Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 9, 2022
Genre: Third-person shooter
Your enjoyment of Splatoon 3 on the Nintendo Switch will be highly dependent on what you want from a sequel.
If you’re content with more of the same, with some previous rough edges sanded down, Nintendo’s third ink-based shooter will almost certainly delight you in spades. If you demand a radical departure that brings a wealth of new ideas to the table, Splatoon 3 probably isn’t the sequel you were hoping for.
It would be harsh, but not necessarily unfair, to accuse Splatoon 3 of resting on its laurels. This second sequel to Splatoon on the Wii U regularly reheats existing ideas with only minor tweaks. But considering that Splatoon has always verged on near-perfection in its gameplay, it’s hard to be too disappointed that the third installment plays things extremely safe. Read on for our full Splatoon 3 review.
Splatoon 3 review: Gameplay
Splatoon 3 has the same core gameplay as the last two outings. You play as either an Inkling or Octoling — essentially a human/squid or human/octopus hybrid — and wield a variety of weapons that shoot brightly colored ink. Once you’ve coated the nearby surfaces, you can transform into an adorable sea creature and swim through the ink to increase your speed and mobility.
This simple-but-inventive gameplay mechanic is central to the multiplayer mode, and the single-player adventure uses it in a variety of surprising ways. But the gameplay's biggest strength lies in its appealing simplicity. Even if this is your first Splatoon game, by the time the rudimentary tutorial is over, you’ll have quickly grasped the basics and can start experimenting with more advanced moves, such as the new Squid Surge or Squid Roll.
Perhaps Splatoon 3’s biggest gameplay flaw is how little it switches up the formula established in its two predecessors. There are a host of new weapons and abilities to experiment with — the Splatana is a personal favorite of mine — but fundamentally, you’ll spend your time doing the same things as in Splatoon and Splatoon 2. Of course, if you're already fond of the franchise, you’ll probably have a whale of a time here.
You can also play Splatoon 3 with either standard thumbsticks or motion controls. The latter might seem like a gimmick at first, but many Splatoon pros prefer it that way, as the Switch’s gyroscope offers greater aiming precision. It’s hard to disagree once you get comfortable with it. Still, you’ll probably want to revert back to stick controls when playing in handheld mode, as moving the entire Switch unit to aim isn’t really viable.
When you’re not coating surfaces (and enemies) in ink, you’ll spend your time in Splatoon 3 wandering the new hub area, Splatsville. Exploring this city on foot is initially alluring, but you’re quite restricted in how much you can actually interact with it. It’s much easier to use the options menu to warp between points of interest and shops instead of wandering around.
Customization is another core pillar of Splatoon, and you’ll want to deck out your Inkling/Octoling in all sorts of unlockable gear. Not only will you have plenty of opportunities to show off your snazzy outfits to other players, but you'll also receive stat boosts from new clothing. You’ll never be short of items to play dress-up with, either, since Splatoon 3 gives you a ton of unlockable gear throughout its various modes of play.
Splatoon 3 review: Single-player campaign
On the surface, Splatoon 3’s single-player mode may seem like little more than a tool for new players to learn the gameplay fundamentals before they venture into the competitive online modes. But the campaign is much more than a dressed-up tutorial.
Splatoon 3’s single-player is a consistent delight, serving up a series of levels that twist the core gameplay in new and surprising ways. One level strips you of your weapons entirely, and forces you to rely on your throwable Cuttlefish companion to progress. Another stage asks you to coat an entire statue in ink, while also solving simple platforming puzzles. The single-player campaign is virtually unmissable, and if not for its relative brevity, it alone would be worth the price of admission.
Alongside the remarkably creative levels, there are also more traditional stages that throw small armies of AI-controlled enemies at you. Thanks to Splatoon 3’s rock-solid shooting, these are hugely enjoyable as well. There are also a handful of boss battles that add some spectacle to the mix, even if these encounters can feel a little formulaic.
The one aspect of the campaign that doesn't quite land is its story. Players invested in Splatoon lore may get a kick out of the maritime puns and lengthy conversations between new and returning characters, but I found the thin narrative got in the way more often than not. I was always appreciative when the characters finally stopped talking gibberish and let me keep playing.
Splatoon 3 review: Online multiplayer, Salmon Run and Tableturf Battle
You’ll want to ensure you’ve got an active Nintendo Switch Online subscription before picking up Splatoon 3, because its suite of online modes is what gives the game its real longevity.
As with the previous two entries, the flagship Turf War mode is where Splatoon 3 shines brightest. This mode challenges two teams of four players to ink the most ground possible within a three-minute time limit. Matches quickly descend into a blur of bright colors and utter chaos as both teams ink and re-ink the map.
You can also “splat” enemies, effectively taking them out of the game for a few seconds, but the focus is primarily on covering territory with ink. This allows players without ultra-sharp reflexes to still make valuable contributions and rank high on the post-match scoreboard. Unlike some shooters, Splatoon 3 isn’t a competition to score the highest killstreak, and that remains as refreshing in 2022 as it was back in 2015.
Venture into the ranked playlist and you can sample a variety of additional game modes, including a version of King of the Hill. There's also a spin on Capture the Flag, but with shiny clams to collect. These are fun alternative modes, but you’ll likely find yourself gravitating back toward Turf War, as it’s so perfectly balanced.
The co-op Salmon Run mode introduced in Splatoon 2 has returned, and thankfully, Nintendo has removed the baffling restrictions on when you can play it. This horde mode pits you and three companions against waves of enemies, while also requiring you to collect golden eggs and bank them in a giant net. It’s a fun diversion, and is especially enjoyable with friends. However, Salmon Run lacks the staying power to properly compete with Splatoon 3's competitive online modes.
New in Splatoon 3 is Tableturf Battle, a card game that seems to draw inspiration from both Tetris and Gwent from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Its inclusion is a testament to how much content the developers have crammed into Splatoon 3, but it’s probably not something you’ll return to often, as the mechanics feel a little too simplistic. As a separate mobile game, Tableturf Battle could be a fun time-waster, but it can’t slack up against the collection of full-featured modes that Splatoon 3 has to offer.
Splatoon 3 review: Visuals and performance
As you might expect from a Nintendo-developed Switch exclusive, Splatoon 3 has an instantly appealing cartoon visual style. Everything pops with vivid color, from the heavily stylized post-match scoreboard, to the reflective shine on the oceans of ink that you lay down. The characters' expressive animations are another visual highlight.
Unfortunately, Splatoon 3 does push the Nintendo Switch’s aging hardware a little too far on occasion. Textures frequently look fuzzy in the distance, and the frame rate is wildly inconsistent in spots. Thankfully it’s almost never an issue in multiplayer matches. But when you run around Splatsville, the framerate can slow to a near-crawl. The issue creeps up in the single-player campaign a little too often as well.
Splatoon 3 review: Verdict
Returning players won’t find many new ideas in Splatoon 3, but it's impossible to gloss over the wealth of quality-of-life improvements. From the much-requested ability to skip tedious cutscenes, to the new training room that lets you hone your skills between online matches, Splatoon 3 makes dozens of small-but-meaningful tweaks to an already highly polished formula.
Whether you're a newcomer or a returning veteran, Splatoon 3 is sure to hook you right from the start. Its astounding gameplay and abundance of distinct modes make the game hard to put down. Splatoon 3 may be Nintendo’s safest sequels in years, but it’s also one of its most tightly designed. What it lacks in new ideas, it more than makes up for with sheer fun.