Splatoon 3 Preview: Same Squid, Fresh Ink

Splatoon 3 Preview: Same Squid, Fresh Ink

Splatoon 3, like the games in the series before it, still feels unique compared to anything else in the Nintendo library. I’ve said it before, but a third-person shooter, even one as low-impact and family-friendly as this, is about the last thing I ever expected Nintendo to produce.

So, of course, it’s wildly popular and boasts a fierce competitive scene that has attracted an army of fans.

I spent around two hours with Splatoon 3 at Nintendo’s Australian office on Tuesday afternoon, and what I felt was a game dedicated to filing down the last of the franchise’s rough edges. We played three modes: a few levels from the solo campaign, and several rounds of Turf War and Salmon Run.

I’ll start with the multiplayer because that’s what I think will be the bigger draw.

We played three rounds apiece of Turf War and Salmon Run. Both of these modes are unchanged from what you already know and like.

Turf War is a game about covering every square inch of the game’s level with paint. Shooting other squidlings with your weapon of choice will kill them and stop them from painting. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of trying to get kills on the board, but it’s not how you win the match. At the end of the round, the winner is decided by the percentage of the map they managed to cover in paint. In our first round, we into the kills trap immediately, losing ground rapidly and never clawing it back. The next two rounds were much closer, with the third and final round coming down to a coverage difference of one or two per cent.

Salmon Run is a four-player co-operative horde mode where players have to work together to survive wave after wave of enemies. The goal is to collect eggs dropped by powerful enemies and return them to a central hub. The stakes get higher as rounds increase. The whole squad’s weapons are randomised round-to-round, and enemy waves arrive more frequently. Working together to play the objective, no matter what the game throws at you, is the key to victory. In Splatoon 2, Salmon Run was a mode that would only appear in “shifts”, or at certain times of the day. The community loved the mode but hated that they could only play it on the game’s terms. In Splatoon 3, Salmon Run can finally be played at any time. I can see why they liked it so much. Cooperative PvE is always fun, and Salmon Run doesn’t make it easy. You need a cohesive team strategy if you want to get the W. This can be difficult, given that the game doesn’t support online chat, but you can always use the built-in emotes (or just start a Discord call on your phone like a normal person).

Within these modes lie a pair of brand-new weapons. The first, a paint roller wielded like a sword, is a specialist, short-to-medium range melee weapon with serious stopping power. However, it also stops your character, holding them in place while they perform a perfect kata. It’s useful for paint spread, but it creates risk/reward situations in combat. If you miss your foe with the first strike, you’ll be left motionless for half a second, long enough for a wary foe to melt you. The second is a burst damage bow-and-arrow. The weapon can be spammed with the right trigger for paint spread, or held down for a charged shot. With both feet planted on the ground, the bow will fire three projectiles in a horizontal arc in front of you. If fired while jumping, the projectiles will be shot vertically. Between the two, my personal preference was for the bow by a mile, but in the right hands, I can see the sword roller being a real nuisance.

Obviously, we were playing on a still-in-development build so nothing could be considered final. The balance of these weapons may have changed by the time the game is in your hands.

Though our experience with the single-player was constrained and fairly short (the result of Nintendo’s well-known spoiler paranoia), what did play reminded me of the Splatoon 2 campaign. It struck me as a hub-and-spoke design: lots of smaller maps grouped by area, full of their own interstitial puzzles and fights. It all felt quite good, and like it was designed to create a kind of flow. You’ve always got a good idea of where to go and what to try next, and you can move about quickly using your ink for traversal.

Controls remained much the same as I remembered them from Splatoon 1 & 2, and that includes the return of the motion controls. Our build was running on Pro Controllers, so your mileage may vary, but the motion controls were not for me. I’m sure they allow certain players to aim with deadly accuracy. For me, they produce the opposite effect, and so were quickly switched off.

Though we only got to see a little of the customisation options, I did get to play around with my squid kid’s look. As in previous games, what I saw of Splatoon 3‘s cosmetics feels like it perfectly captures the TikTok-borne youth fashion of the moment. Nintendo has gotten very good at making their squid kids look and dress like real kids. Colourful sneakers, slouchy fits, and a wide array of hats let you give your squidling a sense of real personality. My go-to was for a comfortable tee, flashy Jordans and a cowboy hat. It was all covered in paint in seconds, but I feel I made it work.

And so, for now, that’s really all I can talk about. What I played of Splatoon 3 felt very Splatoon-y. If you’re a fan of this series, I’d say there’s reason to be excited. I’d like to spend more time with the campaign before I made a recommendation on it as a single-player package, and will do so when our review code arrives. But the multiplayer, the game’s bread-and-butter, felt as good as I remembered. Salmon Run was a solid co-op experience that made me glad we were playing in a LAN setting and could yell out to each other. Turf War is still a mode that can get you lost in the sauce, a clever twist on an old-school team deathmatch.

I’m hungry for more multiplayer, and I think that’s the highest compliment I can pay a preview build.

Splatoon 3 will launch September 9, 2022, exclusively for Nintendo Switch.

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