Splatoon 3 Single-Player Review: Splat-tastic Splat-forming

Splatoon 3 is a 3rd-Person Shooter developed and published by Nintendo. It was released in September 2022 as a Nintendo Switch Exclusive. MSRB is $60. This is Part 1 of my review featuring the Single-Player campaign.

Splatoon 2 is the kind of game that can immediately transport me back to the past. It came out in the summer of 2017, my final summer break before I finished grad school and entered adulthood as a therapist. My partner and I spent many summer evenings together with Splatoon 2 — I’d coach her on enemy locations and hiding spots I found on the map. The game came out long before I was writing on this blog, but that didn’t stop me from singing its praises. I wrote a game design analysis over a year after it was released, and I spoke a few words to mark the final Splatfest of the game in the summer of 2019. My taste in video games was so very different back then. You can feel the distain for FPS games leaking out of the words in those blog posts.

Video games, especially online multiplayer games, have changed a lot since 2017. I’ve changed a lot since 2017. I actually like First-Person Shooter games now. I’m a lot more open-minded about new and unfamiliar genres, and I think Splatoon 2 played a large role in helping me break out of my closed-mindedness. We’ll tackle its multiplayer elements in the next blog post, but today I wanted to focus on Splatoon 3‘s single-player campaign, because it’s honestly a substantial part of the game. I’ve played some classic FPS campaigns now, including the Halo Master Chief Collection, Doom (1993), and Titanfall 2. And while it may not be as impactful as those masterpieces, it’s still an amazing experience that comes rather close.

In other words, if you’re the type of player that just plays shooters for the single-player content and don’t care for the multiplayer (like how I am with most FPS games), then you’re in luck: Splatoon 3‘s single-player mode is worth the purchase all on its own.

After a quick introductory prologue, you’ll find yourself trapped in a chasm beneath the Splatlands. The scorching desert on the surface gives way to a bizarre arctic landscape surrounded by an even more bizarre fuzzy goop. Your captain went missing down this chasm and it’s up to you to find him and figure out what’s causing the fuzz to spread.

I can’t get enough of the Sonic Adventure-esque rail-grinding levels

Splatoon 3‘s single player campaign features a hubworld where you can freely enter levels and challenges, not unlike Princess Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64. Completing levels earns you power eggs, which you can use to clear away fuzz and unlock more areas. Like Super Mario 64, progression is mostly nonlinear, meaning you can tackle almost any level in any order you choose, and you don’t need to complete every level in order to progress. In fact, you could probably speed through the entire affair in just 2 to 4 hours if you skip the optional areas. However, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you did, because almost every level showcases Nintendo’s Gold Standard of level design.

Splatoon presents a genius new idea where shooting and moving are in perfect harmony: shooting ink helps you move faster; swimming in ink helps you refill. They’re two sides of the same coin. And like any good idea, it branches off into dozens of other good ideas. Every weapon changes both how you shoot and how you move. Chargers, for example, are good at sniping from a distance, giving you a straight vertical alley of ink to move in. Brushes, on the other hand, are better for a close-range swipe, giving you this quick rhythm of brush-dive-brush-dive. It’s easy to dismiss Splatoon’s single-player campaign as just a tutorial to teach you how each weapon works, but the game goes far beyond that. It treats each weapon like a platforming gimmick from a Super Mario Bros. game. It’ll start out by teaching you the basic functions, sure, but then the ideas just expand ever outward. The level design is on-par with Super Mario 3D World, if not even better.

By far the best levels are with the Zipcaster, Splatoon 3’s version of the hookshot.

By far my favorite levels are the ones that utilize the special attacks, and in particular I love the Zipcaster. It’s essentially a Zelda hookshot, but you’ll be using it in more unique ways, like zipping inside a column to avoid snipers and finding the right spot to take them out. I often went back to these levels, just because zipping around was so much fun, and I wanted to get some more practice in with it before trying it out in multiplayer.

You’ll find plenty of secrets hidden both in the levels and in the overworld. Some of these are tickets you can use for multiplayer matches, some are cosmetic collectibles, and some will help you power up in the campaign’s skill tree. The skill tree feels rather perfunctory — most games have a skill tree now, and this one stands out about as much as a Douglas Fir in the Pacific Northwest (meaning, it doesn’t). But the skill tree gives me an excuse to go back to the levels and enjoy their elegant design over and over again. I wish the theming of the levels was as strong as the overworld (they’re just floating platforms), and there’s quite a steep difficulty curve, but even as the game kicked me out like I didn’t belong, I felt compelled to keep coming back.

The story is mostly nonexistent, but it’s still a big step-up from previous Splatoon games.

The campaign’s story is mostly nonexistent save for the very beginning and very end. Along the way you’ll stumble across scraps of lore, and if you’re a fan of the previous games like me, they’ll give you plenty to chew on. Behind Splatoon’s fun and colorful exterior is actually quite a dark premise for how this cephalopod-dominated world came to be. While it never gets as emotional or cinematic as Halo: Reach or Titanfall 2, the campaign’s final gauntlet ramps up the production values very quickly. And the ending is nothing short of epic.

Splatoon 3 is a fantastic game, and while you certainly have enough multiplayer content to keep you busy for a long time, I recommend you don’t sleep on the single-player campaign either. You’d be missing out on some of the best level design Nintendo has put out since their most recent 3D Mario games.

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