To say that the shooter market in 2022 is bursting at the seams would be an understatement. Call of Duty, Apex Legends, Fortnite—all are household names at this point. But despite the visual and mechanical differences, most still boil down to pointing an AK-47-adjacent-looking weapon at a target and pulling the trigger. It’s a blessing then that Nintendo chose to round off its release calendar with Splatoon 3, a game so bursting with colour and whimsy that it feels like a breath of fresh air, even if pockets of that oxygen are a little stale by this point.
Splatoon 3 is a team-based shooter, but where it differentiates itself is in its territory-controlled underpinnings. While the holy trinity of K/D/A still reigns supreme, it isn’t what will win you the match. Instead, you’re encouraged to coat the environment in ink through a wide arsenal of weapons, from simple paint guns to the more exotic rollers. Splatoon 3 also introduces some new classes of weapons, including the Stringer (bow and arrow), and Splatana (a wide-swinging sword).
With those weapons, you can easily find a playstyle that accommodates your skillset—be it focusing on eliminations (and thus reducing the rate at which the enemy can coat their surroundings), or simply painting the town bright pink (or whatever high-contrast colour that’s assigned to you at the start of a match). Add in the game’s wide array of sub weapons and specials, and Splatoon 3 rapidly takes on the appearance and cadence of a hero shooter like Overwatch or Valorant, where battlefields become hectic and brilliantly messy.
While those battles are a thing of beauty, the way the game communicates the information needed for you to find your place in them is anything but. When first being presented with a new weapon, the shopkeeper will drop some lengthy diegetic dialogue describing all its pros and cons. All well and good, unless of course you choose at the start of the game to import your Splatoon 2 save data. Doing so gives you three golden tickets to unlock any weapon, regardless of its recommended level. What this means however, is that the shopkeeper opts to tell you about every. Single. Weapon. Available. In order. That level of bloat in the onboarding can be intimidating, especially for those that stopped playing Splatoon 2 after its first couple of months back in 2017 (of which I am in that cohort). It’s just clumsy.
You can also kit your character out with all sorts of t-shirts, goggles, glasses, and shoes, all of which are rendered in sharp, cartoony, and colourful strokes. Like the entries before it, passive perks are still tied to specific pieces of gear; as you complete battles, you’ll unlock extra slots for that gear and gain random new perks in them. You can apply specific perks to pieces of gear, but this requires you to burn through coins and other resources, which the game is rather stingy about doling out. For a game about assembling the best drip, Splatoon 3 puts a lot of barriers in your way to achieving that end, and it just makes me wish that perks were completely divorced from their cosmetics.
Continuing the trend of legacy burdens is the matchmaking and netcode. When you’ve completed a match, it’s perfectly possible to button through the results screen and accidentally ready up for another battle. When this happens however, you can’t back out of that queue, and the only way to do so is to hard reset the game. The online woes are only exacerbated mid-match thanks to peer-to-peer connections, where one player acts as the host for the others. If that player disconnects mid-match, the game won’t migrate to a new host, and instead dump everyone back to the lobby.
It’s bananas, and the fact that Splatoon 3 doesn’t have dedicated servers in 2022 is beyond me. Add in the random disconnects that happen regularly between matches, and you have a perfect storm of networking bullshit. Nintendo has tried to address the issues with a port forwarding guide, but you don’t need to be a cybersec genius to know that opening 65,000 ports on your router is a very, very bad idea. The only thing saving Splatoon 3 from these problems is its very low stakes—matches only clock in at three minutes. By the time your brain has communicated its displeasure with the networking, your fingers and thumbs are already slinging ink again in a new match.
Thankfully, you don’t just have to commit to online matches to have a good time. Splatoon 3 features a campaign mode that hits just enough dopamine triggers to keep you coming back for more. Players get to goop up an overworld with platforming challenges and hidden collectibles, and then jump into the occasional challenge level or boss fight. While most of these levels are rather boxy and samey looking, they afford you the opportunity to experiment with new weapons and abilities in a slightly more kinetic way than the staid and sterile shooting range found in the online lobby.
Despite its network issues and generational design flaws, every part of playing Splatoon 3 is a joy. Much like the tired, exterior brickwork of an old home, sometimes all it needs Is a fresh coat of paint to help you realise how much you love the foundation.