Outside of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 3 is the best multiplayer experience that Nintendo has to offer for a first-party title. It absolutely reigns supreme in the space of Nintendo online multiplayer titles, and with a well-realized single player campaign and numerous quality of life improvements, Splatoon 3 is a very welcome addition to a franchise that kicked things off on the Wii U in 2015.
Splatoon 3 may suffer from tunnel vision, a very inky, colorful, and at-times psychedelic tunnel vision, but it's that same hyper-focus on a formula that works that makes Splatoon 3 so dang fun. Those unfamiliar with the franchise may just see kids shooting ink at each other in an ever-expanding turf war, without ever fully understanding the aftermath of the Great Octarian War or the energy crisis created by a stolen Zapfish. Confused yet? Don't worry, we're going to get into all of it in our Splatoon 3 review.
Booyah! Splatoon 3 Online Multiplayer Brings Much-Desired Improvements
In some ways, it feels like the Splatoon franchise almost shouldn't exist. Who would expect Nintendo, the kingdom of Mario and Zelda, would release a competitor to games like Call of Duty and Battlefield? And make no mistake, that's exactly what Splatoon is: a competitive online shooter meant to attract a new generation of Nintendo fans.
The Splatoon 3 updates include little optimizations that prioritize speed and quality of life. My least favorite thing about the previous games was the in-game newscast that would announce the current maps every single time you load in. Splatoon 3 now allows you to skip this entire newscast with a quick click of the left joystick. You miss out on Big Man, arguably the best new character, but the ability to get into a game that much faster is 100% worth it.
Splatoon 3 also rewards long-time players by allowing them to import game data from Splatoon 2. It would have been nice if this allowed me to skip portions like the tutorial, which teaches me how to use motion controls (again) after over 200 hours in the franchise or import some of my favorite gear. But it does unlock Anarchy right away – a competitive mode for Splatoon 3 players who want more than just Turf War, as well as reward fans with three gold Sheldon licenses, which can be used to unlock higher-level weapons. I used these to unlock three of the highest-tiered weapons available, which would have been inaccessible to me until after many hours of grinding.
Once in the lobby, you can create a room to play alongside friends and guarantee that you'll all actually end up on the same team. This may seem trivial, but up until now friends could only group together and the game would randomize if they were playing alongside or against each other. Voice chat is still nonexistent outside the app sadly (honestly just use Discord), but this update makes online multiplayer a much more approachable experience for those who want to play with their friends, or squad up for competitive sessions.
While you wait to load into a game, you can change out your gear or run around a practice range to splat some targets. It might be because the Splatoon 3 release date just passed and we're in its inaugural weekend with many excited players, but loading into a game doesn't take nearly as much time as in previous games. I could knock out multiple matches in a row with minimal time in between. This was excellent, as it gave me a chance to try out some new weapons and see which gear worked best for me. Leveling up and earning money is also a bit simpler this time around, as you can earn tickets and redeem them for XP and Gold bonuses.
As for the in-game experience itself, it's virtually the same as the previous games. There are some new abilities and specials, but not enough to make it feel like a whole new experience. It also quickly becomes abundantly clear how many die-hard Squid Kids there are out there: be prepared to lose. A lot. It's hard enough to coordinate an assault against an experienced team, nevermind trying to do it if the squad you're up against is communicating via voice chat. Win or lose though, one thing is certain: the soundtrack absolutely slaps, with some great remixes from the original game. If it's not your jam though, I highly recommend turning on a favorite band to splat too. I can personally attest that Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic album is an excellent Splatoon 3 soundtrack.
As for in-game content, Splatoon 3 updates like new weapons and maps could have been DLC, but it does change the feel of online play as masses of new players get used to playing. The Tri-Stringer gave me difficulty for the first few matches, but then I got the hang of aiming, jumping, and powering up my shots for the perfect moment. The Splatana had a similar learning curve. These updates are fun, but new maps and weapons aren't the only things new about Splatoon 3.
Want more modes? Turf War and Anarchy are great, but they're complemented nicely by the other multiplayer mode that is now available 24/7: Salmon Run. Where Grizzco was only accepting part-time help previously, gatekeeping when you could jump in, Splatoon 3 now offers Salmon Run all the time. They've added some unique bosses that can be like a puzzle on their own when figuring out how to defeat them. Salmon Run does offer a training mode though, so be sure to refer to that if you're having trouble taking down any of the bosses, like the King Salmonid.
The multiplayer updates are sure to appease long-time fans, but to see the deepest changes, you'll need to turn your eyes to the Splatoon 3 single-player campaign.
What's Different About the Splatoon 3 Campaign?
I don't want to beat around the squid on this: the Splatoon 3 campaign rocks. In previous games, it was pretty lackluster, an afterthought barely formed once the multiplayer mechanics were down. Then there was a turning point with the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion, which I maintain remains to be the single-best piece of DLC Nintendo has ever released. The Splatoon 3 campaign takes many notes from the Octo Expansion missions, focusing on platforming and combat while giving you a selection of different weapons for each level.
Previous single-player missions were okay, but collectibles like the Sunken Sea Scrolls, which could unlock new weapons, were hidden across each level. For completionists, this made gameplay grind to a halt as you searched every nook and cranny for hidden sea scrolls. The Splatoon 3 campaign updates this to make the Sunken Sea Scrolls and other collectibles available as part of the overworld and not hidden within the missions themselves. This allows you to play through the levels and just have fun with them, instead of changing camera angles fifty times to make sure you didn't miss something.
Another Splatoon 3 campaign update is a new skill tree that makes this title feel more like an RPG than a game about kids and squids. Collect Sardinium to unlock new tiers of the tree and upgrade your Hero Gear. Some of the upgrades include having more ink in your reserves, moving more efficiently through Octarian ink, increasing your swim speed, and more. This makes the single-player mode more like a full-on story with upgrades that entice the player to keep coming back, instead of a senseless list of tasks that loosely come together for one final boss battle.
As to why you need to explore Alterna, the single-player overworld? Those details come out early on as you join the new Squidbeak Splatoon as Agent 3, assisted by former Squid Sister stars Callie and Marie. Cap'n Cuttlefish enlists you to locate and retrieve the Great Zapfish, a caper that effectively leaves Splattsville powerless (even though the lights are very much still on whenever you load in). The Splatoon 3 campaign also dives deeper into the lore with archival records that go into the end of humanity (an environmental disaster) and give you more details about the great war. The lore is more or less inconsequential to the overall gameplay, but long-time fans these bits of information are nice easter eggs that make the Inkling world feel more lived in.
Splatoon 3 Review: Final Thoughts
Though some players across the internet have reported Splatoon 3 connection issues, the experience for myself has been stable and very well optimized, enabling me to load into games in literal seconds. It doesn't reconstruct the wheel by any means, but instead builds on the excellent platform of the previous two games and just makes things better. Some may be hesitant to upgrade to Splatoon 3 because it seems too similar to the previous sequel, but the quality of life improvements make it a much-desired addition to the Splatoon franchise. Overall, Splatoon 3 executes both single-player and multiplayer modes exceptionally well and is a game that players will love to return to again and again.
Splatoon 3 was reviewed on a Nintendo Switch with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Excellent gameplay
- Strong single-player campaign
- Speedy & streamlined experience
- Occasional connection issues
- Lack of original maps and content
- No in-game voice chat