‘Splatoon 3’ multiplayer review: Cooked to perfection

There are times when innovation is necessary and there are times when the best move is to just make more of something. Splatoon 3 fits comfortably into the latter category.

With its third entry in the series since 2015, Nintendo’s take on multiplayer shooting is already getting a little long in the tooth. It’s still the same beautifully simple game as before, but this time there’s more of it — more weapons, more levels, and more fresh gear to outfit your character in. Put simply, this is the most Splatoon has ever Splatoon‘ed. 

It’s video game comfort food that’s been simmered to near-perfection. You don’t reinvent macaroni and cheese every time you make it, do you? 

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A different kind of “shooter”

Splatoon 3 weapons shop

There are plenty of weapon types to play with until you find one that fits your style.
Credit: Nintendo

Given that the original Splatoon was exclusive to the Wii U (which only sold 13 million consoles in its short lifetime) and plenty of folks probably didn’t have a Switch yet when Splatoon 2 came out four months after the console launched, an introduction might be in order.

After all, this may be a multiplayer shooter, but it works quite differently from something like Call of Duty since Nintendo makes games that kids can enjoy and whatnot. Oh, and you’ll need a $20/year Nintendo Switch Online subscription to access the meat of Splatoon 3.

In Splatoon 3‘s main online mode, two teams of four cephalopod kids (called Inklings and Octolings) face off with the objective of painting in as much of the map in their team’s respective color as possible. Both Inklings and Octolings can quickly swim around in their own team’s color, which helps as a form of transportation and as a way to quickly refill your ink chamber. Step into the enemy’s color, however, and you’ll be stuck in the mud (so to speak), barely able to move and totally unable to swim. 


If you’ve never played a Splatoon game before, this is the one to jump in with.

– Alex Perry

These ink colors are randomized from match to match, and most of them contrast well enough for my colorblind eyes. Matchups like orange versus blue or yellow versus purple are both attractive to look at and functionally legible for a person who doesn’t see color correctly. There is a teal versus pink combination that messes with me a little bit, but the good news is you can turn on “Color Lock” in the options menu to stick with the combination that works for you.

There’s always been a nice variety of weapon types in Splatoon and the third game builds upon that with some great new additions. Aside from returning favorites like the Aerospray MG, an ink-shooting machine gun, and the Carbon Roller, a giant paint roller that flattens any enemies it touches, there are newcomers like the Splatana, a katana that splashes ink with each slash, and the Tri-Stringer, a bow and arrow that can be aimed either vertically or horizontally. The weapons strike the perfect balance of “silly” and “easy to learn, tough to master.”

Each weapon comes with a sub-weapon (usually some form of grenade) and a special ability that charges up as you paint the terrain in a level. These can range from a deployable soda cooler that powers up your teammates to an aerial missile barrage and even a Crab Tank, which is a controllable tank that looks like a crab, naturally. 

Splatoon 3 crab tank

All hail the Crab Tank.
Credit: Nintendo

What has always made Splatoon so clever is that anything you do serves the dual purposes of painting the level and taking out your enemies, but the former is much more conducive to team success than the latter. Sure, you’ll have to splat your foes in order to win just because they’re in the way, but you get way more points from painting the floor. This is a multiplayer shooter where it’s possible to be something of a pacifist, hanging back behind the fracas in the middle of the map and painting parts of the level that have been overlooked. And the absolute best part of it all, as it has always been, is that regular matches are three minutes long

Getting dominated by the competition and barely able to stay alive for more than a few seconds? Don’t worry, the match is almost over as soon as it starts. There are ranked modes with longer match types (like territory control modes called Splat Zones and Tower Control), but if you’re like me and you just want a low-stakes shooter to play while listening to podcasts, this is as good as it gets.

Now is the time to get splatting

Splatoon 3 screenshot

Swimming around through your own Nickelodeon slime-colored ink is a blast.
Credit: Nintendo

One thing that makes Splatoon 3 tough to evaluate (even though, as you can tell, I really like the game) is that almost everything I just said was also true of Splatoon 2. That game was structurally near-identical to 2015’s Splatoon, with its main advantage being that you didn’t need a Wii U to play it. With that in mind, it’s fair to wonder what makes Splatoon 3 worth your hard-earned $60, especially if the multiplayer part of the game you’ll spend the most time with (there is also a six to eight hour long single-player campaign) has only been lightly iterated upon with new levels and weapons.

First and foremost, it’s incredibly fun to play, regardless of its novelty, or lack thereof. The core painting mechanic uses shockingly believable liquid physics to make shooting, rolling, or Splatana-ing eminently satisfying. If you’ve ever found catharsis in filling in colors on a blank canvas, you’ll find it here, too. I’ve spent portions of the last seven years meticulously coloring in tiny blank corners of Splatoon maps for just a few extra points and I’ll keep doing it as long as Nintendo keeps making these games.

Beyond that, there’s a social zeitgeist element that makes Splatoon 3 attractive in this particular moment. If you want to play a Splatoon game, like it or not, this is the one people are going to be playing for the foreseeable future. This is the one Nintendo is going to regularly update with new levels, weapons, and gear, just as it did for years with Splatoon 2. And this is the one where people are going to draw sick illustrations for you to look at in the city plaza that serves as the game’s social hub. Seriously, my friend found a pitch-perfect Bob Odenkirk from Better Call Saul out there.

If you’ve never played a Splatoon game before, this is the one to jump in with. It’s the newest and freshest Nintendo franchise at its best, with an alluring ’90s Nickelodeon-slime aesthetic combined with modern fashion items for your little squid kid or Octoling to wear. Its soundtrack is full of weird-ass earworms, including songs by a fictional in-game band called Deep Cut that are catchy as hell.

If this is your first go-round with the series, you’ll undoubtedly be charmed by the entire presentation.

And for someone like me who loved both previous Splatoon games, the appeal of Splatoon 3 was surprisingly strong despite its lack of boat-rocking innovation. Over the years, I’ve settled into a routine of playing online games that require a lot of communication or time. Whether it’s the silly metaverse of Fortnite (where matches can last 25 minutes) or the team-based tactical intensity of Rainbow Six: Siege or Apex Legends, nothing has quite scratched the specific itch that Splatoon scratches. 

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I want an online game that I can hop into and out of in 10 minutes, and feel like I accomplished something. Splatoon 3 gives me that and even better is the fact that there are no voice or text chat options when playing with strangers. So even if someone is mad at me, I’ll never find out. In that sense, Splatoon 3 is also a great way to introduce your kid to competitive online games, especially since there are no microtransactions for them to empty your bank account with.

Splatoon 3 victory screen screenshot

This match came down to the wire.
Credit: Nintendo

To put a bow on it, Splatoon 3 is the best (and most) Splatoon has ever been. If there’s ever a fourth game, a lack of real innovation would be a lot less excusable there. But for now, this digital bowl of mac & cheese hits just right.

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