Splatoon 3 Multiplayer Review: A Sequel That’s Still Fresh

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 2 of my review featuring the multiplayer content. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend reading Part 1 of my Splatoon 3 review as well.

Splatoon should be a franchise dead in the water. The first game was released in 2015 on the Wii U. It was a new and unproven IP on a home console that 95% the gaming community had dismissed. Everything was going against this little game. And yet, it swam against that current and accomplished so much. It sold just shy of 5 million units, and it slightly renewed interest in the Wii U — though nothing could truly save that system by 2015. Still, the game showed just enough promise to merit sequels on the Switch.

Fast-forward to today, and Splatoon 3 is the current record-holder as the fastest-selling video game in Japan. Let that sink in for a bit: Splatoon 3 is selling faster in Japan than any Final Fantasy, Pokemon, Dragon Quest, or Animal Crossing game ever has. It’s performing great around the world, too, but it has absolutely flooded through the Japanese gaming landscape. It’s safe to say that Splatoon is a new major IP for Nintendo, as important as any Mario or Zelda title, and it will be a key part of their software development for the future.

As I said in Part 1 of my review, Splatoon 2 was one of my favorite Switch games in 2017; the game reminds me of my last summer break, enjoying a few precious weeks of uninterrupted free time before such time would have to be earned, hoarded, and strategically spent as part of working in a Capitalistic society. It was an online multiplayer shooter that appealed to both me and my partner, and that alone is something worth praising.

So after trying all of the multiplayer modes and experiencing both the Testfire and the game’s first official Splatfest in late September, how does Splatoon 3 stack up to Splatoon 2?

Are you Turf enough?

Splatoon’s bread-and-butter multiplayer is Turf War. The object of this mode is to ink as much surface area as you can, and the team that has the most paint on the ground wins. Splatting opponents is still very important, but getting kills on its own won’t win the match. Since you’re on a team, new players can simply avoid enemies and focus on painting, and these people can still contribute a lot for their team’s win. Turf War was part of the original concept for 2015’s Splatoon, and that core gameplay remains mostly unchanged in this third entry. However, Turf War remains the most unique online shooter in the entire video game industry, and that alone earns its spot on the Wifi airwaves. I find it rather ironic that Battle Royale genre was invented after Splatoon, and yet the former’s elements have dispersed much faster in other shooters, diluting its impact with every imitation. A popsicle is tasty, sure, but not after it’s been sitting in a cup of water. Turf War, on the other hand, remains concentrated to this plucky Nintendo series, and thereby remains more flavorful.

The best refinement to Splatoon 3‘s Turf War over its predecessors is the lobby system. You can freely invite your friends right inside the game, you don’t need a full squad of 4 to play together (the game will put other random players with you), and you can practice your moveset as you wait to be matched with someone else. These sound like industry standards (and they are), but this is a massive leap forward from the simple waiting menus of Splatoon 2. There’s still no readily accessible voice chat, which is still an oversight, but there’s at least a ping system that covers the most essential information, and Discord is an easy substitute for voice chat with friends. I understand that many online gamers might not have found Splatoon 2 appealing in 2017, but I think Splatoon 3‘s improvements merit these gamers to take another look.

The maps you play on are on a constant rotation — every 2 hours the maps will change, giving you just enough time to learn and master a map’s layout without having them become stale. The maps are an assortment of quality, but I appreciate how each one has a decent amount of hiding places, verticality, and moving mechanics. For my money, my favorite map is Wahoo World with its central tower and my least favorite is Hammerhead Bridge, which is little more than a narrow corridor.

After Turf War, there are more competitive modes of play that you can access by choosing Anarchy Battles. The mode on offer will alternate every few hours, cycling between Splat Zones, Rainmaker, Tower Control, and Clam Blitz. These matches will rank you higher or lower based on your performance, and will match you with people of the same rank as you. I didn’t exactly enjoy these modes very much in Splatoon 2, and seeing as these modes are mostly unchanged in the sequel, I’m not exactly interested in them here, either. I’m honestly surprised Nintendo didn’t add another mode here, as it seemed like the most logical thing to do.

Salmon Run’s new events make it a lot more fun than it used to be. I actually enjoy it now.

Salmon Run is Now a Home Run

Splatoon 2 added a co-op mode called Salmon Run, in which you have to fight off against hoards of Salmon and collect Golden Eggs before the timer runs out or before your team gets wiped out. It was tense, and I never really made it that far in Splatoon 2 with this mode. However, I’m happy to say that Splatoon 3 adds quite a few welcome additions to Salmon Run that make it much more interesting. Not only did they add more unique Salmon Bosses, but several events will happen now during your Salmon Run that shake things up considerably, like Salmon flying in from the sky on floating Styrofoam coolers or an invasion by a massive Salmon kaiju called Cohozuna. And just like with Turf War, Salmon Run’s lobby system got a much-appreciated overhaul. Maybe it’s the better lobbying system, maybe it’s the new events, or maybe the mechanics finally clicked with me (more likely all of the above), but I enjoyed Salmon Run a lot more this time around than I did in Splatoon 2. While Nintendo failed to add a shiny new multiplayer shooter mode, they did at least fix Salmon Run, which for me might as well be a new mode since I’m actually playing it this time.

Tableturf Battle is actually a lot more fun than you’d think.

Strangely enough, Splatoon 3 adds a card game version of Turf War called Tableturf Battle. You play cards that ink a specific pattern of square tiles in your color. The object is to cover more tiles than your opponent, and inking around specific squares will charge up special attacks. You can play against the computer first and then try your hand online against other players. You can collect dozens of different cards and customize several different decks based around different strategies. It’s not the flashy new mode that I was looking for in a sequel, but I’m surprised by how much depth it has. It’s a charming minigame.

It’s Open Splatting Season

Splatoon has always had a focus on fashion, embracing the counter-culture aesthetic of the ’90s and presenting it in a fresh new way. Clothing is not only a fashion statement, but also gives you ability slots that improve various skills for your multiplayer matches, like making you swim faster or more ink in your tank. These abilities are given randomly, but there are ways to collect these slots and strategically put your favorite power-ups on your favorite threads. One of my favorite parts of Splatoon is just roaming around the city and checking out everyone’s fashion (as well as the memes), and my partner is even more into this than I am.

I actually really like customizing my locker.

Splatoon 3 takes the customization even further with emotes, name tags, and your very own locker to decorate yourself. The locker is the most robust, with stickers, pictures, clothes, weapons, and other doodads you put inside. The locker doesn’t seem like much, but there’s a Animal Crossing-esque appeal to getting items and decorating your locker however you like, just like a house.

With all of these customization options comes one of Splatoon 3‘s biggest additions: the Catalog. The Catalog feels like Nintendo’s take on Season Passes so prevalent in most modern games. By playing in online matches, you increase your Catalog level, which unlocks several goodies like the afore-mentioned emotes, name tags, and locker items. However, there are no microtransactions — you get these by playing the actual game. Now, as an incentivizing tool, I don’t care for the Catalog. As I’ve said before, Seasons with their rotation of limited-time goodies just make me want to not bother. I’m an adult; I don’t have time to grind to Catalog Level 90 just so that my inkling can dab. However, I applaud Nintendo’s decision to leave out microtransactions. Nintendo may be trying to put you into a hamster wheel, but they’re at least not taking money from your pockets while you’re running, the way that Activision or Ubisoft do. I’m worried that Nintendo will change their mind for the inevitable Splatoon 4, but for now I’m content with the Catalog. It’s a benign tumor.

Is Splatfest Still Best?

Splatfests remain my favorite online event in the industry. Having a monthly themed contest where you compete on big teams is a fantastic way to bring the community together and create even more ridiculous memes. This time around Splatoon 3 has gotten rid of the Shifty Stations, special maps with gimmicks made exclusively for Splatfests, and have instead introduced three-way Splatfests. Now you can pick one of three teams and midway through the Splatfest participate in a Tricolor battle where the team in the lead will have to face off against the other two.

Splatfests are still fun, and I’m looking forward for the next few years of them, but overall I prefer the Shifty Stations of Splatoon 2 over the Tricolor Battles of Splatoon 3. The Shifty Stations were just so unique with the different things they would do — moving platforms, rails, rollers, spotlight paint bombs — they reminded me of the fun level gimmicks from the single-player mode but applied to a multiplayer setting.

So far three-way Splatfests and Tricolor Battles have been underwhelming by comparison. The demo Splatfest was Rock vs. Paper vs. Scissors, which isn’t all that interesting of a theme, and September’s Splatfest of “what would you bring to a deserted island?” (Gear vs. Grub vs. Fun) was only marginally better. On paper Tricolor Battles sound really fun, having all three teams battling at once, but the major problem with Tricolor Battles is that you’re playing on the same maps as the normal matches. Those maps are designed for two teams, and it’s plain to see that the team caught in the middle is terribly outmaneuvered. If anything, Splatoon 3 needs Shifty Stations more than Splatoon 2 did, just to have something designed with the three teams in mind.

I admit, I enjoyed Splatoon 3‘s single-player content more than its multiplayer. This third entry hasn’t exactly revolutionized the series, but it has introduced many welcome refinements. The core gameplay loop has only gotten better, while some of the auxiliary elements may need further refining. Hopefully these are easily adjustable as the game updates over the next few years. Misfires and all, I find it more fun than Splatoon 2, and in the end that’s what matters the most. I’m tapping my ink gun’s trigger with anticipation for the years of new events ahead.

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