Splatoon 3 review: Squid game

Whether they’re squids, kids, or octopi, Splatoon has been one of Nintendo’s most captivating new franchises of the past decade. Offering a fresh coat of paint with intense multiplayer battles and a surprisingly lore-filled single-player component, it shouldn’t be too shocking that Nintendo has gone back for a third helping of the ink-blasting shooter (and the second on the Nintendo Switch) with Splatoon 3. While Splatoon 3 doesn’t quite feel like a master paint job, it does offer a fresh coat of paint over what’s been a pretty solid foundation up to this point.

Brushing up

Splashing ink in Splatoon 3's Turf Wars
Source: Nintendo

There’s been one prevailing question that I’ve had since Splatoon 3 was first announced: “What is going to be the biggest difference between Splatoon 3 and Splatoon 2?” From my time with the game, I couldn’t find too much about this new installment that either felt overly different or couldn’t have been done by its predecessor. Splatoon 3, at its core, feels like more Splatoon.

That’s certainly not a bad thing and, looking at the bigger picture, it follows Nintendo’s usual pattern: Why break what isn’t broken? And, of the many ways to describe the Splatoon series, “broken” is not one of them. This game is still paint buckets of fun, especially its multiplayer component. There are just a few minor differences, but they do a lot to make the experience marginally better.

The first thing to note is that the number of available weapons has increased significantly. Beyond the typical Shooters, Rollers, and various other weapon types that are making their return from the first two games, players can also learn how to use Stringers and Splatanas. Weapons like the Tri-Stringer introduce crossbow play and give players versatile shot options, while weapons like the Splatana Wiper will function as a melee-like sword that also splashes ink in front of it. On top of new offensive abilities, Splatoon 3 offers some defensive options. Squid Rolls and Squid Surges allow players to get the drop on the opposition while also giving themselves some extra protection from lighter hits.

There are some new special weapons on display, as well, and this is where things get more interesting. A handful of these special weapons are debuting in Splatoon 3 and many of these weapons can shift the momentum of entire matches. I was stunned at various points to turn a corner only to find an opponent riding a big honking Crab Tank driving straight into me, while in a different game, I got splatted by someone sliding into me at full speed with the new Reefslider shark. Many of these special weapons have a practical purpose, but for those who want to have some fun and see some wild visuals, there have been some neat selections added. I was most surprised to see the Zipcaster, which is basically a grappling hook that allows players to bounce around stages, leaving blots of ink wherever they land.

Player customization has also taken a big step forward. Following the success of Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion, players can now make their character into an Inkling or an Octoling, both with various customization options. Beyond the dozens of new clothing options, players can now express themselves with Splashtags and emotes. None of this is particularly new and feels like Nintendo playing catch up with its contemporaries, but it does feel like a positive step forward. The problem is that there’s no way to customize your character if you’re not connected to the internet. Servers were down at one point during my time with the game, so I wanted to at least go shopping, buy some clothes, try on some outfits, but was kicked out of every shop until an online connection was established.

Exploring the color spectrum

Defending the tower in Splatoon 3
Source: Nintendo

Don’t expect to see too much that’s new from Splatoon 3’s various game modes. Just about every game mode from the previous two games is back. Turf War is just as it was. Ranked Battles have been rebranded into Anarchy Battles and feature the return of the four non-Turf War modes (Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz) that rotate regularly. While the objectives are the same, the experience is freshened up through the usage of Splatoon 3’s new weaponry and dodge mechanics.

Salmon Run is also back from the previous Splatoon and there haven’t been too many changes to this, either. However, this horde mode still holds up well, tasking players with collecting eggs from the savage Salmonids while working together to stay alive. I dug some of the occasional wrinkles, like a special Boss Salmonid showing up after the standard session was over, leading to a quick overtime period.

The important thing to note is that while many of these modes feel recycled, they don’t feel stale. Again, why fix what isn’t broken? If anything, the additions to the weapon lineup, clothing options, and special abilities make these game modes feel fresher than ever. It also should be noted that while it’s only available during Splatfests, the Tricolor Turf War turning Turf Wars into three-way matches is a cool idea and one that will hopefully become a permanent fixture in Splatoon 3 before long.

Driving around with the Crab Tank in Splatoon 3
Source: Nintendo

Those who don’t feel like they’ve mastered the multiplayer element can try out Splatoon 3’s single-player mode. Titled “Return of the Mammalians,” the campaign focuses on the sudden and mysterious return of the Octatian army. The story features large open world areas, which is a nice change from the linear campaigns of the previous two games. Players are tasked with cleaning up killer “fuzzy ooze” by collecting eggs from individual, bite-sized stages. Each stage will offer different weapon options from the outset, which can provide an opportunity to learn to wield something new. I certainly felt more competent with the Tri-Stringer once the campaign was finished.

The other major component of the single-player is the addition of Smallfry, a lovable sidekick that helps with the removal of the fuzzy ooze. Smallfry can help take out baddies himself or provide a helpful distraction. He’s a godsend when it comes to dealing with Octosnipers and their ilk and using him can be a help in certain boss battles. The campaign ultimately doesn’t feel like anything groundbreaking, but it was a fun ride for the 10-12 hours that it lasted me.

Splat-tastic

Let’s revisit that question from the beginning of the review. “Is Splatoon 3 really all that different from Splatoon 2?” The answer is no, but that’s not necessarily a knock against the newer Splatoon. Having experienced it, I can say that the jump from Splatoon 2 to Splatoon 3 feels similar to the jump from Super Mario Galaxy to Super Mario Galaxy 2 back in the Wii generation. The two games are marginally different, but they’re still pretty fantastic.

That’s certainly how I would describe Splatoon 3. It’s pretty fantastic, thanks to the various additions to the game’s multiplayer, the overhaul to the story mode structure, and the implementation of new ideas like the three-way Splatfest Turf War. While I wouldn’t call Splatoon 2 old and busted by any means, there’s no denying that Splatoon 3 does feel like the new hotness.


This review is based on a Nintendo Switch digital code provided by the publisher. Splatoon 3 will be available Friday, September 9 on Nintendo Switch for $59.99 USD. The game is rated E10+.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can’t enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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