Splatoon 3 will pack in more of what fans have loved about Nintendo’s ink-’em-up series since its debut on Wii U seven years ago: more weapons, more stages, more stylish gear, more Splatfests, and more cooperative action in the game’s Salmon Run mode. Beyond the opportunity to once again splatter Inklings and Octolings (and stages) with goo in multiplayer modes, Splatoon 3 will bring with a robust new story mode, where players will unravel the mystery behind the Fuzzy Ooze.
But will that be enough to bring back the Splatoon faithful? Nintendo certainly seems to think so, and is banking on years’ worth of extra content and an already announced “large-scale paid DLC” offering to keep things fresh in the months to come.
Even the new and improved Salmon Run, which I played for a few rounds at a hands-on event in New York City last week, is a “mountain of content,” Nintendo’s Nate Bihldorff told me in a Zoom call.
“I sometimes need a break from from going at it with other live players,” Bihldorff said when asked about his favorite new addition in Splatoon 3. “I really love teaming up with my friends and taking on waves and waves of AI. I loved Salmon Run in Splatoon 2 and the way that they’ve beefed it up in Splatoon 3, just I’m just looking up this this giant mountain of content that I know I’m going to be climbing for the next couple of years.”
My time with Splatoon 3’s enhanced Salmon Run mode was chaotic and fun, even at a modest level of intensity. Bumping up that intensity showed just how unprepared I was for Splatoon 3’s take on Horde Mode mechanics, which Bihldorff said even veteran players will face some challenges in.
“They’ve added a whole bunch of new boss Salmonids that all need to be learned,” he said. “I feel like I was just mastering the ones from the last game [...] but the new ones require real mastery. And the extra wave that occasionally shows up with a King Salmonid [...] that brings a whole new level of intensity to the game. But the fact that [Salmon Run is] playable at all times means that it’s quite accessible and is easier to put put crews together to play [with].”
Splatoon newcomers, a group which I am part of, can brush up on the basic mechanics of being a squid kid in the far less intense single-player story mode. I splatted my way through a few levels in The Crater, a very introductory component of the Return of the Mammalians storyline where players will battle the hirsute Octarian Army. In single-player mode, I got reacquainted with Splatoon’s implementation of gyro-based aiming — which feels great, despite my general aversion to motion controls — and the multifaceted movement required to be a squid kid.
I also started to familiarize myself with Splatoon 3’s new moves, the Squid Surge, where I can quickly swim up inked walls, and the Squid Roll, which makes it possible to jump out of ink and quickly turn around, all while temporarily protected with a coat of liquid armor.
“It’s the combination of those two elements, that super armor and the rapid change of direction, that I think is going to really change the strategy [in multiplayer],” Nintendo’s Bill Trinen told me during a Zoom call. “I like to rush into the action, but what’s really tantalizing for me about the Squid Roll is this ability to rush into where there’s a group of the other team, drop a sub-weapon, [and] take a couple of them out as I’m doing a Squid Roll backward to be able to defend against their attempts to try to get at me.
“But in my head, the strategy that I’m hoping I’ll be able to perfect is sort of inking a wall in advance, popping out from behind a wall using Squid Roll to get back behind the wall using Squid Surge, just rocketing up the wall so that when the enemy comes around the corner to come after me, I’m actually coming down from above, and splatting them from where they’re least expecting it. Of course, now that I’ve told you that everybody’s gonna know this strategy.”
Trinen quickly admitted, “I haven’t actually pulled this off yet. This is sort of my dream scenario in my head.”
During my time in competitive Splatoon 3 multiplayer, I pulled off very few dream scenarios of my own. But I undeniably had fun trying out new weapons like the Splatana Wiper, a windshield wiper-inspired sword the emits gushes of ink with each swipe, and the Tri-Stinger, a three-pronged bowlike weapon that fires a wide horizontal splat when fired normally and a vertical splat while jumping. (It’s difficult to convey why landing a lengthy splatter shot while jumping with the Tri-Stringer feels so good, but it does.)
But Splatoon veterans and newcomers will have plenty to experiment with in Splatoon 3’s vast arsenal. There are dozens of ink guns, launchers, paint buckets, and bows to play with, plus new special weapons like the Tacticooler, a fridge that dispenses power-up beverages for your teammates, and the Reefslider, a weaponized pool float.
While multiplayer, both competitive and cooperative, is the clear longterm draw in Splatoon 3, the single-player story mode appears to share the same levels of inventiveness and polish of any other Nintendo game. Spending a bit of time in early levels set in The Crater, I found platforming and movement puzzles a-plenty.
“Oftentimes in Splatoon, I think the single-player mode gets overshadowed by just all of the everything that’s going on in the multiplayer side of the game,” Trinen said. “And that mode is one that’s seen quite a bit of evolution as well, particularly in between the levels. I think a lot of people kind of see it as a bit of maybe an enhanced tutorial — which in some ways it is — but it’s still also just incredibly packed with what is I think a Nintendo strength, which is just really great platforming level design. I think people, as they dive into it and start to kind of dig into everything that that mode has to offer in Splatoon 3, are going to be I think pleasantly surprised because it’s just a ton of fun. It’s got some great boss battles in there [and] the overall creativity within the platforming is top notch.”
Nintendo Switch owners will get a taste of Splatoon 3’s updated offerings this week, with the Splatfest World Premiere demo. That limited-time demo will include a peek at the new Tricolor Turf Wars, where three teams, in a 2v4v2 format, will fight for dominance in the first online Splatfest event for Splatoon 3. Demo players can try out a variety of weapons and new gameplay techniques for this weekend’s big battle, which will pit Team Rock, Team Paper, and Team Scissors against each other on Aug. 27.
Splatoon 3 launches in full on Sept. 9 on Nintendo Switch.