It feels as if Nintendo has been remaking the same game for the past seven years – writing, rewriting and editing the building blocks that make up this most surprising of first-person shooters.
ut after two instalments plus a marvellous chunk of DLC, Splatoon 3 is the one that marshals together all the most enjoyable ideas and features without actually changing a whole lot. The fundamentals remain the same – four-vs-four battles in urban arenas where the goal is to cover the most area with your colour of ink. If you can splat your opponents at the same time with globs of dye, so much the better.
This is how it played out in the original Splatoon in 2015 and the Splatoon 2 sequel in 2017, as players alternate between human form with ink guns and squid or octopus form for rapid traversal. Here in Splatoon 3, Nintendo has sanded down many of the rough edges, adding delightful new weapons, extensive customisation (in both appearance and skill trees) and a pair of fresh moves (rolling to the side and an extra-high leap up a vertical surface).
Most satisfying of all in terms of the seven years of development since Splatoon 1 is an extensive single-player campaign, even though it resembles an offshoot of Splatoon 2’s DLC. But solo mode’s cleverly creative mix of platforming and boss challenges render it much more than a tutorial for the game’s main events in multiplayer.
In the 4v4 match-ups, the new weapons and abilities come into their own – the likes of the three-arrow bow, the grapple hook and angled grenade all adding something distinctive to the frenetic action.
But at the same time Splatoon recycles many old maps and all the old modes such as Turf Wars and Clam Blitz. So, with a few exceptions, the gameplay will strike many returning players as either comfortingly familiar or distressingly overused. At least Nintendo has ditched the habit of restricting certain maps to a schedule of its choosing. But it also annoyingly locks away some of the more radical multiplayer modes until you reach Level 10. That might be OK if you’re a newbie still finding your feet but to seasoned Splatoon soldiers, it’s going to rankle.
Perhaps you’ve never experienced the exhilaration of a Splatoon match. You will require time and practice to become accustomed to its rhythms of duck, run and splat. But the reward is a shooter unlike any other. Veterans will probably roll their eyes at the audacity of the copy and pasting – only to fall back in love all over again with Splatoon’s breakneck pace.
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