You ink you know me
Splatoon 3 is just over two weeks away, and there’s no doubt millions of Switch owners are eagerly awaiting the threequel. I’m certainly one of those fans, and I’m chomping at the bit to sink my teeth into the full game. Truth be told, the wait has actually been even more grueling the last few days, and that’s due to a special opportunity Nintendo offered me.
I was extremely lucky to have the chance to spend over an hour with Splatoon 3 at a recent press event, and I’ve been thinking about the experience ever since. (I’ve also got pictures!) I spent time with single player, Salmon Run and Turf War, which is actually quite a bit to cram into roughly an hour! I figured it would be best to break down my impressions into each portion of the game I played, but there’s one thing I want to share up front. An hour with Splatoon 3 was the perfect amount to whet my appetite, but nowhere near enough to satiate me!
I don’t know if this is sacrilege to say, but single-player has been my favorite part of the Splatoon franchise since it first launched. Don’t get me wrong, I love the multiplayer component of Splatoon and I know it’s the franchise’s bread-and-butter, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for single-player. Maybe that has something to do with my lack of skill in any online arena, but that’s a topic to dive into another day!
The single-player experience in Splatoon 1 and 2 both stirred up some pretty big emotions in me. There’s something about that content that is quintessential Nintendo in my eyes. The level design, the vivid designs and mechanics on display just scream Big N in my opinion. Nintendo puts out plenty of fantastic games every single year, but if you’re asking me to pick something that really exemplifies what Nintendo does as a company, I’d definitely point to the single-player of Splatoon.
During my session with Splatoon 3, I was allowed to play three separate single-player missions. From the instant I picked up the Pro Controller to give things a go, I got that feeling I was looking for. Right out of the gate, the very first single-player level was an absolute blast. To be honest, it offered more than I would have expected from an intro level in the game. There were multiple things to do and tasks to complete, but most important, the whole stage was incredibly fun.
Perhaps memory isn’t serving me correctly, but this initial stage seemed to ask more of the player than Splatoon 1 and 2 did, and I mean that as a compliment. I had to collect a set amount of keys to unlock a path to the level’s exit, and each key required a different skill. Most of this could be tackled fairly easily for anyone who’s played Splatoon 1 or 2, but the stage also serves as a great tutorial for newcomers. You’ll learn basic things like inking sponges to inflate their size/swim up them, traveling across ink railings, hiding in ink to refill your ink canister and so on. All important aspects you’ll have to know to survive and thrive in online play.
This first stage also gave me access to the Little Buddy, a Smallfry that hangs with you while you’re in single-player. You’ll quickly learn that this Little Buddy is not only a handy helper, but a necessary partner in solving some puzzles. You’ll see certain spots you can’t reach on your own, but by tossing the Little Buddy, you can open up access to areas ahead. You can also throw your Little Buddy at enemies to help out a bit if you get into a really sticky situation. I only got a tiny glimpse at how the Little Buddy came into play in single-player, but what I did get to see got me excited for later interactions, as there’s sure to be some intriguing uses and puzzle-solving tricks down the road.
It’s that puzzle aspect of single-player that really tickles my fancy, and again, Splatoon 3 seemed to offer that in spades. As I said, even the opening stage did a fantastic job of sticking you into some interesting situations. Nothing that’ll have you stuck at the starting line, but definitely some moments that’ll have you looking before you leap. That’s even more true if you’re looking to break every box and collect all the goodies each level hides. There will be areas you can see, but they won’t have any clear path to access them. That’s the kind of stuff that gets me really excited, as those are the setups where single-player can really shine.
The two remaining single-player stages I got to spend time with only cemented the fact that at the very least, Splatoon 3’s single-player should stand toe-to-toe with the previous offerings. These stages offered a lot more in the way of combat versus puzzle-solving, and showed you the different ways your enemies will try to take advantage of their position and your weaknesses. There are lots of unique enemy placements, some of which you’ll be able to blow through without issue, and others will require a more tactical approach. There was even some light puzzle-solving in a few enemy formations, forcing you to step back and figure out an approach that would lead to success.
In particular, the single-player stage that teaches you how to use the Tri-Stringer was absolutely wonderful. There was just something about the way that stage was built that really did it for me. The whole purpose of the stage is to show you how the Tri-Stringer works, along with the situations to best use it in. The Tri-Stringer will fire differently depending on if you’re standing on the ground or jumping when you use it (three simultaneous horizontal or vertical shots), and then you can do even more damage if you charge the shot up before firing. All of this was put to excellent use in a stage that had enemies hiding in and around unique cover layouts, forcing you to mix and match the shot types you used. In all honesty, the whole stage made me feel like a bad-ass; so much so that I played it twice!
Much like Call of Duty, I know there are people who play the Splatoon games without ever touching single-player. I’m not going to tell anyone how to enjoy a game, but I really do think it’s a shame that some people never check it out. While I only got a very small sampling of the single-player in Splatoon 3, I can already tell that skipping the mode will be a big loss. Sure, going toe-to-toe with real people online is always a thrill that changes every single time, but I think a well-designed single-player campaign can provide just as much fun. Again, there’s a ton in the single-player of Splatoon 3 that I didn’t see, but what I did felt very, very good.
If single-player is a side dish some may never touch, Turf War is definitely the main course. The mode itself doesn’t really need introduction, as it’s the action all Splatoon players are familiar with. Ink the ground with your color, stave off the opposing team, and see who’s covered the most area by the time the round ends. It’s an action-packed experience that demands a different approach from the average online shooter, and Splatoon 3 definitely keeps the fight intense and chaotic.
The one thing I’ve always really appreciated about Turf War is the fact that you don’t have to be a skilled fighter in order to be useful to the team. Plenty of online shooters put the focus on skill in terms of shooting the enemy, and that goes for just about every mode. If you don’t have good aim or twitch skills, you’re going to be outclassed most of the time and overall quite useless to your teammates. With Turf War, that’s really not the case. Games are won by the amount of ink on the ground, and while splatting enemies definitely can turn the tide of battle, focusing on spreading your team’s ink is even more invaluable.
In my time with Turf War, I flip between approaches as I play. I start things out more focused on my weapon’s ability to take out the competition, and I spread a bit of ink along the way. Then, depending on how things go at first, I might change up my tactics. If I notice I’m on a team that seems hellbent on splatting our opponents, I pick a weapon that’ll let me spread as much ink as possible in the shortest amount of time. All I know for sure is that it’s the ink coverage that really matters, and I’m always down to do my part to add some color.
That’s exactly what happened when I played my best of 3 Turf War, which was 4 on 4. We got our butts absolutely handed to us in the first game. I started out as a sniper and did an absolutely horrible job, and when the Turf War’s first round was up, we got out-inked roughly 65/35. I’ll admit that I wanted to give things another try with the Splatterscope, but it’s more important to play for the team, damnit! I decided to swap out my sniper approach for ultimate paint coverage, so of course I went with the Splat Roller. This quickly proved to be the right decision.
With the Splat Roller in hand, I made it my mission to cover as much ground as possible. If I saw an enemy, I was going to find another way around them. My goal was to ink every square inch that I came across, and ultimately make a push for the other base. I wasn’t out to splat the opposition, I was out to get that ground covered and help our team take home the win! …and boy, did we come back strong in round 2 with this approach.
For round 2, I slowly snaked my way around our base to cover every single piece of land I could with ink. I kept an eye out in the distance for opponents and made sure to adjust my path going forward. I didn’t want anyone to see me while I was on my mission, and for the most part that worked. Things went so well that I actually did make my way right to the enemy’s front gate, and as you might guess, they weren’t too happy about it! I was splatted soon thereafter, but a quick look at the map showed that we had secured more than enough territory. A few seconds later and we officially took home the win. Of course, you know what that means…
Time for the rubber match!
With each team taking home a win, we had to do one more round to see who would be the overall victor. I stuck with my plan from the previous round, albeit with a plan to be a bit more vicious. This time, if I could come up behind an enemy and snuff them out, I’d make it my mission to do so. Again, the priority was to spread the ink around, but I was going to do my best to squash a push from the other team if I could. Turns out this was definitely the right way to handle things.
The final round went even better than the second. The rest of my team was absolutely killing it with their roles, with a split between two teammates focused on splatting enemies and the other two working to ink the town red (blue, in our case!). I really came into my own and managed to pull off some absolutely devious splats while inking territory. A bit of hiding in tiny ink patches, popping up out of nowhere and steamrolling the competition. Everything came together beautifully, so much so that a Nintendo rep came up behind me and said, “Kevin, you make it look so easy!” I’m not one to pat myself on the back, but in this instance, I am definitely proud of my performance!
The in-game buzzer sounded and the ink had settled with my team the victors. The Turf War was incredibly intense, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat for most of it. No doubt, the adrenaline was pumping and the pressure was on. My heart was actually pounding by the time the third round was closing out, and that’s exactly what I want to feel from an online game. It’s the same kind of feeling I get at the end of a battle royale in Fortnite. I can’t help but get a rush from the action, and it feels so damn good! The thing is, the mix of strategy and splatting that Turf War provides makes the back-and-forth feel just a tad more satisfying than most online games for me. I hadn’t played a Turf War game in close to two years, and this session made me wonder why I ever stopped.
I even got to check out Hagglefish Market, a new map in Splatoon 3, for two of these Turf War battles. It felt like quite an expansive level, and it took me to nearly the end of the third round to figure out a clear path to the opposing team’s base. Hagglefish Market felt much bigger than stages I recall from previous Splatoon titles, and it offered quite a bit of variety. In particular, it seemed like verticality played an interesting role, as the middle of the stage had some spots that let you work your way across skinny, precarious walkways to try and sneak into enemy territory. In the midst of all the action, I know I barely had a chance to scratch the surface on this stage, and I’m sure there’s all sorts of nooks and crannies I missed. Still, what I did experience provided the perfect location for a Turf War I’ll never forget.
I LOVE SALMON RUN. This is a fact that I cannot stress enough. I am a massive fan of any game that gives you a ‘Horde Mode’ to play with friends, and when I heard Splatoon 2 was going to offer that with Salmon Run, I was all about it. I’m not joking about that, either. I specifically bought a bunch of equipment a few years back just so I could play Salmon Run locally with a handful of friends. We all crammed into my tiny office, set up a bunch of docked Switches and TVs, and spent hours and hours working our way through the Salmon Run waves. To this day, it’s one of my favorite gaming memories.
I cannot express how happy I am that I got to check out the return of Salmon Run in Splatoon 3. I already know that I’m going to pour hours into Salmon Run with friends when Splatoon 3 releases, and the tiny taste I got of it from my hands-on session has me practically foaming at the mouth. I want to get my team back together, crank up the difficulty to insane levels, and see what we’re made of!
Even just typing about Salmon Run right now has me so pumped. I mean, what’s not to love about a cooperative experience where you and your friends go up against impossible odds? Just the four of you against wave after wave of fearsome enemies, all of which are out to squash you into an inky puddle. It’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t have a team that is ready to work together and watch each other’s backs, and finding that perfect flow with other players is some of the most fun you can get from a game. (in my opinion, that is!)
Salmon Run in Splatoon 3 gave me exactly what I was looking for from the experience, which was more enemies to deal with and an overall greater feeling of danger. All the old, familiar faces returned, each with a special tactic needed to take them down. Some enemies can be shot directly with ink to burst them, others have to be shot in specific areas, and others still need to be inked when they unwittingly open themselves up to attack. Then there’s newcomers that you’ll have to learn about on the fly and hope you figure out the secret to their demise in time. All of this is happening at the same time, and it makes for an unbelievably chaotic environment…and I love every second of it.
Of course, while you’re fending off wave after wave of the enemy, your real goal is to get Golden Eggs into a basket. If you don’t hit the basket goal for a stage, then you don’t get to continue on through the waves. Keeping yourself alive during each wave is hard enough, but making sure you secure enough eggs really cranks up the difficulty. You’ll get Golden Eggs from defeating certain enemies, and then your team has to make a mad dash to snag these eggs and secure them in the basket. All that still happens in Splatoon 3’s version of Salmon Run, but now there’s a whole new mechanic that makes everything way more exciting.
This time around, you can now pick up Golden Eggs and toss them! That includes throwing them at the basket itself, or to other teammates. I cannot accurately express how much this little twist completely changes up the Salmon Run experience. With some communication between teammates, you can alley-oop Golden Eggs from teammate to teammate until one close enough to the basket can toss it in. Do you know how truly awesome it feels to pull something like that off in the heat of an insane wave of enemies?! Landing that last Golden Egg with just seconds to spare because a teammate tossed you a Golden Egg and you made a Hail Mary throw at the basket?! I mean, those are the moments in gaming I live for, and Salmon Run is going to provide them time and time again.
That’s not to mention that random special enemies can spawn during a run that don’t normally show up, and that’s exactly what happened literally the first run I did. Our team had to tackle a bunch of giant, huge-mouthed enemies that were blocking access to all sorts of important areas on the map. We had to wait for these suckers to open up their mouths, then we had to fill them with an ungodly amount of ink to make them pop. Keep in mind this was going on all while waves of regular enemies were flooding in, and we were also trying to hit our Golden Egg goal. It was an extremely harsh welcome to Salmon Run, but it was also perfect. I play Salmon Run for the challenge and random craziness, and that’s exactly what I got.
Best of all, Salmon Run can now be played at all times. Online fans will no longer have to wait for Salmon Run to join the rotation and open up for players, and quite honestly, I think that’s the way it should have been from the start. I’m not sure why Nintendo felt Salmon Run was something to offer on a limited schedule with Splatoon 2, but I’m very happy they’ve come to their senses since last time. I hope this decision pushes even more people to check out Salmon Run, as I imagine many skipped it altogether in Splatoon 2 due to the limited access.
I was pumped for Splatoon 3 already, but my hands-on session made my interest climb 10-fold. I really don’t feel like any other online game out there offers the Splatoon experience. Sure, there are some games that include elements or aspects of Splatoon, but for me, nothing comes close enough. I think what my playtime did for me the most was help me to realize just how much I enjoy Splatoon overall, and how I missed jumping in for a round or two on a weekly basis.
That said, there’s one area in Splatoon 3 where I’m left without anything to comment on, and it’s quite an important one. I need to hear more of the music in Splatoon 3. I don’t know how you guys feel, but I believe the soundtrack of Splatoon 1 and 2 are a big part of the game’s identity, and in turn, the fun. I’m sad to say that my Splatoon 3 play-session didn’t give me any insight into the game’s music, as I wasn’t playing with headphones. I really couldn’t hear much of anything due to conversations with other people at the event and a bunch of TVs making for a cacophony of noise. I’m extremely eager to get time with the final game in order to put on my headphones and see what the soundtrack has to offer.
There’s still plenty more to see and do in Splatoon 3, and I definitely have more questions. There’s a lot more content to come, and as you all know, an online game lives and dies by its rotation of content. It seems like Nintendo has a good roadmap for Splatoon 3, but only time will tell. Will future maps and modes do enough to keep players interested for years to come? Are there other secrets in the works that we don’t even know about? What kind of Splatfests can we expect from here on out? None of us have those answers, so we’ll just have to sit back and keep our tentacles crossed for quality updates.