I squid you not!
The bulk of Splatoon 3 coverage focuses on the game’s multiplayer component, which certainly makes sense. Nintendo heavily markets Splatoon in general as an online experience. Without a doubt, it’s Nintendo’s premiere online game, and the Big N is eager to promote it as such. That said, all three Splatoon games have offered single player content, and a considerable amount at that.
It’s always irked me a bit that Nintendo doesn’t talk more about the single player content in Splatoon games. Even worse, it seems Nintendo gets quieter on single player in Splatoon as the installments roll on. Nintendo definitely mentioned Splatoon 3’s solo adventure, but in passing a small handful of times. Again, I totally understand that multiplayer is the focus, but talking so little about the single player offerings seems like a true disservice to not only fans, but the mode itself.
Right from the get-go, I knew I’d jump into the single player in Splatoon 3 first, just as I’ve done with the previous installments. I’ve considered the single player mode to be a real hidden gem of the Splatoon series, and my excitement to see what the threequel had to offer was through the roof. Now that I’ve come out the other side of things, I only feel more strongly about what I mentioned above. Nintendo not trumpeting single player in Splatoon 3 is a downright shame, as from a pure gameplay perspective, it’s worthy of standing toe-to-toe with Mario and Link’s greatest adventures.
First off, for those who don’t know, here’s how Splatoon 3’s single player works. While there’s indeed a story that unites characters from previous games with newcomers, the bulk of the experience is about working your way through one-off levels. There’s a basic hub world that you traverse, and a sizable collection of stages to discover in each zone of the hub. You don’t have to clear them all to see single player through to the end, but you do need enough Power Eggs to clear sections and unlock what’s ahead. You get Power Eggs from completing levels, and you can earn more/less depending on the weapons you use to tackle the challenge. Take that concept, rinse and repeat for the entire adventure, and you’ve got Splatoon 3’s solo mode in a nutshell (egg shell? seashell?? shellfish?!)
As I was making my way through Splatoon 3’s single player, dubbed “Return of the Mammalians,” something kept popping into my head. The collection of levels on display here constantly reminded me of both Super Mario Galaxy 2 along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. In particular, Splatoon 3’s levels seemed to marry Nintendo’s goal with Super Mario 2 with the Shrine approach in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. When Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy 2, they said the dev team simply had too many great ideas to fit into the first game or leave by the wayside, so they made a sequel. In Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo showed just how much diversity could be offered in a single mechanic (Shrine locations). If you take the breadth of ideas (Mario) and variety within a singular approach (Zelda Shrines) and mash them together, I think you’d come up with something extremely close to Splatoon 3.
Splatoon 3’s single player takes the base mechanics of the first two games and sprinkles in a couple more, and then unleashes them in a collection of wildly inventive mini-playgrounds. As you well know, Splatoon lets you ink the ground, fire on enemies, and swim around through territory. It doesn’t seem like an extensive array of gameplay elements, but I’ll be damned if Nintendo doesn’t twist, turn and morph them all into unbelievably fun setups time and time again. I can’t even begin to fathom how Nintendo’s developers came up with so many different ways to implement these features, keep them feeling fresh, and most importantly, make them an absolute blast.
I tried to keep a running tally in my head of the ways Splatoon 3’s single player levels put unique twists on its bite-sized segments, but I honestly lost count less than halfway through. Time and time again, Nintendo cooked up stages that presented an enticing challenge and intricate design that I couldn’t get enough of. The vast majority of these stages run roughly 2 to 4 minutes long, so they never overstay their welcome either. If you happen upon a stage that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you won’t spend much time there, or you can skip it altogether. There’s plenty of other stages to tackle, and you can visit them to get the Power Eggs you need.
Remember that feeling of awe when visiting Breath of the Wild’s Shrines just to see what Nintendo came up with next? That’s exactly what Splatoon 3’s single player offers, but obviously through different mechanics, and I would say a quicker pace as well. One level has you defeating all the enemies in your way, while another asks you to crush every single box you see while navigating a conveyor belt of doom. As the levels roll on, you’ll be turned into a makeshift sculptor, an expert sniper, a connect-the-dots enthusiast, a rail-grinding gunner, a super-powered free-climber, and so much more. Honestly, I could go on for quite some time in describing the variety of stages, and again, each one offered pure joy. Not once did I come across a stage that felt like a bore, chore, or snore.
All this action is backed by another incredible soundtrack, albeit one with a different vibe. Without going into too much detail, Return of the Mammalians fools you into thinking you’ll be getting a gameplay/story experience much like the last two Splatoon solo adventures, but soon enough you see that’s not the case. That fact is echoed in the game’s soundtrack, which definitely sounds quite different from what you might expect. I know I found it to be quite the change of pace, yet equally as fantastic. The music this time around seems to be the result of throwing synth, pop, electronic, and the 80s into a blender, and I’m absolutely down with it. I’ve been listening to the single player soundtrack on repeat ever since finishing the mode up, and I have a feeling it’ll be in my rotation for months to come.
Speaking of wrapping up single player, the best stamp of approval I can give to Splatoon 3’s Return of the Mammalians is my dedication to it. It is extremely rare for me to feel the drive to 100% complete a game. That’s usually reserved for Mario games, but even I didn’t feel the pull to check everything off the list in Super Mario Odyssey. With Splatoon 3, I truly couldn’t get enough. I constantly worried that I was slowly running out of game to experience, as I never wanted it to end. I collected every last item there is to get, cleared every single stage, inked the entire hub area for special map pieces, and of course, unlocked the final stage in the game (something akin to Champion’s Road from Mario games). I did everything, saw it all, loved every second, and STILL wanted more when I completed the true final stage. Without a doubt, I was 100% hooked on Splatoon 3’s single player.
While it doesn’t even need it, Splatoon 3’s single player adds an extra bit of icing to the cake with its story content. While the main story in and of itself is quite enjoyable and definitely went in a direction I wasn’t expecting, there’s a side-story that I found even more engaging. Again, I don’t want to spoil things, but I do want to share a tiny bit.
Long story short, you unlock data logs as you make your way through the game, and these logs chronicle how the world of Splatoon came to be. When I say that I genuinely found it interesting, I sincerely mean that. It relates to the real-world in ways I wasn’t expecting, and tells a quite serious and sullen story at times. That said, it also offers hope, a bit of humor, and even a few life lessons. Best of all, you only get to see the final page if you clear the last bonus stage, and from a story perspective, that page is well worth the effort.
I cannot heap enough praise on Splatoon 3’s single player. There’s something in the DNA of this experience that absolutely screams Nintendo to me. The way it makes me feel, the manner in which its built, the care put into the levels, and even the soundtrack…all of it speaks to me pretty deeply. I think the way I can best drive my point home is by saying that Return of the Mammalians is Nintendo at its best. This is the kind of content I feel only Nintendo provides, and even after decades of crafting unbelievable gaming experiences, they somehow still have it in them to wow me. Splatoon 3’s single player exemplifies in every way, shape and form why I’ve been a lifelong Nintendo fan. Simply put, do not miss out on this mode.