Splatoon 3 proves there's plenty of life left in Nintendo's squiddy shooter

Ink up!

There’s something incredibly satisfying about shooting ink.

Nintendo’s Splatoon franchise allows you to wield the gooey stuff without scaring a cephalopod or breaking your pen. Since the first entry was released on the Wii U in 2015, players have been splashing neon-colored goop to change a map, glide around, or take down an enemy. Turning into a squid to avoid damage and reload your ink also helps the series stand out from every other shooter around.

The latest entry, Splatoon 3, out September 9, takes that core gameplay loop and adds just enough updates to keep the game from stinking like week-old tuna.

An Octoling, Inkling, and a loving manta ray. Nintendo

“The Splatoon development team has done a great job at nailing down an incredibly tight and unique mechanic that you don't see in other games in the genre, then finding ways to expand and evolve those mechanics,” Nate Bihldorff, SVP of Product Development and Publishing at Nintendo tells Inverse.

A Pearl in the Rough

If you’ve played the other Splatoon games, you’ll have no issue getting into the third entry. As an adorable inkling or octoling (each having its own invertebrate-based hairstyle and backstory), you use your wits and ink to compete in a number of different maps and game modes. Transforming into a squid remains as fun and polished as ever. By pressing L on your controller, you’ll shapeshift to get more ink ammo, climb up walls or surprise enemies.

Nintendo

“That central mechanic of ink as a vehicle, an offensive weapon, and a defensive playstyle is still unmatched in the field,” Bihldorff says. “It's the entire package of Splatoon that sets it apart.”

A few small tweaks have been added into the mix, too. Squid Surge allows you to hold down your jump button while traveling up a vertical surface to traverse the wall in a single burst. The Squid Roll lets you jump out of the ink while turning around. These additions won’t change the feel of the game, but do offer a more robust toolset to those willing to master the art of the ink.

There are also a plethora of weapons to use, both new and old. Classic ink-based weaponry like the roller, the brush, and the shooter all return, along with a couple of new ways to mark your territory. The Splatana Wiper is a sword that can splat enemies in melee range or be charged up to shoot a much longer line of ink. Meanwhile, Tri-Stringer shoots three ink bullets that explode. They add a whole new level of strategy that is sure to shake up the game. Though my time with them was limited, the katana was super fun to wield once I got the hang of it and seemed fairly balanced.

“Clearly aiming and shooting is required to win, but none of the other shooters require you to aim and shoot at the ground as a tactic,” Bihldorff says.

Modes of Mayhem

But what fun would all of these updates be without a sandbox to play in them? Splatoon 3 brings back a few of the franchises’ most popular modes, like the 4-vs-4 multiplayer Turf War and the horde mode Salmon Run. New maps, like Scorch Gorge, Eeltail Alley, and Hagglefish Market add another level of strategy. Scorch Gorge was my favorite, as it had plenty of places to hide as well as take advantage of ink-splatting mayhem.

The new Tri-stringer weapon in action. Nintendo

There are even more ways to play: the story mode makes a return from the previous iterations and looks very interesting. Players fight the new Octarians and the fuzzy ooze they brought with them, learning the secrets about who — or what — they are. There’s even a card game, known as Table Turf, though Nintendo has not revealed much about it at this stage.

But all of these mechanics and modes won’t mean anything if the servers can’t hold up. A multiplayer game lives — or dies — depending on how well players can stay connected. To play online, you’ll need a Switch Online subscription. In the early days of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, players complained the performance was a bit laggy and some players still experience the same issue years later.

Nintendo

"Over the three generations of this game, online play is something the team is constantly evaluating and improving on,” Bihldorff says. “In our experience, playing it during development, it's been playing great. Rest assured, we will continuously monitor anything that doesn't come up to our standards."

Most shooters have a steady cadence of updates to keep fans engaged, and Nintendo is no exception. Seasonal catalogs are a lot like battle passes, allowing the player to earn unique cosmetics and rewards for a limited time. Nintendo currently has plans for two years of post-launch content (including a paid DLC) and no plans for microtransactions. Events, like the returning Splatfest, a multiplayer Turf War, will also aim to keep players engaged over the long run.

Splatoon 3 has all the makings of a major Nintendo hit, but only time will tell if the franchise stays fresh or dries out.

Splatoon 3 releases on Nintendo Switch on September 9.

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