‘Splatoon 3’ preview: evolution, not revolution

Quality of life improvements could make this the best yet

In many ways, Splatoon 3 is the quintessential Nintendo title. Full of vibrant primary colours splashing across the screen, you’ve got cutesy anthropomorphised characters screeching in a made-up language, crucially though, nobody is killing each other in the paint-war, but “splatting” their opponents instead. This is a third-person shooter, then, but not as you know it, and taking out your foes is maybe the least important part of the action.

But what a plethora of ways there are to “splat” your opponent in battle this time around. While all the previous weapons have returned from the first and second outing for Splatoon, this threequel feels so far as though it’s about advancing the formula, quality of life improvements, and just making the entire experience a more accessible one.

For starters, Nintendo was able to confirm to NME that although there’s still a news report at the start of the game every time you begin, it’s now skippable, and if you listen carefully that’s the sound of the 13million-plus people who bought the previous game screaming in joy. It was one of those hideous things that frustrate players and slow the action down, and Nintendo has listened to feedback. But the changes to the formula don’t stop there. Another course correction from Splatoon 2 is in how Nintendo is treating the co-op horde mode, Salmon Run.

splatoon 3
Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo

At launch, Salmon Run was timed, and only playable at arbitrary times and dates. Now (from launch) you can team up with your friends and play non-competitively whenever you fancy it, and this has a major knock-on effect to the overall enjoyment of the game. For example, the Brella (an umbrella weapon that works a bit like Reinhardt’s shield in Overwatch) is a weapon that first appeared in Splatoon 2, but could arguably be one of the rarest to see in an online versus battle of Turf War. It’s unclear whether people didn’t like it as much, or just never got round to testing it out, preferring to use their favourite weapons instead.

You see, Splatoon is a series about covering the floor with your coloured ink. You don’t get points for taking out your enemy, that is simply a way to get them off your turf and paint the floor more with your guns. With that in mind, the Brella always felt like too defensive a weapon, yet in Salmon Run: Next Wave for Splatoon 3, having it thrust upon you with the random weapon generation at the start of each wave means you have to use it, and get good with it. The weapon makes sense in the context of Salmon Run, and now the little thought appears in the back of your mind: “what if this is actually good for versus, as well?”. Suddenly it’s your favourite weapon and you feel like a badass holding an umbrella.

At least, it might become your favourite weapon, if that weren’t for the new additions to Splatoon 3. While the modes on offer at the preview session were merely a taster of the final product, the weapons were all there to play around with. One is basically a katana sword that flicks paint, and is excellent to use, as it’s both agile and strong. Of course it’s called a “Splatana Wiper”, and of course it’s a car windscreen wiper and not an actual sword: remember, this is a Nintendo title.

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Splatoon 3. Credit: Nintendo.

This is just one of the new classes of weapons, though. The other is a bow and arrow called the Tri-Stringer, which fires three paint-arrows at once, leaving a small charge behind on impact that explodes, harming an opponent or painting the floor with your ink. It can be charged, and if you jump then the trajectory will change from horizontal to vertical, making it a very intriguing proposition. It seems fairly powerful so far, and is dangerous from mid-range, but does leave you vulnerable if you get too close, as a few of the present media discovered to their chagrin, and in some cases, amusement.

Splatoon 3’s single player is a mix of the second game’s campaign along with the DLC, Octo Expansion. It’s clever and entertaining, but also acts as a tutorial to some of the ideas the new weapons bring to the party. There are enemies that have shields up and bombard you with a barrage of attacks, and the only way to kill them is to fire your Tri-Stringer at the moving boards behind them, destroying them with the timed charge that’s left behind. Sprinkle in a healthy dose of rail grinding, calamari rings to jump through, collectibles to find, and the campaign could be a decent-sized offering, overall.

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‘Splatoon 3’. CREDIT: Nintendo

One of the major new additions to Splatoon 3, certainly in the single player, anyway, is Smallfry. Instead of chucking ink-filled grenades out in the campaign, Smallfry is your throwable companion. This tiny Salmonid would normally be an enemy in Salmon Run, but here he’s your pal, and you can chuck him out to reach things you can’t. Like everything else, Smallfry can be customised with hairstyles and outfits, and it seems to play into the campaign more than we fully understand. There’s a way to call Smallfry back if you throw it out, and from the three levels on offer so far, it’s tricky to know what the purpose of that might be.

In case you weren’t quite getting the picture, Splatoon 3 is pretty exciting so far. The action is fast-paced, but far more tactical than the colourful aesthetic might suggest. While the full game wasn’t available to play here, and NME only got to play three levels of the single player campaign, it’s very clear that people who have been with the franchise all along will be grateful for the quality of life changes that have been implemented. Instead of feeling like Nintendo is behind the times, it feels modernised and new: there’s even a practice range now you can try out weapons in while the lobby is getting everyone together.

But while it does appear that Splatoon 3 is very much one “for the fans”, to everyone else, it could be the one that finally makes them realise exactly what those fans have been going on about for ages. With motion controls an option for those who aren’t familiar with modern shooters, and settings galore to kit yourself out in whatever fashion you prefer, it’s a friendly experience, and one where all that remains to be seen is how the newer modes play out over the long term. So far, so good; roll on the full game, and fingers crossed it sticks the landing with no bizarre online decisions that stymy the entire thing.

Splatoon 3 launches on September 9 for Nintendo Switch. 


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