In an already stacked year of great Nintendo titles, Splatoon 3 — which is available now for $59.99 — just might be the best Switch game of 2022 yet. The third installment of Nintendo’s beloved online shooter series continues to offer a fresh take on a genre dominated by realistic violence, trading grim gunfights for colorful contests over which team can make the biggest mess of ink throughout the arena. From its bright, punky aesthetic to its uniquely fluid combat that has you shoot and swim your way through every battle, there’s simply nothing like Splatoon.
But Splatoon 3 isn’t just more of the same — with a fun new single-player campaign and some very smart tweaks to the gameplay and online experience, Nintendo’s latest family-friendly shooter is both a notable step forward and a great jumping-on point for beginners. To get a deeper dive on all the ink-blasting action, we talked to Bill Trinen, VP of Player & Product Experience at Nintendo, about the fresh story mode, the nitty-gritty changes for hardcore players and why even a 6-year-old can have fun with Splatoon.
Why you shouldn’t skip single-player
Splatoon’s frantic and fun multiplayer matches have always been the series’ main attraction. There’s fun to be had in the first two games’ single-player modes, but they’re largely a set of simple challenges meant to prep you for the endless Turf War battles that await. Lots of players — myself included — have skipped this content in favor of jumping right online, but Nintendo is hoping that changes with Splatoon 3.
“I feel like single-player in Splatoon is probably one of the most often overlooked parts of the game,” says Trinen. “A lot of people will just describe it as, ‘Oh, it’s a glorified tutorial,’ which … I understand that perspective. But as you play through the story mode and you start to see all of the different levels and everything that’s gone into what is, I think, some classic Nintendo single-player platforming-style game design … I feel like it’s such a rich part of the game.”
Splatoon 3 features the most ambitious and expansive solo offering the series has seen yet, casting you as an agent tasked with taking down the Octarians, a group of nefarious octopus baddies that can’t seem to stop spreading dangerous ooze all over the place. There’s some truly inventive level design here that wouldn’t be out of place in a Mario or Sonic game, with clever, puzzle-filled levels that are a delight to swim, slide and shoot your way through.
With a slick, dystopian sci-fi aesthetic and plenty of lore to uncover as you explore the hidden world of Alterna and run into familiar faces from previous games, Splatoon 3’s story mode feels more distinctly like a single-player game rather than just a tutorial for the multiplayer action. That said, it’s still a great way to learn how to play, offering courses that do a nice job introducing you to the game’s various weapons — with plenty of secrets and optional objectives for those who want a real challenge.
“Playing the first island of the story mode campaign, [I] was like, ‘Oh, it’s the first island. This is going to be easy,’” says Trinen. “And [I] quickly found a couple of levels that actually bumped me out because I failed to complete them. I was like, ‘Oh, wait a second. I actually need to think about this.’”
A better online experience for all
As great as Splatoon 3’s single-player experience is, nothing quite beats the primal, messy joy of racing to cover the arena in colorful ink — all while engaging in heated firefights with enemy players — in the game’s four-on-four online Turf War battles. And while the core Splatoon multiplayer experience hasn’t changed a ton for the most recent game, there are lots of small gameplay refinements and quality-of-life upgrades that add unique layers of strategy while also simply making it easier to hop right into a match.
I love that I can now practice different weapons and moves in the game’s lobby area while I wait for a new round to start, especially since there are plenty of additional tools to master. Fresh weapons like the bow and arrow Tri-Stringer and the sword-like Splatana are a delight to use, and the game’s increased movement abilities — which give you even more ways to zip around the arena — will likely have competitive players devising increased strategies for months. But most importantly, Splatoon 3 solves my biggest frustration with previous releases: It’s finally easy to play on the same team as your friends in quick online matches.
“Previously in Turf War, you could get into rooms with your friends, but it would be randomized as to whether or not you could play on the same team,” says Trinen. “Now you’ll be able to actually form teams with friends and dive into Turf War and compete against, whether it’s other teams or random assortments of players. It just ensures that everybody who is able to play is able to do so in the way that they like.”
This online streamlining also extends to the co-operative (and wildly fun) Salmon Run mode, which has four players team up to take on increasingly difficult waves of Octarian enemies while securing precious golden eggs. The mode was previously only available at specific times of day, but in Splatoon 3, you can jump in the action whenever you want.
That’s not to say Splatoon 3 won’t have any special limited-time events. You can look forward to the occasional Big Run (basically a bigger, wilder Salmon Run) and the beloved Splatfests: Splatoon’s global, weekend long contests that have players settle classic debates (like Cake versus Ice Cream) by picking a side and racking up points on behalf of their team during matches.
Splatfests are Splatoon at its silliest and most fun, as players litter the in-game plaza with graffiti in support of their team before blasting special themed ink at one another (just imagine what a Ketchup versus Mayo fight looks like — it’s happened). And they’re getting even better for Splatoon 3, with new three-team Splatfests that culminate in a “mad free-for-all,” as Trinen describes them. I got a taste of the new Splatfest during the global “Rock, Paper, Scissors” online event that Nintendo recently held (team Scissors got robbed), and I can’t wait for more of its unique chaos.
Another great thing about Splatoon 3 is that it honors the time you put into the previous game — which, for some, is thousands of hours’ worth of hardcore competition. You can transfer your Splatoon 2 saves to the new game, which will get you some special in-game goodies. But more importantly, you’ll retain your player level from the previous game, meaning you’ll be matched up with opponents close to your skill level rather than being forced to decimate the poor souls jumping into the series for the first time. It’s a win-win for both parties.
“From the very beginning, you’ll be playing against people that are ostensibly the same level as you, whereas for those people that are coming over from Splatoon 2, they’ll immediately be able to get to more challenging and more adequately leveled matches right from the get-go,” says Trinen.
Much like Splatoon 2 before it, Nintendo is planning to support Splatoon 3 with at least two years’ worth of fresh content, including new sets of limited-time unlockable clothing items every season. Best of all, the vast majority of it will be free. Factor in a regular cadence of Splatfests (the next one kicks off on Sept. 23; you’ll pick between team Gear, Grub or Fun), Big Runs and new maps and weapons, and you’ll have plenty to keep yourself busy with for quite a while.
“I think it’s the combination of the changes to the mechanics, those new actions, the new weapons, how those change up the strategy. Honestly, I think a part of it also is just, especially a launch, this festival atmosphere, it’s going to be a big new influx of players wanting to be there to see that happen,” says Trinen on why hardcore Splatoon 2 fans might want to jump to the new game. “The fact that there’s so much new content in Splatoon 3 is, I think, really what’s going to be enticing for all of those Splatoon 2 players.”
And fret not — Trinen says Nintendo has no plans to shut down Splatoon 2 anytime soon, so you can still sharpen your skills in online battles to your heart’s content until you’ve decided you’re ready to move on.
Tips for new Splatoon players, directly from the source
While the series has a hardcore fan base dating back to its 2015 debut, Splatoon 3 will likely be many people’s first Splatoon game. As such, I couldn’t leave Trinen — who’s poured hundreds of hours into Splatoon 2, his most played Nintendo Switch game — without asking for some advice for folks entering the game’s colorfully chaotic arenas for the first time.
“I mean, the first that I would say is obviously story mode, [which is] a great place to go and get familiar with weapons, but Turf War is where you need to play to really get a sense of the multiplayer,” says Trinen. “The beautiful thing about Turf War is even if you’ve never played Splatoon before, even if you are the type of person who doesn’t normally play a traditional shooter, you can dive into Turf War and you can spend all of your time avoiding the other players and just inking as much ground as you can.”
Not only is Turf War a great experience for those who don’t typically play online shooters — as Nintendo witnessed at a recent gaming convention, it could be the perfect jumping-on point for the young gamer in your life.
“There was a guy who had brought, I think, his 6-year-old daughter to PAX West,” says Trinen. “She was playing Splatoon and she was running around with a roller, just inking the turf. When her team won, it was this incredible moment of joy from this little girl. It was so heartwarming.”
Based on my time with the game so far, I’m truly impressed with how much Splatoon 3 has to offer for all kinds of players, whether you’re looking for a fun Mario-style solo adventure, a super-competitive multiplayer experience or just a chill way to unwind with friends as you blast colorful ink all over the place. Just be warned that its bite-size matches can be very addictive — something I’ve learned from many hours of experience.
“The thing I love about Splatoon is that it’s all just such frenetic-paced gameplay,” says Trinen. “The matches are super short. They’re really intense, super fun. They end and you’re instantly like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I just want another round.’”
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