The refinement of the painting formula involved adding little touches here and there to something that was already good, and a slightly deeper story mode.
The Splatoon series is a benchmark and outlier within Nintendo. A multiplayer shooter that in other times would have been unthinkable for the house of Mario, but thanks to the trust in a small group of promising players has become one of Nintendo's most important properties. With a promising first instalment and a truly outstanding second, there didn't seem to be much more to offer, but Splatoon 3 is tentacle curling, and has delivered just what it needs to be a hit and to justify a full launch.
Let me make a couple of clarifications before reading this review. The first is that if you were expecting a revolutionary change in its structure or mechanics, you can forget about it. Splatoon 3 adds things, yes, but its multiplayer is very much a continuation of Splatoon 2, and I recommend checking out our review of the second instalment before reading on, because almost everything still applies here. Secondly, given the limitations of server access in the days leading up to the game's release, I still have a lot more digging to do on multiplayer before I give my final verdict on that part, which I'll duly update after a few days of open online play. That said, I'll start by highlighting what has really changed the most about the game: The new story mode.
The single-player mode of the Splatoon series has previously been more of a fun add-on or testing ground to practice using weapons and items when we're not shooting (paint) in multiplayer, but here it takes more elements from Splatoon 2's Octo-Expansion and the lore of the entire series to present us with some answers as to what happened to humanity and why this war between Inklings and Octolings is happening. We now have two new areas: the city of Splatsville and the Alterna region. The former serves as the main hub for online gameplay, as well as shops for weapons, outfits, accessories and more. Alterna, on the other hand, is where the single-player mode will take place. In this region we'll set off to help an old man in trouble with Agents 1 and 2. Some familiar characters return and there are some new additions, but it looks like there will be more than one surprising twist that you'll have to discover for yourselves.
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What I can tell you is that this story mode has a measured and adequate progression that, although it serves as a prelude or a moment of relief for the online games, offers a good handful of hours to enjoy dozens of stages that we access through Portals. The problem is that to access them we must first eliminate a mass of petrifying plasma that we can only remove with the help of our little Salmonid familiar. This little companion feeds on the red caviar that we collect in Alterna and with which he charges himself with energy to kill the plasma core (and thus open up new paths).
This Salmonid ally will also mark hidden objects on the map, so whenever an exclamation mark appears above his head or he runs off your back towards a random spot, shoot the ground next to him to reveal the surprise. Over the course of six zones we will overcome a variety of challenges ranging from reaching the finish line by taking out the Octolings along the way, to getting all the red caviar in the time limit, to moving along rails while shooting to open the path before falling into the void.
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Sliding through ink has always been fun, but the design of some of these levels has made us rack our brains to get to the next checkpoint (there's a particular one with hidden switches that had me stuck for longer than I care to admit). The new ink jumping mechanic allows us to reach a little higher and this is also reflected in the way the stages are constructed. It's hard to believe that with so many stages and only a few small additional features the game could be expanded so much. The jump and ink dive can get you out of some casualties in friendly matches, so make sure you master them perfectly before accessing them.
These new abilities wouldn't make sense if Splatoon 3's controls weren't already great. Whether you're playing in handheld mode or with the dock and on TV, character handling, aiming and movement are smooth, fluid and precise. Although the gyroscope is quite a bit faster for turning and aiming, I quickly got used to playing with it turned off. You can balance the sensitivity of the controls depending on how you use or where you play on the Nintendo Switch, so I have nothing but good things to say here.
While most of the weapons and gadgets to ink opponents like the environment have been there before, there are a couple of new ones to keep an eye on, where mastering them is another matter entirely. The starting equipment is called "E-liter", but this small pistol we start with has a very limited range, but a good rate of fire. Splatoon 3's new primary weapon is the "ink-bow". This is a very powerful but slow to reload triple shot bow, which can fire horizontally while walking or vertically if you shoot while jumping. It does a lot of damage, but is difficult to aim with. There is also a new special weapon similar to a bazooka that we can pick up, although it is a one-time use and must be used at the right time to be effective.
Although not all the multiplayer modes are available from the start (in fact when you start you must do the tutorial before moving on to each game mode) all of them are known. To access the multiplayer we enter from the Lobby, a lobby where we choose the type of game we want to play. Turf Wars are 4 vs 4 sessions in which our team has to be the one that has spread the most ink before the time runs out, all while covering our rivals' ink and taking them out of the arena by shooting paint at them. During the play sessions there were a number of different maps, and the variety and breadth is welcome. The fact that we can deploy anywhere with the drone at the beginning may give rise to strategies that will become apparent once the game is released, so it may be interesting to keep an eye on the competitive side.
Salmon Run is the four-player co-op mode in which we must wipe out hordes of Salmonids while grabbing as much red caviar as we can. Once again, I missed a good team communication system, but hopefully SplatNet 3 will work here too soon. I can't talk about Competitive Anarchy mode at the moment as it unlocks at level 10 and I didn't get a chance to reach it, but it still retains the special game modes like Tower.
Splatoon 3 is both a sequel and a gateway to the series, because it has gameplay that you learn quickly, and that you'll spend time on if you want to get the most out of the game. It's a well-rounded multiplayer title that has listened to a community that demanded a greater single player experience as well, and it has more than delivered. There was little to add to the system without it becoming unbalanced somewhere, but everything added just creates new layers of gameplay and the promise of many hours of online fun. Is Splatoon 3 almost the same as before? Maybe, but that "almost" is also almost certainly better.
9 / 10
Solid gameplay and further improving the formula. An interesting and deep story mode. Larger scenarios.
Perhaps too much continuity. Few new modes and weapons.