There’s something fishy going on in the crustacean-filled world of Nintendo’s shooter title Splatoon. I have no idea why Nintendo is pushing this week’s Splatoon 3 as a replacement for 2017’s Splatoon 2.
However, while the last installment in the series introduced powerful new weapons and modes to the series’ unique online modes, the current model merely adds a sprinkling of online-only content, which at best leaves the formula unaltered and, at worst, requires serious rebalancing. The 2018 DLC for Splatoon 2 was some of the best single-player content for a Switch game up to that point, but Splatoon 3’s single-player campaign is a sloppy mess in comparison.
There wasn’t enough time for me to test the online components of the game before its release, so I’m left wondering how much of a letdown they might be if they received adequate post-launch attention. However, I feel confident that Nintendo has failed series enthusiasts and made an unpleasant experience for newbies.
A Bad Case Of The Crab (Tank)s
Since Splatoon 3 is so identical to its predecessor, all I did was take out a reference to the original Wii U game in the series, which came out in 2015. My review of Splatoon 2 went on to detail the excellent improvements made to the game’s online components, such as the game’s vastly improved level designs, which emphasized verticality and stealthy tactics, and the game’s peculiar waves-of-enemies mode (dubbed “Salmon Run”), which turned out to be pretty fun, kid-friendly version of a mode made famous by games like Gears of War and Halo.
Is there anything new in Splatoon 3’s online mode? Certainly not very much. An online game’s major update is a new set of “special attacks” that become available if the player has used up a certain amount of ink or dealt a certain amount of damage to enemies inside a single life.
Although their tide-turning talents don’t figure as frequently in combat due to how long they take to charge, I got the distinct impression that they were unbalanced in the few time I spent testing them online. However, it’s not hard to think of a single example. The “crab tank” temporarily transforms the player into a slow, super-armored crab that fires rapidly.
When fighting a single foe, I’ve found that this tank is practically unbeatable; it’s hard to employ the greatest close-range attacks in the series to defeat the crab before it blots out any close-range combatant with its stream of paint. An ideal scenario for a team is when an opponent goes into crab tank mode while surrounded by other players.
Only Five New Maps (So Far) For The Series’ Third Game
New special attacks include a grappling hook that allows players to zip into enemy territory, lay down opposing fire, and then zip back to safety; a vacuum pack that temporarily sucks up enemies’ paint (but unfortunately only paint that they are actively shooting, which is a bummer) and a rideable missile that allows players to aim a massive shot at an enemy, then jump off once it delivers its payload to continue the apocalyptic mayhem.
So far, the only notable additions to the significant weapon arsenal are a three-pronged crossbow (which feels wimpy) and a speedier “samurai” version of the paintbrushes from the previous games. The sequel’s Turf War mode features 12 online battlegrounds. However, only five of these are brand new.
The remaining seven are recycled from Splatoon 1 (three maps) and Splatoon 2. (five maps). Nintendo has stated that it would release additional Splatoon 3 maps over time, but these future maps won’t be particularly ambitious. Compared to the content of the previous games, they lack the sense of adventure that the series is known for and instead revert to the more superficial level design of the original game.
So far, Nintendo has only added a “tri-color” option to Turf War, which matches four players against two. The latest iteration of this game appears unbalanced and uninspiring; all Nintendo has done is add another color to a given match along with some tameable “sprinklers,” which can aid the holders of their colors in maintaining their supremacy.
Some new, more difficult boss monsters have been added to Salmon Run, making it more critical for cooperative teams to work together and plan as they attempt to defeat these imposing foes. This is the right amount of new content to entice a purchase if you have a relative who has forged strong bonds with friends through online play in Splatoon 2’s version of this mode.
But, as was the case before, some tremendously deep co-op games that give players a lot more options and loadout customization make Salmon Run look like a shallow experience by comparison. Nintendo did not improve this aspect of Salmon Run. Thus at the start of each round, players must once again settle for a random weapon. In a $60 retail bundle, it’s not humorous that Nintendo didn’t enhance this feature.
Why Am I Arranging Items In A Virtual Locker That No One Can See?
Splatoon 3’s solo campaign is lackluster, though. The final game was a marvel of level design, using the Splatoon universe’s turmoil to offer spiral, expanding levels where players used ink for fighting and mobility. Nintendo engaged users with this extraterrestrial stuff by sewing levels together with charming mascot characters who presented clear plots.
Invert that good description for Splatoon 3’s campaign. Most of the game’s levels appear like they were produced with a community modding toolkit, utilizing the same geometry so often that the art team can’t identify early levels from later ones. The levels feel like time trials with basic objectives and straight-line assault paths.
Don’t confuse “simple” with “easy” since many of these levels present unexpected challenges, generally due to a timed or aiming issue. Boss bouts are undertested and have excruciating spikes of difficulty and disorientation. Many overworlds unlock don’t lead to new levels; instead, they’re cosmetics used to embellish a “locker” interface in the back of a multiplayer lobby.
Decorating your Splatoon 3 locker is the opposite of grooming a bonsai tree; it’s a nightmare of physics collisions and red Xs telling you you can’t do it. The plot is a tangle of unclear aims and unlikable characters, which is unusual for a series with ludicrous “pop star” characters like the Squid Sisters.
Splatoon 3’s dialogue rarely made me laugh or smile. The series is known for catchy, trippy music. Therefore, I was startled by how flat this game’s soundtrack was.
“You Need To Be Online To Do That”
Here’s how to get madder at this package: Nintendo’s new Splatoon 3 content requires online verification. All of your character’s online-specific data is now locked to Nintendo’s servers, so offline gamers can’t access cosmetic shops. Tableturf Battle, a new card-battle game in Splatoon 3, didn’t unlock for me until the pre-release servers were shut down, so I never got a tutorial or solo practice.
Solo campaign mode works offline, at least. Speaking of network troubles, I couldn’t play Splatoon 3 online without triangulating my Nintendo Switch’s local IP address and opening all of its UDP ports, as instructed by a Nintendo PR official. The same Nintendo Switch can play Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros.
Ultimate, and (most crucially) Splatoon 2 online without port-opening. Your Splatoon 2 online experience may not carry over to this week’s sequel. I mention this anecdotally to clarify. If you’re a Splatoon 2 obsessive who wants more of the same online and have a loyal buddy group, you may expect a respectable return to a game you already adore.
Parents can rest easy knowing they’ve given their kids a solid online shooter without paid microtransactions. As someone who stopped playing Splatoon 2 five years ago in favor of other games, I’m dismayed by how little Nintendo has changed the series. Splatoon 3 is a business choice to fill a release calendar, not an intelligent design. Splatoon 3 is a poor Nintendo game.
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