I’ve long believed that a new game in a series has to do two things to be successful: iterate on previous titles to satisfy existing fans, and be good enough as a standalone product to build new fans.
As you might have guessed by the title, I fall into the latter category, having missed the previous two Splatoon games that launched before the latest incarnation simply titled Splatoon 3. Did it manage to create a new fan in me or is this one strictly for those who jumped on the bandwagon earlier?
The start of this journey wasn’t the best as the tutorial defaults to using gyro controls for aiming. Aside from my disdain for gyroscopic controls in general, I used the Hori Split Pad Pro for my playtime, a set of officially licensed Nintendo controllers that don’t have gyroscopic functionality.
Although the gyroscope can be disabled in the settings menu, it is locked during the tutorial.
This massive pain aside tutorial is quick and the controls are pretty straightforward. Although I’ve never played the previous games, I know the basic concept of ink shooting both as an offensive measure like a gun, but also as a defensive measure as enemy ink damages you. This system is pretty nifty because the ink on the ground, which you can “swim” through by transforming into a squid, is also how you reload your weapons.
It’s a very tight set of gameplay ideas and a nice departure from standard gun-based third-person shooters.
This pleasure with the mechanics is, once again, interrupted by an extremely slow game speed. The player character moves and fires extremely slowly for no real reason that I can see. While you’re swimming faster in ink, the difference in speed is so negligible that for all my hours of play the feeling of lethargy persisted.
After completing the tutorial, I was transported to a hub world where you can interact with the game’s various multiplayer-specific components as well as access the single-player campaign.
This look at Splatoon 3 will stick to the single-player mode as the pre-release copy Nintendo provided me only covers it. When Splatoon 3 launches to the public on September 9, I’ll be trying multiplayer with everyone.
The single-player begins with a few character introductions and a bit of story, but even as a newcomer, I didn’t feel left out. With a world as bizarre as Splatoon, you can ignore small world/story details when remembering that you’re a squid fighting a war with ink guns.
The main objective of the single player mode is to conquer multiple islands and fend off the encroaching alien fur that instantly kills you on contact. You need a resource called Power Eggs to destroy fur and these are rewarded by completing missions.
The variety of these missions is perhaps the best part of Splatoon 3. The developers really tried to make each one unique, and even those with similar goals, like defeating enemies or solving puzzles, stand out well.
There’s also a great sense of progress as you battle fur with the snowy islands forming the levels slowly transforming into your own territory where you can freely explore for upgrades, cosmetics for multiplayer and lore snippets.
For those worried about jumping into that third game and missing out on the story, this lore helps fill things in, but it depends on your willingness to track it down. It may be best to wait for this game to come out and just read the completed entries on a wiki or something similar.
That being said, loading into the first level and seeing the Eiffel Tower upside down and embedded in the ground against a backdrop of snow and alien fur does a lot to excite the plot.
Unfortunately, my happiness with constant progression and the unique levels started to drastically diminish towards the middle of the single player mode. Not because the levels were getting harder and harder, but because the challenges presented to the player were starting to focus on the weaker elements of Splatoon 3. Your character’s pathetic movement and shooting speed, combined with a vertical leap barely higher than a Tic Tac, make traversal missions an absolute chore.
Missions under strict deadlines also feel less like a test of your mastery of the game than a fight with your slow character.
Missions that require precise shooting are also a nightmare. Listen, I used to be a sniper with a PlayStation 3 controller at school during the (original) days of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but asking myself to be so clinical with the firepad in a single player game is too much.
It’s a simple fact that the movement and shooting mechanics aren’t the star of Splatoon 3, the whole squid and ink mechanics are, so it’s a shame when the missions are so strenuous with the weaker items, especially with such meager rewards as easier missions usually provide the same bonuses.
A huge plus is that Splatoon 3 looks great. The fun cartoonish style combined with relatively good-for-ink fluid mechanics make it easy on the eyes and, again in single player mode, performance held up well on a Nintendo Switch OLED.
The music was really underwhelming here, as was the sound design which I guess could be a bonus if you plan to play mostly on mute in handheld mode, or use Splatoon 3 as something you play while listening to music or podcasts.
In the end, I had a lot of fun with my time in the Splatoon 3 single player experience. Have I been converted into a fan? Maybe, but the first trailer I see for Splatoon 4 better shows that the speed has been doubled.
It’s a fun game that’s great to turn on and play for 30 minutes to do stuff and progress and I’ll be playing some more especially when multiplayer is available.