Note: This review exclusively covers the multiplayer modes of Splatoon 3. For our thoughts on the campaign, check out our Splatoon 3 single-player campaign review.
At first glance, you might not notice too much that’s wildly different about Splatoon 3’s multiplayer options when compared to its predecessors, but diving into its ink-covered warzones reveals a heaping helping of quality-of-life changes lurking just below the surface. It has better lobby systems, multiple practice ranges, and even more customization options to make your character shine – not to mention stylish new weapons and terrifying new Salmon Run foes that mix up its familiar formula in exciting ways. It may forego any drastic additions or changes, but Splatoon 3 skillfully fine-tunes everything that made its team-based multiplayer so extremely compelling already.
For those not familiar with Nintendo’s cephalopod shooter, Splatoon’s main multiplayer modes pit two teams of four against each other, using ink-spewing weapons to satisfyingly coat both the ground and your enemies in shiny goop. Your squid or octo-based character can seamlessly shift forms to glide through your team’s ink and rapidly advance, popping up out to fire a variety of weapons and build out further territory. Splatoon 3’s main mode — Turf Wars — tasks your team with covering the most ground before time runs out, while other modes for more experienced players add in specific objectives like protecting payloads or towers. The modes themselves may not have changed here, but they are still as fun as ever, bolstered by new weapons, specials, and tactical moves to take advantage of within them.
Nintendo Switch OLED Splatoon 3 Special Edition
Matches are as fast as they are frantic, but are approachable enough that anyone can easily get into them and have a blast. Even if you miss inking another player to eliminate them in Turf Wars, you’ll still be inadvertently painting the ground to help your team towards victory. Splatoon 3 has also made a smart tweak by moving your starting position and respawn point from an easily abused spot on the ground to launchpads up in the air, letting you pick which part of your base to launch into (and see where your teammates are going to launch), or check the map to easily target a teammate on the field to give them backup. This does wonders for letting teams escape getting camped in their own starting area, so long as they coordinate their efforts.
I really came to like the tall towers in Scorch Gorge that made for excellent sniping spots.
Each map is nearly symmetrical, with tricky terrain elements that offer tactical opportunities like mesh walkways to slip through, ink rails to zip along, paths to ambush from above, and multiple routes with different strategic advantages. The Turf Wars mode in particular never loses its chaotic fun, as there are plenty of chances for last second comebacks and extremely close matches. Even if your team gets totally demolished, the quick match time for all of its modes ensures you’ll be back at it again in no time, and the calling of “just one more match” is hard to shake.
Many of the best maps from previous Splatoon iterations have returned —- that includes Mahi-Mahi Resort and its changing water level that reveals more turf to ink, as well as the MakoMart that has you splatting foes along the aisles of a giant supermarket. Of its new additions, I really came to like the tall towers in Scorch Gorge that made for excellent sniping spots (or points to ambush using the new Zipcaster special), and the Hagglefish Market’s various routes that let me tear through boxes of debris. Most maps are tweaked slightly for ranked battles to allow the addition of moving towers or goals, but they all provide lasting fun whether you’re trying grinding against other competitive players or casually repping your chosen team during the new three-way Splatfest events.
One great change from Splatoon 2 is the ability to keep playing with your current group to let the good times continue to roll (both for PvP and PvE modes). It’s awesome to be able to stick with a good group of random players after a win, and even nicer to not have to remake a group with your friends after every match when you just want to have some more relaxed fun together. The only downside I’ve noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to cancel out of matchmaking when you choose to stay together, which seems like an odd oversight that left me in matchmaking purgatory a few times when the rest of the group bailed.
As you level up from playing matches, you’ll be able to browse Splatoon 3’s huge assortment of weapons, which range from traditional blasters and speed-increasing ink rollers to literal paint buckets and precise snipers. All of Splatoon 2’s best options can be found among those offered at the store, including two new weapon types. The allure of the Splatana (a giant squeegee on a wiper blade) caught my sword-loving eyes, though I have yet to master its extremely precise swipes that emit projectiles that remind me of The Legend of Zelda’s Master Sword. The other new armament is a bow called the Tri Stringer, which can be charged up to unleash three ink bolts that explode after a short pause. It’s a fun concept that has great potential in pinning down foes or keeping them away from objectives.
Each weapon is paired with a special move, and the sheer variety of both new and returning specials add a wonderful sense of unpredictable mayhem to the battlefield. From deployable shield domes to buff dispensers and exploding dolphins (complete with an “Akira slide”), I encountered many instances where a well-timed special turned the tide for my team at the last moment. My favorite by far has been the Zipcaster, letting me tether and fling myself to almost any surface, which has opened up so many fun new opportunities for ambushes and taking down sniper nests — though it’s extremely limited duration before I’m sent back to where I started is a clever way to keep it from being abused.
Earlier Splatoon games required players to accumulate currency from matches to buy different weapons, but Splatoon 3 has done a great job anticipating the needs of returning players in order to make weapon acquisition easier. Here you get a token each time you level up (or level up an armament from repeated use) that can be exchanged for one weapon, and while there’s a slow but steady roll-out of beginner friendly weapons at first, you can also choose to spend three tokens to pick out any weapon regardless of its level requirement. This benefits both veterans who want to go right to their favorite, and also newer players who might not want to wait 10 levels to get another bucket-type armament if they’ve come to love the one they’ve been using early on.
Splatoon 3 has done a great job anticipating the needs of returning players.
In fact, many of the new tweaks and changes in Splatoon 3 seem to have its experienced players (especially competitive ones) in mind. You’ll find not just one or two, but four different firing ranges to try out weapons depending on where you are and which mode you’re practicing for. The inclusion of a Recon Mode is also an extremely welcome one, letting you freely explore any of its 12 launch maps in order to get an understanding of the level's terrain and choke points on your own. After playing multiplayer matches, you can now view replays of your last 50 battles too, which included a wealth of great options like being able to swap to another player’s view on either team with a quick button press, or quickly scrub through the timeline and set up highlights to share online.
The best addition by far is the new lobby, as you will no longer be trapped in a nebulous menu while you wait for matchmaking to begin. There’s now a wonderful open space to wander where you can see holograms of your friends to check what they’re up to (or if they have a spot you can join), and make use of the giant practice range’s many neat features — and even clean up all the ink with the press of a button. In between matches, you can quickly swap out stat-boosting clothing and weapons (something that wasn’t available when Splatoon 2 first debuted), and also see other players running around the practice range before the next match starts.
The best addition by far is the new lobby.
Not only are these new additions sorely needed, they’re presented in a cool and stylish way that perfectly echoes the fresh fashion and design of Splatsville. A locker room even lets you customize your very own cubby with stickers and gear as another place to express your personality, or create dioramas as quirky and bizarre as the player social posts and art that can appear all over the square. You’ll also earn new titles, badges, banners, and more that add even more customizable style to your inkling character — many of which can be gained from a new Battle Pass system (that thankfully requires no opt-in purchases) that’s given me yet another great reason to keep diving back into multiplayer.
Splatoon 3 still holds a strict and sometimes nonsensical insistence on gating certain features that were present in previous incarnations. I understand why new players really should try playing Turf War before anything else — including the PvE Salmon Run mode that unlocks at level four, and the ranked objective modes in Anarchy Battles that unlock at level ten — but you’re also banned from shops and even your own locker room until level four for reasons I’m still trying to justify. Even the mediocre new tabletop card game seems needlessly gated, despite it being only against AI for the time being. At least for those returning players with Splatoon 2 save data, you’ll be able to hop right into ranked battles and buy a few choice weapons early on.
The aforementioned PvE Salmon Run has returned, and thankfully it’s now available to queue up for 24/7 instead of the bizarre decision the previous game made to close it down for hours at a time. You’ll still be given random weapons from a set as you and three other players battle hordes of encroaching Salmonids, and the new Splatana and Tri Stringer can really shine here. I particularly love the new intro that showcases you and your buddies preparing to launch out of a helicopter like you’ve been dropped into Metal Gear Solid 5. The act of surviving waves of enemies while collecting golden eggs from the various boss monsters that show up is still a lot of fun, and there are some great new tweaks here too.
Most notable among those changes is the ability to launch a golden egg you’re carrying ahead of you like a grenade. This opens up a huge realm of possibilities for maximizing your time on a map as you can bank shots like a pro basketball player. Working to create an egg tossing relay with my team was incredibly satisfying, and proved even a random group without voice chat could sync up like a well-oiled machine. Of course, the tradeoff is that launching eggs requires a ton of stored ink just like a grenade, and may leave you vulnerable and out of ammo as a result — which is another great risk vs. reward choice to introduce to a mode already full of them.
These modes are only great when fighting with or against other players, which is something I haven’t been able to do enough of quite yet.
New boss enemies also bring fresh strategies to the mix, like the “Fish Stick” that drops a giant spire into the ground to harass you from above. Being able to take them out and then use their pillar as an attack point is a great touch. To reward players for repeated wins, a new Godzilla-like salmon boss can now appear too if you’ve been on a roll, and the atmosphere instantly changes when it does. Instead of stockpiling eggs, you’re encouraged to use them as ammo to launch into the beast to take it down — but you’ll still be rewarded for making it as far as you have even if your team is defeated. Defeating this fishy kaiju also lets you unlock even more exclusive rewards, which is a great way to show off your salmon-hunting prowess to the masses, and gives even more reasons to keep coming back to survive the ever more difficult waves.
Building from the solid foundations of its predecessors, the deluge of impressive quality of life changes and exciting improvements Splatoon 3 brings make it hard to imagine the ink-based shooter series as it was before this. More than just a simple upgrade, its array of new features make it just as enticing for competitive players as it is approachable for newcomers. And while there aren’t any huge additions that shake things up the way Salmon Run’s inclusion did for Splatoon 2, Splatoon 3’s new maps, weapons, and PvE bosses have still managed to make its already excellent multiplayer clashes even better.