Nintendo has a bit of a reputation for changing things up significantly with sequels. Major new Mario games often feature new gimmicks and mechanics, and we’re always left to wait years between Zelda games, despite the fact that Nintendo could get away with pumping them out Assassin’s Creed style if it so wished. Some franchises sit dormant in part because developers are struggling to come up with a sufficiently new and fresh idea. But Splatoon ain’t F-Zero - and it’s thriving with a different, arguably more traditional approach.
Nintendo habits are somewhat bucked in Splatoon 3, which continues on from both of its predecessors in a more gently iterative way than is the norm for Nintendo. This is a slightly different approach to most Nintendo sequels - this will be the third Splatoon in seven years, quite a quick pace for a Nintendo franchise - but it fits what Splatoon is.
Specifically, it fits the game’s emergence as a competitive powerhouse and online multiplayer success quite well. To some degree it might feel slightly outdated - other online shooters are going free-to-play with battle passes and DLC - while Splatoon is serving up yet another sequel. At the same time, however, there’s a pleasure to this sort of release: you know what you’re getting in your box or download, and know that it’ll be well-supported with events and updates for a reliable period of time post-release, just as the first and second games in this series were.
So, what’s new? Well - just about everything you’d expect. There are new weapons, stages, gear, and styles - with the latter offering plenty of breadth to satisfy Splatoon’s dedicated fashion scene. Elsewhere, the universe-expanding ideas of Splatoon 2 are continued with things like a new online lobby, more Salmon run challenges, and new single-player missions that thread together into a loosely-told story mode.
As part of the hands-on I got to experience three levels of this story mode. Each level is reached from a central hub, which itself is accessed by hopping down a manhole in Splatsville Square, a city zone that serves as Splatoon 3’s main menu. Within the story mode’s hub, Mario Sunshine-esque barriers of slick paint will prevent you from progressing too far out-of-order, but in this hands-on at least I had access to several different missions at any given time, meaning you can tackle things in at least a partially open-ended manner.
The three story missions I played are from early on in the adventure, but it’s clear why Nintendo wanted us to play them: they show off the single-player’s purpose as a training tool for helping less-experienced players get to grips with Splatoon 3’s action. The first I played barely had any combat, for instance - it was instead about traversing a level in mini platforming puzzles that forced you to use every one of your basic paint-spreading tools in order to collect keys and advance.
As I progressed through the three levels on offer, each layered on more elements of complexity - getting to grips with special moves, grenades, and using paint splatter from certain weapon types to damage enemies that are fast-moving or armored. It’s the best sort of tutorial, by which I mean it doesn’t feel like a tutorial at all. That’s a winner from Nintendo, a company that sometimes gets a little too laser-focused on the hand-holding.
Elsewhere, it’s so far, so Splatoon, y’know? I played several turf war matches (though sadly not any three-way matches, new for this game) and Salmon Run matches, giving me a look at Splatoon’s version of a classic multiplayer shooter action and a ‘horde’ mode - both are great, but both also feel fundamentally as they did in Splatoon 2. What’s going to change in this game is probably beyond me, where new weapons and other minor tweaks will add up to a big difference in the online meta. What matters, however, is that everything feels just as good in this title as in its predecessor, if not better.
The very nature of Splatoon 3 makes it a bit of a difficult game to preview, then. There isn’t that much to say. Do you like Splatoon? If you do, this sure is some more Splatoon, expertly crafted, that’s sure to satisfy. If you’re new to the series, Splatoon 3 will prove an ideal jumping-on point, with a smart tutorial in the form of its new story mode, more accessible and understandable weapons, and more customization than ever before.
Fans wanted more; Nintendo is giving it to them. Crucially, not every release needs to reinvent the wheel - and I’m perfectly happy to get one more tightly-wound Splatoon experience that can deliver thrilling online action. This third outing looks like it’ll be just that - I look forward to seeing exactly how it stacks up like-for-like in the final release.
Splatoon 3 is set to release on September 9, 2022. If you can’t wait until then, you can download the Splatfest World Premiere in order to experience some tutorials and online matches during a 12-hour demo on August 27.