I really like games like Splatoon 3, where you can switch at will between a kid and a squid. No extra tiers of nonsense. No microtransactions to wade through. No endless list of perks to mix together. No DLC splitting the player base. Just squids, kids, and downright impeccable vibes.
That's basically been the elevator pitch for all three Splatoon games. The zany third-person shooter from Nintendo, where you splat opponents and your surroundings with colorful ink, is returning for a third round September 9, and I recently had the chance to try out a sampling of the threequel's many offerings.
Kid, Squid, Salmonid
Splatoon 3 is expanding its single-player campaign offerings, pitting a brand new protagonist against a series of increasingly difficult levels, aided by the return of icon duo Callie and Marie. Splatoon campaigns of yesteryear have typically been suped-up 'Hero Modes,' basically handing the player unlimited power and weaponry and tasking them with gunning down as many enemies as possible.
In the opening few levels, Splatoon 3's campaign feels a little bit more Octo Expansion. The superb 2018 add-on for Splatoon 2 deserves to be mentioned alongside the likes of Titanfall 2 for sheer creativity – molding Splatoon into more of a puzzle-platformer instead of a corridor shooter. Players had their unlimited ink cut off, and were forced to get creative to make it from point A to B without their ink tanks running dry.
There's no ink drought as such in Splatoon 3's first three levels, but the DNA of Octo Expansion is there. A common theme in the opening three missions was searching the map for keys to advance, forcing me to explore every avenue in a mission level, riding along jets of ink and up time-sensitive walls that periodically retract to uncover the elusive items. No, it's not quite Octo Expansion, but the will to get us exploring – and not just blasting their way from point A to B – is already evident.
You're not alone in single-player levels this time. Accompanying you is a questionably adorable Salmonid called Little Buddy, who you can send to various locations within the campaign's overworld to scout out areas. Every level cleared in the campaign opens up more of the overworld to explore, and thus more ground for Little Buddy to dig into. The accomplice can actually dig up a fair few objects for you, including currency to spend and actual collectibles. These range from bouncy background music tracks you can stick on while perusing the hub area, or even lore logs. Yes, the game where you change between a kid and a squid has lore logs now, and they're surprisingly dark – one I stumbled upon highlighted how the human race was nearly obliterated in years past, hence why the Eiffel Tower is now upside down, I suppose.
Bigger and better
From what I have played of it so far, the Splatoon 3 campaign looks to be more of what came before, but better, and the same can largely be said for its multiplayer component. There's a bunch of quality of life improvements for the threequel now – there's a test range area where you can try out weapons while a match loads up, and loadouts let you pair weapons with clothing accessories for the perfect fit.
The result is a shooter that's just as fun as it's always been to play, but now easier than ever before to play. Loadouts let you seamlessly switch up your gear for whatever game mode is on rotation: grab your Splat Dualies for a Turf War mode for example, or boot up your Slosher-centric loadout for a Splat Zones mode. Splatoon 3 looks like it's simplified the entry process for multiplayer, while maintaining the same splaterrific fun in-game.
On the PvE side, Splatoon 2's brilliant Salmon Run makes a triumphant return. Just like the multiplayer component, there aren't heaps of changes here, but what is different really counts. Employees under the uber-capitalistic Mr Grizz can now lob their collected Salmonid Eggs into the basket – or just nearer to it – using their ink supply. The small change has a big impact on Salmon Run's pacing, basically speeding up the entire mode as players turn and fire off Salmonid Eggs before immediately resetting for the next inevitable boss showdown. It's not an Earth-shattering adjustment, but it should make Salmon Run even more enjoyable and easier to play.
There's also a brand new hub area in Splatoon 3, and it's pretty bloody huge. A stroll around Splatsville has you dwarfed by imposing highrises, and new characters to meet and greet every which way you turn. The whole thing feels not just bigger than Inkopolis in square meters, but also more densely populated, as though its developers are cramming in stores to explore and characters new and old to interact with wherever you are in the city, making the entire thing feel more active and lifelike as a result.
Splatsville almost feels like a safe haven from the outer world of Splatoon 3, acting as downtime from splatting other players when you just want to chill out and take an unimpeded stroll for a while. The outer world in the Splatlands might be in dire straits, but there's no sense of that foreboding ruin here in a city where a crab called Crusty Sean happily offers you food to chow down on.
Oh, and you can even steal drip. Walk up to a player or character, and you can bring up the gear they've got equipped, complete with item names and the individual added bonuses the person is getting from their hat, glasses, and t-shirt. Drip envy is a very real thing in Splatoon, but at least now there's actually a way of noting down what a style icon is wearing so you can head to the nearest store and nick their fit.
It's early hours for what Splatoon 3's promising, but the signs are great so far. Small, subtle changes to Salmon Run, the multiplayer test area, and gear loadouts will go a long way to making the final experience easier to play – and for longer. It's impossible to tell whether Splatoon 3 has learned the right lessons from Octo Expansion right now, but the foundations are laid for the campaign to move seamlessly onto bigger and better things.
Splatoon 3 is set to launch on September 9, and it's one of our most anticipated upcoming Switch games for 2022.