Splatoon 3 review – the superior squid game

Is it three times the charm for the Splatoon series, or has Nintendo run out of ink?

Splatoon 3
(Image credit: Nintendo)
T3 Verdict

Splatoon 3 further proves why Nintendo holds the series in such high regard, featuring a fantastic single-player experience and refined multiplayer that will delight people of all ages.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Fun for kids and big kids alike

  • +

    Superb soundtrack

  • +

    Platforming at its best

  • +

    Refined multiplayer

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Online still not where it needs to be

I love Splatoon. I loved it on the Nintendo Wii U back in 2015. I loved it on Nintendo Switch two years later. And by the time I've invested over 100 hours (because I will) into the third iteration of the third-person shooter, I'm likely to love the latest game the most out of the three. Not looking to reinvent the wheel, what Splatoon 3 does is refine everything that players adore about the series for its best entry yet. 

Nintendo found a refreshing take on the shooter genre, one that is usually crowded by the likes of Call of Duty and other adult-oriented titles that focus on the dark and gritty, by replacing bullets with paint. Splatoon is bursting with vibrant colours and is easy to pick up – perfect for kids and big kids alike. It never takes itself too seriously, either, going to some bizarre places that only add to its charm. 

Having been established less than a decade ago, Splatoon has quickly powered itself to the pinnacle of Nintendo's IP, now sitting alongside the likes of Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, Pokémon and such. It's well deserved! And the world of games is ever better for it.

Splatoon 3 review: price and release date 

  • What is it? A third-person action shooter where squid kids battle it out using paint guns 
  • Release date? September 9, 2022
  • What platforms can I play it on? Nintendo Switch
  • Price? $59.99 / £49.99 / AU$79.95    

Splatoon 3 review: What is it? 

Inkling and Little Buddy

(Image credit: Nintendo)

You're a squid kid in a squid world. Along for the ride this time you have a tiny fish-like friend called "little buddy" who is as adorable as he is goofy. The world of Splatoon is set in the far future where "Inklings", a race of squid-human hybrids have been warring for years with a separate group of Octopus-like creatures, known as the "Octarians" and their subspecies "Octolings". Humans are gone while mammals are slowly starting to reappear, setting up the premise for Splatoon 3's story mode in the new arctic-like location of Alterna. If you enjoy lore, you're in for a treat.

Starting in the new hub world – Splatsville – players can venture out into the aforementioned single-player campaign or compete in head-to-head multiplayer matches between different factions. The bustling metropolis of Splatsville has an abundance of shops to buy from, whether that be weapons, headgear, clothing, shoes or otherwise. The Shoal provides access to local co-op with up to four people able to play online together, either against one another in Turf Wars (head-to-head) or working together in Salmon Run (a survival co-op mode). 

Spatsville in Splatoon 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Many comparisons were made on Splatoon's initial announcement to Super Mario Sunshine, which featured Mario cleaning up ink using a water-spraying device. Splatoon 3's story leans into this similarity greater than ever, with an icky toxic goo plaguing Alterna that must be exterminated. One boss is also a direct carbon copy of one of Sunshine's most well-known, just executed better. 

That likeness aside, this is by far the most comprehensive single-player experience in Splatoon to date and the most insane in terms of narrative. I laughed audibly multiple times throughout, beckoning my partner over only to point at the screen and go "look at this madness". It's that Nintendo magic you hear about time and time again.

Splatoon 3 online match

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Multiplayer looks to match this, having players compete in standard four versus four three-minute battles (or five in ranked mode) to see which team can cover the terrain in their team's colours. Each Inkling has a main, sub and special weapon, all of which come bundled together depending on whether you go for a shooter, charger, roller or otherwise. 

Alongside this, the wonderful Salmon Run returns, a co-op survival mode where an increasing number of Salmonids look to overwhelm the group as they look to collect Golden Eggs for the mysterious Mr. Grizz. With 11 bosses now able to terrorise at any time, anarchy naturally ensues. Last, and certainly least, is the new one-on-on card game, Tableturf battle. It seems complex at the beginning but quickly delves into mediocrity. 

Splatoon 3 review: how does it play? 

Splatoon 3 online match pink paint

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Just like the first two games, the core mechanics of Splatoon 3 has players shooting ink at anything and everything with said ink then able to be traversed through as a squid. It's quick, slick and lots of fun. While the ability to play without motion controls is available, I've always opted for them as it offers better reactionary times. All basic weapons from Splatoon and Splatoon 2 will be returning (at some point), alongside a dozen new ones, such as the bow and arrow Tri-Stringer and Crab Tank, a mechanical heavy artillery vehicle that is exactly what it sounds like.

Following the fantastic five-level opening, the single-player story consists of six sites to explore and 10 levels on each to complete surrounding a certain weapon or gimmick. I'd suggest completing this first as it gives you a great introduction to every weapon in action. New additions like the Zipcastor that lets you zip around like Spider-Man do wonders for variety. Little Buddy will also attack enemies on your behalf when thrown, a useful advantage when facing enemies with shields. 

Tri-Stringer in Splatoon 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Another big draw is the style, whether that be in or outside the game, with Nintendo once again upgrading Splatoon's wardrobe. This begins right from the off by customising your Inkling's skin tones, eyes, hairstyles and brows. Even Little Buddy gets his own hairstyle.

On top of this, there's also a banner with badges and titles to show off in battle as well as a locker that can be arranged with any collectables found. All nice touches that go a long way to making the experience more personal. I just want more of it. 

Splatoon 3 shoes

(Image credit: Nintendo)

From the eight hours spent playing the online multiplayer, matchmaking was good but still not where it needs to be. It was a struggle on launch day but picked up over the weekend and I wouldn't expect it to get any worse again, although this is Nintendo and the odd error did occur throwing me out of games for no seemingly no reason.

Made up of 12 maps, both new and returning, Hammead Bridge still remains my favourite. It's a simple linear setup but projects a great tug-of-war system between both teams as they try to push controlled enemy terrain back. Hagglefish Market and Mincemeat Metalworks are the two standout new stages as each offers a range of tight and wide areas. It would be nice to try out more if Nintendo didn't focus on only two maps per hour, something that does feel outdated. 

My current go-to weapon is the Aerospray MG, inspired by an aerosol spray pen. It's fast at taking down enemies when under pressure, possessing a decent-sized tank capacity too. Couple this with the Reef Slider, essentially a giant shark that charges at enemies, and Fizzy Bombs that explodes multiple times on impact and I've never looked back since. It's such a blast! I spent one evening playing until 2 AM in the morning, a rare occurrence these days. 

Splatoon 3 review: how does it look and sound?

Similar to Breath of the Wild (or potentially Wind Waker would be a closer resemblance), Splatoon 3 utilises a mix of cel-shaded graphics and modern 3D anime stylization for a crisp timeless art style. It's stunning! Whether that be in handheld or docked mode. The colours pop majestically, as paint splatters everywhere while ink oozes across the battlefield in a strangely satisfying manner until it encompasses all. This particularly shines on the Nintendo Switch OLED model. 

Naturally, the speed at which matches take place requires a decent framerate and, thankfully, the game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second. It does struggle quite a bit when in the main hub, making me believe it drops down to 30 frames per second like Splatoon 2. Equally, like the majority of Nintendo games, it offers graphics of 720p on the go and a max output of 1080p on the big screen.

Deep Cut in Splatoon 3

(Image credit: Nintendo)

If anything defines Splatoon as much as the gameplay it would be the music – stars Callie and Marie held a virtual concert (opens in new tab) back in 2019, most notably. Filled with Pop rock and J-pop beats all with a strong measure of underwater goodness sprinkled on top, the soundtrack is once again sublime. I usually listen to a game's music when writing a review but with Splatoon, I've kept the tunes playing all day long. 

Trumpets, drums, piano, guitars, kazoo. It's truly euphoric how electric these pieces are with Deep Cut (a new musical trio) putting their own stamp on the squid music scene. I expect "Anarchy Rainbow" to be up there alongside "Calamari Inkatation" and "Splattack" going forward. The latter of which has also received a rousing new mix. Last but not least, a brief mention has to be made for the haunting music of Salmon Run, perfectly evoking that feeling of being overwhelmed. Superb all-around! 

Splatoon 3 review: How long to beat? 

Splatoon 3 cover

(Image credit: Nintendo)

It took me approximately seven hours to roll credits on the campaign in Splatoon 3. Aside from completing everything on the first site, I could skip a good portion of the levels available (maybe a third?) to make sure I beat the game in time for the review. With that, there's at least 12 hours of content here for those who want to see everything, which I'd recommend for a better-balanced experience. I will definitely be returning to check every single upgrade and level off.

Splatoon 3's multiplayer mode is, in theory, endless so that totally depends on how much time you would like to invest. The max level cap in Splatoon 2 was 50 and I'd expect this to be similar, meaning plenty of unlockables, upgrades and general customisation is obtainable from day one. 

Verdict 

With a sizable single-player campaign, enhanced multiplayer modes, as well as an expanded arsenal of whimsical weapons, Nintendo has yet again proven why Splatoon is now one of its most valuable properties. Its core mechanics remain brilliant, only elevated by the superb soundtrack that helps keep things fresh. While nothing revolutionary, Splatoon 3 refines everything that players love about the series for what is its best entry yet.

Also recommend

Super Mario Sunshine / Arms

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Since Splatoon 3 takes more inspiration from Super Mario Sunshine than any of its predecessors, it feels like a natural pick. The paint cleaning platformer was re-released on Nintendo Switch alongside Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, making for a fantastic set of games. Additionally, Arms is worth checking out as it brings the same frantic fun you get in Splatoon except in fighting form. Bursting with colour and zany personality, Arms is an underrated knockout that deserves more love.  

Matthew Forde
Staff Writer

Matthew is the Staff Writer for T3, covering news and keeping up with everything games, entertainment, and all manner of tech. You can find his work across numerous sites across the web, including TechRadar, IGN, Tom's Guide, Fandom, NME, and more. In his spare time, Matthew is an avid cinema-goer, keen runner and average golfer (at best). You can follow him @MattForde64