‘Splatoon 3’ review: art attack

Inkredible

Shooting in third-person blaster Splatoon 3 feels incredible, whether you hit anything or not. That’s because with every shot you take in Nintendo‘s latest splat-’em-up shooter, you’re guaranteed to paint something – a floor, wall or enemy – in brightly coloured ink. And damn, is it satisfying.

The core loop of Splatoon is as simple as it is brilliant. Besides gunning down foes, your ink gun (this is Nintendo – there’ll be no .50 cal death machines here) is used to spread your Squid Kid’s colours across the map. Ink your colour can be swam through for faster movement, a reload, and a sneakier way to move through enemy lines.

In multiplayer mode Turf War, painting the map is the name of the game – whichever team can coat the highest percentage of the level in their colour is crowned victor. Because of the unique win condition, blank walls are just as much your enemy as the angry Squid Kid bearing down on you with a paint roller. Trying to splat your foes while covering the map in ink is a surprisingly tactical balancing act – do you book it to the nearest shootout and contest floorspace in the map’s centre, or skirt around the sides and paint the map’s quieter corners? Whether you’re a pacifist or certified people-painter, Splatoon 3‘s multiplayer delivers a bucketful of replayability.

Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.
Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.

However, Splatoon 3‘s campaign is also an incredible time sink. Once you’ve finished the game’s tutorial, you are dropped into the vibrant hub city of Splatsville and given the choice of heading to the multiplayer lobby or investigating the creepy old man that’s leering at you from a manhole. Take the manhole option, and you won’t regret your choices, as the campaign is filled with a banging electro-funk soundtrack and a cast of hilarious characters.

Your time in this campaign is split between two formats, the first being a story-led overworld set on an archipelago of mysterious islands hidden below Splatsville. With the help of Small Fry, your customisable and weaponised companion, players must clean up Fuzz, an untouchable substance that blocks progress and hides optional cosmetics and upgrades. Players can remove this by spending Power Eggs to sic Small Fry on it, who has no problem munching the Fuzz away. Those Power Eggs, which also pay for upgrades to your character, are earned from the other side of Splatoon 3‘s campaign: Kettles. These are self-contained levels similar to Breath Of The Wild‘s Shrines, often buried under Fuzz, and are players’ main way of earning Power Eggs. Each challenge varies from one Kettle to another: while one may drop players into a rail-skating target shooter, another might switch things up with a thoughtful platforming puzzle.

Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.
Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.

Some are straightforward shootouts where your only objective is to get from A to B alive. Besides being a blast, these run-and-gun segments are handy for trying out Splatoon 3‘s arsenal before you take them to multiplayer. A personal favourite is the Tri-Stringer, a triple-nocked bow that’s unique to Splatoon 3. Firing the Tri-Stringer looses three arrows in a horizontal line, but jumping switches it to a vertical shot. You can also spend more time drawing back the string for a devastating explosive attack, or release your arrows as fast as possible for a quicker payoff. All of this adds up to an incredibly diverse weapon, and one that exhibits the best of Splatoon 3‘s weapon design.

Because Kettles are so inventive, it can be hard to stay focused on the campaign’s main story when another challenge is always right around the corner. Though each objective varies greatly, the same can’t be said visually, as far too many look trapped in a dull grey cyberspace. Splatoon 3 also holds your hand a little too long with overbearing hints and tips to solving a puzzle, but it can be surprisingly difficult when it wants to be.

Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.
Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.

Some Kettles demand lightning-fast reflexes to hit targets or dodge punishing attacks, while others offer a higher Power Egg reward if you can take it on with a certain loadout. On several occasions, these loadout challenges proved nightmarish: trying to pop 60 balloons in a minute with a slow-firing marksman rifle is a challenge brewed in hell, as is trying to hit anything with a paint can when you’re skating past them on rails. Likewise, some of the overworld’s bosses are capable of sending you scurrying away empty-handed, and prove a good motivator for finding gear upgrades.

They may be tough, but these bosses ooze style – in fact, the entirety of Splatoon 3 is intoxicatingly dapper. There are few games that can pull off a hub world without it feeling dated or unnecessary, but Splatsville is a necessary part of Splatoon’s character. You have the option of jumping from location to location through the menu, but walking there yourself – soaking in the atmosphere, head-bobbing to the banging soundtrack and checking out other players’ loitering Squid Kids – is a welcome reprieve to Splatoon‘s otherwise frantic action.

Visually, Splatoon 3 is the best-looking game on the Nintendo Switch. Played on an OLED model, colour and texture stands out in vivid detail – which makes it even harder to resist painting every inch of the game in ink – and even in the game’s wildest splat-fests, there were no performance issues to note, whether you play it in a dock or handheld.

If the Splatoon series has previously left you on the fence, let 3 be the nudge you need. In a genre where most shooters are still trying to be Fortnite or Tarkov, Nintendo’s latest offering is refreshingly original – but more importantly, Splatoon 3 is just ridiculously good fun.

Splatoon 3 launches on September 9 for Nintendo Switch. 

The Verdict

Messy and marvellous, Splatoon 3 is an excellent addition to one of Nintendo’s most creative series.  An entertaining campaign delivers fun for all ages, assuming you can pull yourself away from Turf War for five minutes, while the world of Splatsville is a vibrant and immersive treat.

Pros

  • Stylish, vivid visuals
  • Fantastic campaign and a tirelessly replayable slew of multiplayer modes
  • Incredible soundtrack

Cons

  • Visually, Kettles are disappointingly bland
  • Motion controls can be finicky on occasion
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