which is where a lot of the quality-of-life improvements come in.
Just like in past games, maps and modes update every hour, which prompts a Splatcast — a sort of quick newscast of a sort. The good news is this Splatcast can now be skipped and minimized, letting you jump right in rather than having to sit through the presentation.
When you join a multiplayer match, you also have a new lobby to test out gear rather than just sitting on a menu waiting for the match to start. Another vital change is “Freshest Fits,” letting you register equipment as a loadout that you can swap to on the fly. Another interesting little change has to do with the “recon” option that lets you explore multiplayer maps freely, which many players may not know existed.
In Splatoon 2, this option was buried in menus, but now there’s an NPC you can talk to at the entrance, which is perfectly indicative of how this entry tries to make everything more accessible or at least easier to comprehend.
The other major multiplayer event is Salmon Run, a sort of co-op survival mode. Previously, it was locked to certain times in Splatoon 2, but now you can access it at any time. There are a few new boss Salmonids, events, and other tweaks that can help shake up gameplay, but for the most part, things feel very similar. There’s just enough variety, so no two matches feel the same.
I could list off the many ways big and small that Splatoon 3 enhances the beloved core formula while delivering a familiar experience. Developers definitely took the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach here, which in some ways is exactly what the franchise needed.
Splatoon 3 oozes charm and style at every level, and the level of polish here makes it better than ever. If Nintendo provides good post-launch support, it’s easy to see a time in the near-future when Splatoon 3 is the single best multiplayer experience on the Switch. Considering Splatoon 2 received support for nearly two years, and Nintendo has already revealed a roadmap for Splatoon 3, it seems likely that we’ll all be covered in paint for quite a few years to come.
Splatoon 3 launches on Nintendo Switch on September 9, 2022.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.