Last week, Nintendo finally dedicated a full 30+ minutes to show off everything that we can expect to see in Splatoon 3. Despite revealing some new stages, weapons, and abilities, the Direct itself felt like it was missing something. Splatoon is one of my all-time favorite franchises, and yet the Splatoon 3 Direct didn't leave me feeling any more excited for the release of the new game than I was before. Without putting too fine a point on it, the Splatoon 3 Direct kind of missed the point of what initially drew players into Splatoon.
What Makes Splatoon Fun in the First Place?
Let me take you back to spring 2015, just a few months prior to then-President of Nintendo Satoru Iwata's passing. The Wii U was in its mid-life cycle, still receiving support from a company that would all but abandon it less than two years later. It was during this season that Splatoon was released, introducing Nintendo fans to a colorful and fun take on the shooter genre. It was bold, unique, and I spent dozens of hours having in-person Wii U parties with my friends to duke it out in turf wars. Despite the lackluster sales of the Wii U, it was a really special time to be a Nintendo fan.
Just a couple years later, Splatoon 2 came out only a few months after the launch of the Nintendo Switch, and in fact was the catalyst that motivated me to buy a Switch (up until that point, I had played and beaten Breath of the Wild on my Wii U). Splatoon 2 offered some half-step updates but also felt like a copy-and-pasted experience from the original.
The multiplayer formula wasn't messed with too much, and the strongest single-player part of Splatoon 2 wouldn't come along until the paid Octo Expansion DLC. Despite not changing all that much, Splatoon 2 was still a fun and engaging multiplayer title that almost single-handedly justifies my Nintendo Online subscription. And now, over seven years after the release of the original game, we're on the cusp of Splatoon 3. And I just can't quite figure out who this game is supposed to be for.
The Thin Line Between New Games vs. DLC Updates
Splatoon doesn't need to reinvent the wheel with every iteration, but it should offer meaningful updates beyond cosmetics and a few new characters. Anything less than that should be DLC, and I can't help but feel that Splatoon 3 is just one massive content update for Splatoon 2.
Yes, we're leaving Inkopolis for the Splatlands, and yes, I'm sure the single-player campaign will further the story as you run missions for Cap'n Cuttelfish, but these updates could have been added to Splatoon 2. As a general rule I don't love the idea of games as a service, but it could benefit fans of the series if Nintendo just continued to update this game as a live service instead of issuing sequels every few years. Stopping short of falling from grace with microtransactions (which already affects other franchises like Super Smash Bros.), this model feels like it would make sense for the Splatoon series. Though maybe I just feel this way because it seems like Nintendo is releasing a game that isn't fully realized.
During the August Splatoon 3 direct, Nintendo proudly announced that Splatoon 3 would be supported with free updates for the next two years, and would also include robust paid DLC in the future. I'm always weary of games that make vague DLC announcements before launch. On one hand, it can reinforce to fans that they're going to get a good return on their investment with consistent content updates. But in some cases, it just feels like a developer is releasing an unfinished game. That's kind of what it feels like with Splatoon 3.
It also doesn't inspire confidence that Nintendo is already broaching the conversation of adding paid DLC on top of free updates. They want you to drop $60 on a brand-new game, but are telling you upfront you'll need to pay even more in the future to get everything it has to offer. Nintendo is missing the point of what drew players into Splatoon in the first place, and I fear the install base for this third iteration will be lower than the previous two.
Is There Still Hype for the Splatoon 3 Release Date?
Though some of the changes do look cool, it's hard to feel the same hype that I had for the last two installments. Some of the major Splatoon 3 updates include largely cosmetic changes that don't affect gameplay, like the ability to decorate a locker to show off to your friends. Maybe there will be a treasure hunt mechanic to find cosmetic items for your locker? But that remains to be seen. The tangible updates like "Fits" – loadouts that allow you quickly switch between sets of gear – are admittedly very helpful but not exactly game changers.
The addition of Sheldon Licenses to purchase weapons instead of gold could help reduce some of the grindiness and make it easier to upgrade to higher-level weapons earlier in your playthrough, and some of the new combat abilities should create some new interesting dynamics that'll be fun to explore. But are the weapons different enough? The Splatana seems cool but very similar to the Brush, and so far the only new game mode announced is Tri-Color Turf War, which which will pit three teams against each other instead of two. But hey, we got Tableturf Battles? I'm sure someone out there is excited about that.
Some of the new levels look fun, but they're leaving some of their best-designed levels in the past (it has been years since I've splatted someone on Saltspray Rig, and all I want to do is run around a level inspired by off-shore drilling, OK?). Not to mention the first Splatoon game had incredible music tracks that we've yet to see return to a mainline game. Despite being a newer franchise, Splatoon has a rich history to pull from, but it feels like they're leaving some of their best assets in the past while simultaneously failing to innovate to a point worthy of a third game.
So is it doing enough to be a true third (and potentially final?) entry in the series? We won't know for sure until the Splatoon 3 release date, but so far I haven't seen enough to convince me that Splatoon 3 is going to be a vastly improved experience over Splatoon 2. Those who follow the single-player campaigns very closely will surely be interested to see where the story goes, but for the majority who buy into the multiplayer aspects, there just aren't as many new features to look forward to.
However, history has taught me to never bet against Nintendo. I know they're not showing their full hand yet, and we have many months of updates to come that will continue to build out the world and lore of the Splatlands. I really, really love Splatoon and will be picking up this game day one; I just hope it lives up to the potential I know it has.