Splatoon 3 is not a triumphant conclusion of a trilogy or a dramatic reset of the canon. This game has no intentions of changing the psychic image you and I have of Nintendo’s giddy, breezy team shooter. Once again, you will step behind the guise of a punky, sneering squid-teen hybrid, with instructions to coat the entire map with your national colors. So, in a concrete mausoleum, I blasted down my foes with a paint-filled shotgun, I charged up my ultimate, I submerged into the inky morass to avoid the counter attack. Yes, Splatoon 3 is peacefully, plainly Splatoon, and I don’t think anyone has a problem with that.
In an hour of gameplay at a recent preview event, I churned through a small slice of the single player campaign — which is consistently an overlooked highlight of the series. As usual, I used the sheer power of paint to solve a handful of incisive, clockwork puzzles – skiffing through a pathway made of muck, blobbing across a highwire, and so on – with a distinct, Mario-ish flair.
Splatoon 3 – 132 Screenshots
In a commercial environment where multiplayer shooters are shedding their singleplayer components to an alarming degree, it’s nice to see that Splatoon remains dedicated to an increasingly lost art. I played a few rounds of Salmon Run, which should be familiar to anyone who fell in love with the mode in Splatoon 2. A desert island is besieged by an endless stream of evil robots; we defeat them and deposit their eggs into a repository as the horde regroups and grows stronger with each passing wave. Turf War is as traditional as ever, with a bevy of new stages and new armaments. One debuting special weapon, the Ink Vac, sucks up enemy paint and fires it back like an atom bomb of violent color. It’s the sort of mechanic that, when used correctly, can turn the tide of a match all by itself.
Most of the work Nintendo has done is on the margins. Players can now choose their spawn points on the map, almost like they’re dropping in from a Fortnite battle bus, which allows for on-the-fly reinforcements like, say, a Battlefield bottleneck between control points. Squidlings can also fling themselves up and over walls with a “Squid Surge,” which allows skilled marksmen to get the drop on an enemy team with ruthlessly efficient tactical precision. (The same goes for the Squid Jump, where combatants can quickly dart out of ink while still in squid form.) Both of these are subtle additions, but they’ll absolutely shake up the Splatoon 3 metagame — raising the skill cap just a little bit higher.
But by far the most radical new feature coming to the Splatoon formula is an honest-to-god card game, called Tableturf Battle, where Nintendo has filtered the base principles of the Splatoon blueprint – cover the board with as much of your paint as possible – into the tenets of a Magic: The Gathering-style throwdown. Nintendo didn’t make the mode available to play, but representatives confirmed that players will be earning cards while engaging with the full expanse of Splatoon 3’s gameplay. Will Tableturf Battle catch fire and spindle off its own devoted competitive scene like The Witcher’s Gwent? Only time will tell.
In fact, throughout the Splatoon 3 demo, it seemed clear that Nintendo was emphasizing more player customization this time out — your own bespoke collection of Tableturf cards are just the tip of the iceberg. New emotes and cosmetics will be hitting the game in three-month intervals, and all the inklings will have their own lockers to show off the items and stickers they’ve accrued during those throwdowns in the field. The development team is even adding Call of Duty-style banners to sheathe your username, which brings a bit of old-school PC-gaming splendor to the sun-drenched lands of Inkopolis. Splatoon 3’s ESRB rating hints that the game will have microtransactions, and ideally, those additions won’t feel onerous — like, say, the loot boxes of yore. An exclusionary Splatoon would go against the game’s core ethos, but we won’t know exactly how the monetization feels until we get our hands on it ourselves. [Editor’s Note: Nintendo sent along this clarifcation, telling IGN, “Splatoon 3 will have no microtransactions. A Nintendo Switch Online membership is required to use the game’s online features, so users who do not have a membership will encounter an in-game invitation to purchase one, which is the reason for the ESRB rating.”]
But there should be no apprehensions about Splatoon 3’s overarching gameplay and presentation. Nintendo has polished the maxims of this series to a mirror shine, and it only takes an hour to know that the team hasn’t lost a step. Would it be nice if the game took a few more risks? Maybe, but Splatoon hasn’t outstayed its welcome. At this point, it’s hard to know if it ever will.