Nintendo’s Splatoon 3 offers another instalment of the surprisingly kid-friendly third-person puzzle/shooter.
Originally a Nintendo Wii U game, with 2015’s Splatoon, the sequel, Splatoon 2, was released in 2017 as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. This third iteration is more of the same, which is a good thing as the concept is rather unique and the games are fun to play.
Splatoon 3 offers up three ways to play: single-player, competitive multiplayer, and 4-person multiplayer co-op. The online multiplayer requires membership to Nintendo’s online subscription service which has a free 7-day trial. The game has no split-screen multiplayer mode, but the single-player element only is available to all for the retail price of the game with no extra subscription fees.
The single-player story mode follows on from that of the last game in being set on a future earth where the ocean’s creatures have evolved to walk on the land. Players take on the role of a customisable “inkling”, a creature that has evolved from a squid.
The player’s character has two forms: one humanoid and the other looking like a squid without tentacles. In humanoid form players can fire an ink gun, covering floors and walls with ink splats, The ink can also be used to activate objects and dispatch enemies. As a squid, the player can swim under ink splats, quickly across floors, and even up walls. If it’s covered in your ink you can move through it. If it’s another colour ink it’ll slow you down, or even injure your character. In squid form, your character can also pass through mesh objects.
Players have a partner in Little Buddy, a smallfry fish friend. Little Buddy can be thrown to activate objects out of reach, as well as charged up to remove fuzzy ooze blocking your path.
The characters all talk in gobbledegook with subtitles. Great for the developer’s localisation budget, but pretty bad for kids who may struggle to follow the story. Not that there’s much in the way of a tale to be told.
To be honest, the plot serves only to link the engrossing gameplay across the various lands. The game is structured across areas that have players following a path which in turn branches out to separate puzzle-filled levels that need to be solved. The genius of the single-player campaign is how simple game mechanics are utilised to create complex and challenging puzzles.
Walls need to be inked and climbed, jumps timed, and painted overhead rails traversed. Activating objects move walls into place and opens up new paths. There are also enemies that need to be avoided or splatted with ink. It’s not a particularly hard game, but a lot of fun. Even the bosses, a gameplay element that I’m not fond of are not too much trouble.
As fun as the game is, the levels do start to all feel the same after a while, as they begin to feel just like different combinations of the same puzzle elements. It’s a minor criticism, but one that may stop you from returning to the solo story in a hurry.
The multiplayer component of the game explains the social hub, Splatsville, which players are dumped into at the start. In this area, there are shops selling equipment and customisations, the vendors of which are very quick to remind you to buy an online subscription if you haven’t already.
To be fair, Nintendo’s Switch Online service is the cheapest out of all the console online subscriptions, not only offering online play, but also cloud saves and access to a few classic Nintendo games and other perks. The Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack membership adds some Nintendo 64 games and expansions like the Animal Crossing Happy Home Paradise DLC.
With Nintendo Switch Online membership, the online component becomes seamlessly integrated into the game. The competitive multiplayer comes in two flavours: turf war and anarchy battles. Both pit two teams of four against each other. Turf war has the teams charged with covering as much of the arena with their ink colour whilst dispatching members of the opposing team.
Anarchy battles are ranked matches with four game types: clam blitz- with the teams collecting clams whilst avoiding opponent ink splats, splat zones- the teams battling each other whilst trying to cover zones in their ink, tower control- a domination style mode with teams attacking and defending a tower and rainmaker- a Splatoon reversal of capture the flag where teams have to put the rainmaker in the opposing side’s area.
The co-op online mode, Salmon Run Next Wave, requires a player to have reached level 3 in the other multiplayer modes. Once unlocked another lobby area becomes available and after a training session, players can join up to three other players in defeating boss Salmonids and collecting their golden eggs.
I was impressed by the lobby wait times, which seem to be less than a minute pretty much at any time. There’s nothing worse than a finely-crafted multiplayer element that nobody is playing- which is not the case with Splatoon 3. The multiplayer games are very fast-paced and a lot of fun. Don’t let the bright colours and ink guns fool you, it’s as competitive as a Call of Duty game and just as exhilarating.
The default aiming controls take a bit of getting used to. In handheld mode, the game uses the Switch’s built-in movement sensors. As you move the switch, the crosshairs move in the game. I found it a bit of a gimmick. Playing on a TV with a Pro controller was even worse. Thankfully the movement controls can be switched off and the joystick used instead. A found the Switch Pro controller to be an absolute godsend in multiplayer, but I am more used to a controller in my hands when it comes to other shooters than the Joycons.
The game looks really good, be it on the small switch screen or a TV. The framerate is slick and smooth. The unique character designs top off a very polished presentation.
As a parent, Splatoon 3 is a shooter that I’m very happy with my kids playing. With popular cartoony-looking games like Fortnite featuring very real weapons, Splatoon 3 is comparatively innocuous, even for young kids. The multiplayer games, as well, offer all the fun of an online shooter but in a way that is much more age-appropriate for younger kids.
I had a lot of fun with both Splatoon 3’s story campaign and the online multiplayer modes. The single-player mode offers a moderate challenge with the multiplayer still being deceptively competitive. On the whole, is another solid entry for Nintendo’s portable gaming console.