Online multiplayer shooters, such as Overwatch, Fortnite and Call of Duty, are still the rage and drawing huge groups of gamers. But the rabid crowds of competitive “pros” in some games can suck out all the fun. (Not to mention add some uncomfortable bloody trigger-pulling.) If you’re not really serious and dedicated to fine-tuning your play, you can feel a bit overwhelmed.
Enter Splatoon. The Splatoon franchise joined those multiplayer ranks with its own brand of inky online kid-friendly competition. And Splatoon 3, with its new single player story and fun-augmenting enhancements, reinforces the idea that casual players can romp, splash around in gallons of ink, and have competitive fun, too.
When it comes to online competition, this Nintendo Switch “shooter” isn’t complicated. Splatoon 3’s basic gameplay (called Turf War) is focused on teams of up to four players. Those teams must dominate the arena by coloring as much of the floorspace as possible before the short-lived timer runs out. You determine the right “weapon” and battle-boosting gear for the job; strategically work to keep your equipment full of paint; help your squadmates; and fend off the opposing players.
It’s pretty much as simple as that.
Of course, the fun is in the frenetic, fast-paced choices you make.
Why is this classified as a shooter? Because you can also splat your opponents with gobs of ink until they (or you) pop and then have to respawn. Sending a few foes back to base might just open up some opportunities for your team to splash around some game-winning goop.
The single-player story mode essentially teaches players how to master all those messy Splatoon skills, from collecting gear to splashing ink to familiarizing yourself with plenty of weaponry. But as you might’ve guessed, it comes with more of a storyline, too.
That storyline plops the player into a future Earth where humans have made themselves environmentally extinct (those silly humans). The planet is now populated by ocean-based humanoids, which fall into two groups: Inklings and Octolings. Players create their own teen cool-squid-kid from a variety of skin tones, outfits, and physical forms (be they male, female or neutral).
After meeting an elderly squid named Cap’n Cuttlefish, players are sent off on a series of quests in areas reached through sewer grids. A group called the Octarians have once again stolen away the city of Splatsville’s Great Zapfish—a creature that powers everything. And worse, there’s a strange fuzzy lethal ooze that’s spreading around. With the help of a little critter named Smallfry (which can actually eat the fuzzy gunk), gamers explore the land, meet a variety of key figures, battle bosses, gain skills and gear and solve all the oozing, zapping problems on hand.
With some eight different locales to go through, players are given different weapons to experiment with—each with their own difficulty level that results in increased or decreased rewards. Rewards can then be used to purchase ability boosts, outfits and weapons. The ink weapons themselves fall into several categories: brushes, big paint rollers, ranged sniper rifle squirters, defensive “brellas,” swords and several gun-like types.
Purchased ability boosts can do things such as helping you recharge special ink splats, save ink, and speed up your swimming ability in ink pools. (Gamers refill their weapons by taking on a squid form and swimming through the pools of ink they splash on the floors and walls.)
Splatoon 3 also includes several other modes of online mayhem, from three-team showdowns (called TriColor Turf Wars) to a card-collecting and battling game (Tableturf Battle).
One of the biggest bonuses here is the fact that the online play feels more forgiving and casual than the standard online shooter. Playing as a team with fellow gamers is important, but the frenetic splashing is less demanding and younger players can more easily get into the mix. At the same time, the speed of the splish-splashing matches still feels breathlessly competitive and rewarding when you land a win.
As mentioned above, there’s tons of variety in the latest online challenges. And parents—even those with no video-game experience—can slide in and quickly pick up the intuitive play while watching and joining their kids.
There’s nothing much to mention here. The game is pretty silly with gibberish conversations and printed English captions (but advanced reading skills are not a must). And while there is sword-swinging and trigger-pulling here, it’s all ink-based and harmless.
Probably the one thing to keep an eye out for are the common areas, where gamers can draw little pictures that pop up above their avatar’s head when approached. Most are just cute or funny, but some images could potentially be slightly offensive with the wrong individual. That feature can be turned off.
What started out as a quirky little ink-squirting “shooter” game with cartoony squid-kid “tude” in 2015 has grown into a colorful franchise that parents can appreciate, and hey, even enjoy.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.