When Splatoon first landed on the Wii U back in 2015, I genuinely couldn’t believe what I was playing. The landscape for online multiplayer had been so dominated by first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty, and suddenly here comes Nintendo to completely reinvent the genre with a colourful, creative shooter that redefined the parameters of victory to make it less focused on straight-up kills; but rather, teamwork, coordination, and coverage.
Splatoon quickly became one of my favourite new Nintendo franchises, however I find myself a little frustrated with Splatoon 3, not because it’s a bad game—far from it; but because it’s more or less identical to the two games that came before it, and I find myself wondering where has all the creativity that inspired the first one gone?
These are honestly the hardest reviews to write, because I don’t even know what to really say about Splatoon 3. I feel like I could just copy the body of Phil Brown’s excellent Splatoon 2 review, and it would essentially cover all the same points. Splatoon 3 is by all accounts, an excellent game—structurally, visually, and FUN-damentally—but it’s the same fun I had seven and five years ago respectively.
The “story,” as was shown somewhat in the August 10th, 2022 Direct, involves the “return of the Mammalians,” which on its own is a genuinely unique idea, considering the world and lore of Splatoon. However, much like the first two games, the story mode is really more the tutorial mode, as this idea is never really developed upon, from a narrative perspective, outside some lesser Octolings being a bit fuzzy. Boss encounters—cool as they are—are only tangentially related to the story until the final boss, which I will admit is an absolute SHOW STEALER.
Once again, story mode levels exist in these weird pocket dimensions that aren’t really related to the actual story that’s trying to be told, until—much like in the Splatoon 2’s Octo-Expansion—the last levels actually feel like they’re taking place in structured areas connected to the plot and game world.
And twice now Splatoon has proven that they could structure a whole campaign around the game’s unique movement and combat mechanics, so the fact that the third game in the franchise—and the second entry on the Switch—is still trotting the same horse to market, is pretty uninspiring to see. What could have been a fun idea instead, once again, just feels like a basic showcase and tutorial for the game’s weapons and mechanics in order to prepare you for the real game: the multiplayer.
What’s more, the whole anarchistic, Mad Max vibe that the game is supposed to have as a result of Splatoon 2’s final Splatfest, is never really remarked upon or utilized in any meaningful way. It’s more or less just mild set dressing and—much like Callie being the bad guy in Splatoon 2 for all of two seconds—the idea that the Final Splatfest influences the next game feels like more wasted opportunity. I’m sure they’ll expand upon it in the already announced paid DLC—since the icon they used in the Direct shows Pearl and Marina, and they remain largely absent from this game.
The multiplayer is about the same as it was in the last two games. While Splatoon 3 does add some minor features, like being able to dash up inked walls, and a quick back-dodge; as well as some small QoL features like being able to join friends’ lobbies, or jump into games with them from your lobby—although, truthfully, these are pretty basic online features that should’ve been there from the start.
And while the multiplayer is still INSANELY fun, I can’t help but find it frustrating how on the third game, only the most basic of online matchmaking features have been added, while things that could have improved the experience—like getting to change your gear while waiting for a game to start—are still absent.
And speaking of gear, there’s a strange case of Nintendo fixing something that was never broken; which is again frustrating, since you can see how they could have improved it. As was shown in the Direct, players no longer purchase weapons with the in-game currency, but “Sheldon Licenses,” that are earned by levelling up, and using the same weapon repeatedly.
It’s a strange, mobile-game economy where players can trade multiple Sheldon Licenses for weapons outside their level, and was especially worrying when the game registered my Splatoon 2 data, and gave me three Golden Sheldon Licenses, that let me get whatever weapon I wanted, regardless of level. Maybe I’m being cynical, but it seems like the kind of system that’s ripe for microtransaction exploitation.
Like I said, it was something that never needed to be addressed, when the thing about the weapon system that could have been fixed in the—broken record time—third game, was how weapons still have specific sub-weapons and specials tied to them. I never had a problem with it at first, as it did add a sense of unique personality to the game’s weird world; but Splatoon 3 has the same paltry offering of weapons to start, with monthly updates adding more; so if you’re a fan of the Inkbrush, like I am, I hope you like having exactly ONE option for use, and maybe they’ll add something you like in a few months time.
Why not give players the option to spend Sheldon Licenses to purchase sub-weapons, or Special Attacks for one weapon? It would add to the supposed Anarchy setting that the game is supposed to have, since people are making their own weird combinations that suit their playstyle, and it wouldn’t imbalance the game since the conditions of victory in Splatoon don’t really go to whomever has the most overpowered build—not that you could really achieve that anyway.
“Splatoon 3 is an incredibly fun, incredibly playable game that I absolutely love…”
And that’s the thing that’s so frustrating about Splatoon 3—and why this review is coming off so negative. It’s been almost a decade since the first Splatoon, and both the games that have come since have offered almost no innovation. At the very least Splatoon 2 was, “the one on the Switch,” but now we have another one on the Switch that does nothing to justify its existence there.
And I hate that the most about it because it’s still so genuinely fun in almost every way. Splatsville is a bustling location with tons of little nooks and crannies to find, with neat little audio and visual details hidden within. Splatoon 3 maintains the series’ unique style and vibrant colour palette, and it’s never not satisfying to see these semi-realistic settings covered from head-to-toe with ink.
Not to mention Splatoon 3 has an absolute BANGING soundtrack, now shifting from the poppy soundtracks of the originals, to something more punk rock influenced to suit the game’s chaotic setting—outside the story mode which still has a weird, almost Earthbound-esk soundtrack.
There’s a lot to love with Splatoon 3, but the fact that this is the third game in the franchise, launching with such a meagre amount of content—both X Battle and League Battle aren’t launching until a later date, which is weird considewring they were available at launch in Splatoon 2. I don’t know how much COVID may have affected development, and I would be sympathetic to that; but Splatoon 3 is charging full price for a lot of missing content, and that I can’t abide.
As it stands, Splatoon 3 is an incredibly fun, incredibly playable game that I absolutely love; but it’s the same game I loved in 2015, and again in 2017. I’d say, maybe it’s worth checking out since support for Splatoon 2 has stopped, but if you’re still enjoying that game, you could probably skip this one until Nintendo releases the Super Nintendo Switch.