What is there to really say?
When the August 10th Nintendo Direct dedicated to Splatoon 3 aired, it seemed odd that so much of it was dedicated to minor changes and additions that wouldn’t have been out of place in a post-launch update to Splatoon 2. New weapons and maps were already things that the two previous games received in patches, and quality of life improvements like being able to party up with friends and unrestricted playtime for Salmon Run really ought to have been in Splatoon 2 from the very beginning. It’s now clear that so much focus was put on these elements because there wasn’t much else to show.
At its core, Splatoon 3 is largely the same game as Splatoon 2. Turf War is the headlining game mode once again, where two teams of four compete to cover more ground with their color ink than their opponents. Alternate game modes such as Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz are still locked behind the ranked mode, which I think is a shame since many of my friends that have put over 100 hours into Splatoon over the years have never played these game modes due to the intimidation factor of ranked play. If you’ve ever played Splatoon before, then I truly can’t think of a single thing I could tell you that’s changed here aside from a massive improvement to the online lobby system that finally lets you queue into a match with friends instead of having to join a game already in progress.
The single-player campaign also doesn’t bring very many new ideas to the table. It takes a substantial amount of inspiration from Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion, so things will likely feel a lot fresher if you happened to skip out on that DLC campaign. Like in Octo Expansion, Splatoon 3’s levels are now based around specific challenges or ideas that test your skills with the game’s various mechanics instead of just being a series of linear levels where you walk towards a goal with some generic enemies standing in your way. Maybe you’ll need to solve a whole stage without shooting any ink, or perhaps you’ll have to survive for a whole minute against a barrage of attacks from enemies that have you surrounded. My personal favorite levels gave me an infinite charge of the Zipcaster special weapon, prompting me to swing up walls like Spider-Man.
Meanwhile, the structure of the campaign’s overworld is a fusion of Octo Expansion and the two base game campaigns that preceded it. The entrances to levels must be found in the hub world before you can play them, but it’s entirely up to you which levels you want to play. Only three of the six areas in the overworld have a mandatory boss fight, and you don’t even need to play the levels leading up to them before challenging the boss. The only gate to your progression is a furry ooze that must be destroyed with Power Eggs that are earned from completing levels. Different chunks of ooze require different amounts of Power Eggs to destroy them, but with a bit of planning you can save up Power Eggs to progress through the story quickly. I wanted to test just how much you could push this and managed to reach each boss fight after finishing only two of the stages leading up to it. Obviously it’ll take much more than that to find the hidden collectibles throughout the overworld, and the missions themselves are good enough to be worth playing even without any particular reward.
Salmon Run, my personal favorite game mode in Splatoon, is just as good as ever. In this mode, players work together to survive three waves of hostile Salmonids, collecting golden eggs to deposit in a basket. Powerful boss Salmonids appear frequently to threaten the players, though even the common weaklings can take you down quickly if you don’t keep an eye on them. Aside from a handful of new Boss Salmonids, the big change to this mode is the occasional appearance of a King Salmonid. Sometimes, albeit rarely, at the end of a successful Salmon Run, a King Salmonid will attack in a surprise fourth wave, and the players must split their attention between the King and his minions. Boss Salmonids will still spawn during this wave, but now the golden eggs they drop can be thrown at the King to deal a lot of damage. Defeating a King Salmonid is a tall order, but it’s easily the most exciting and tense fight I’ve ever had in Splatoon.
As for what’s truly fresh, the only wholly new game mode in Splatoon 3 is the collectible card game, Tableturf Battle. Tableturf is an abstraction of Turf War where you play cards to convert spaces on a grid to your color. Each card will also place a Special Space on the field that charges up your Special Attack whenever it’s surrounded on all sides. Special Attacks are powerful since they’re the only way to convert an opponent’s space to your color, so you’ll want to place your cards carefully to maximize your own Special Points while preventing your opponent from gaining their own. Tableturf Battles are surprisingly addicting with a lot of genuine depth and strategy involved in playing your cards. The only downside is that Tableturf Battles cannot be played online, which means it’ll likely lose its replay value pretty quickly.
In many ways, Splatoon 3 is the game Splatoon 2 ought to have been, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it brings some much-needed quality of life improvements. The inability to party up with friends is ultimately what frustrated me enough to quit Splatoon 2, so that alone makes a huge difference. On the other hand, there is so little in Splatoon 3 that’s genuinely new, and it’s tough to accept the big change I wanted in a patch five years ago being sold to me for $60 with little else to get excited about. It’s even tougher to accept alongside an even older game like Mario Kart 8 doubling its content in DLC for half the price. If you’re looking for reasons to upgrade from Splatoon 2, the differences are so small that I can’t say there’s anything that would convince you. On the bright side, if the words “Splatoon 3” were all you needed to get excited, then make no mistake: this is—by a small margin—the best Splatoon has ever been.