Splatoon 3 is definitely a third Splatoon.
Splatoon is almost old enough to kick your inksac in an online match, but the third entry aims to help the series stay fresh. At a recent press event, the Squid Research Lab took us through what’s new in Splatoon 3.
A lot feels familiar, even to a more casual player (like me) who never dived into the depths of the first two Splatoons. Turf War is still the main draw: two teams of four shoot, slosh, and spray ink across a battlefield to cover as much of the stage as possible in their team color. While not the focus, “Splatting” opponents with your weapon sends them all the way back to start, which now hovers above the air. It’s a small change, but the new spawn point gives a great view of the game state and lets the player choose which direction to take off in.
We saw two new stages: Scorch Gorge and Eeltail Alley. Both are long and narrow with plenty of nooks and crannies to paint. Scorch Gorge has interesting inclines and a tower in the middle. Grate bridges leave players vulnerable from below but lead right to the tower. Eeltail Alley’s solid bridge over the center of the stage adds depth to the turf war and a second infiltration point into enemy territory. Splatoon 3 will launch with 12 battle maps in total: five of which are new and seven that return from previous games. Maps rotate every two hours.
Multiplayer has some nice additions outside of matches, too. Players now chill in a training room lobby with holograms of other players. Here, competitors can change and test out weapons or watch opponents for insight into their playstyle. Teams traditionally get shuffled between bouts, but if a player groups up with friends before entering the lobby, that team will always stay together.
Wave-based Salmon Run has dropped its weird schedule from Splatoon 2 and is now available anytime. In Salmon Run, a team of four players harvests salmon eggs from the dingiest part of the ocean by splatting waves of enemies accompanied by a miniboss. The tide ebbs and flows between waves, constricting your team’s control or exposing new areas. Weapons are assigned at random, pushing players out of their comfort zone, and difficulty scales with ability. Players can now throw eggs across the stage to their basket if they have enough ink, which felt great in the middle of a firefight.
The final mode we saw was Return of the Mammalians, Splatoon 3’s story mode. Levels start as they did in Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion DLC, in a little test room with a weapon select screen. Agent 3, the main character, spends points to pass through a turnstile and enter the level. In the first two levels we played, Agent 3’s secondary weapon was replaced by Small Fry, an allegedly important story character that Agent 3 can throw at enemies to slow them down. The story sees Agent 3 and friends investigate a mysterious new fuzzy ooze, but we saw neither cutscenes nor fuzzy ooze in our demo.
During the preview event, we spent time with two new weapons as well. The Tri-stringer is a bow that fires three arrows, horizontally if on the ground or vertically if in the air. It can be charged up to focus the shot and leave small ink bombs on its target. We also tried the Splatana, a windshield wiper full of ink. The Splatana has quick, wide horizontal attacks and a long, narrow vertical charge shot, great for inking and Splatting, respectively. As for new specials, I rode the new Reefslider through a wave of enemies and directly into the ocean. This special summons an inflatable orca that charges in a straight line, then ink-splodes at the press of a button. I dodged the initial dash a few times but was always too slow to avoid enemy ink-splosions. I also tried the weird new Tacticooler special, a vending machine that gives each passing team member an energy drink. The cephalopods get a few new movement options, too: a charged jump up walls and a shielded backflip for quick retreats.
Splatoon 2 veterans will see some benefits from importing their save data, like a way to quickly unlock favorite weapons and matches against players of comparable skill. And of course, the Splatooniverse is all about style, so Splatoon 3 brings new ways to customize characters. Inklings and Octolings are both playable from the start. Players choose an emote for the battle results screen and win medals based on game stats, like area inked. We didn’t get to peek in any shops or the new decoratable lockers, but seasonal catalogs promise to keep a steady stream of new swag flowing into Splatsville for two years after launch.
While not part of our demo, Splatoon 3 introduces new 3-way Splatfest competitions where three teams battle on the same map. The first Splatfest acts as a free demo for all Nintendo Switch Online subscribers August 27 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT. Splatoon 3 launches in full September 9.