Splatoon 3 absolutely has me. I say this because it’s been a while since I played an early build of a game and couldn’t stop thinking about it in such a way. Having had the chance to play three levels from the single player campaign, some co-op Salmon Run, and some versus-mode Turf War, it absolutely has me already.
But before we get too far into it, I want to just say that a lot of what makes Splatoon 3 (so far) better than the previous game, is that it seems like Nintendo has actually listened to the player base. It’s less revolution, and more evolution, which is perhaps fair for a game that’s the third in the series. There’s a hub world, there’s loads of cute characters, but you know this from watching the Direct, so how does it actually play?
Starting with the single player Hero Mode, it’s difficult to say too much as the levels I played were without context from any cut-scenes or narrative. That said, each of the levels felt as creative as anything in the first game, albeit the early levels. There was also a distinct feeling that the Octo Expansion DLC has influenced things, as you start off each mission walking through the entrance to the level.
The big addition to Splatoon 3’s Hero Mode is Smallfry, a little Salmonid that you toss into the distance to reach things you otherwise couldn’t The first level required me to collect keys to open the exit to the level, and one was only reachable by using Smallfry to open up a paint-based rail to grind on. There’s still loads of gaps to fall into beneath you on the levels, and the enemies I saw was mostly the same as the previous games, but they’re still fun to kill, and placement of them feels like a tutorial to get used to the new weapons. For example, the bow-like “Tri-Stringer” can be charged or shot quickly. Once fired, three ink-strings fly out, and if you jump upward it’ll change from a sideways shot, to a vertical one.
Back in the hub, when you start a multiplayer match there’s now a lobby you can test out your gear in. It was here I discovered the Splatana Wiper, a sword-like weapon. I was looking for the roller, because I’m that guy, but the Wiper feels like a halfway combo between the roller and the bucket. Time will tell how it fairs in the meta, but the match I played using it I felt I did pretty well in, getting great coverage with the ink while also getting a decent amount of eliminations.
In terms of Turf War, I don’t have too much to report back on so far. The maps we played felt like good Splatoon maps, which is to say there’s nook and crannies you need to know about to ensure maximum coverage. As usual I was left wondering how often Nintendo should remind people that getting “kills” is not how you win at Splatoon: paint the floor, and keep out of trouble. Move and paint the floor with ink, people.
One of my favourite things from Splatoon 2 is back, in the form of Salmon Run: Next Wave. It feels like forever ago I would play it regularly, but it just has such a moreish, enjoyable feel to it. Defending yourself and your team still feels excellent, and much of what made it fun has returned. You still start with a random weapon, you can still revive teammates if they are downed, special weapons are still incredibly useful.
There are new boss Salmonids and returning favourites, but the biggest addition is egg throw. Here you can use ink to throw held eggs to other teammates, or just away from danger, and if you target the basket they will be thrown in. I’m not one hundred percent sure, but it seems the further you throw, the more ink used, which at least makes sense. It remains tough but fair, and requires coordination as you get into the third wave, but it’s still tremendous fun. Oh and most importantly, you can play it whenever you want; thank God.
Despite all of this, there’s plenty to get into when Splatoon 3 hits shelves in September. There’s loads of modes shown in the Nintendo Direct I didn’t get to see. Of course there’s also the question of how long the Hero Mode is, or if the quality can be maintained throughout. Regardless, I can’t stop thinking about Splatoon 3, because it so far feels like the culmination of a lot of learning from complaints combined with the unique, joyous entertainment it already offered. If this one can stick the landing, fans of the series might finally get everything they want and more. Fingers crossed.
Splatoon 3 is out on September 9th, exclusively for Nintendo Switch.