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Splatoon 3 preview: A fresh coat of paint

(Pocket-lint) – We weren’t sure it was ever going to happen, but Splatoon 3 is finally on the cusp of releasing, continuing a series that looked like it might have been finished after its excellent second game.

The third looks a heck of a lot like more of a good thing, and we’ve had some hands-on time to see what it’s all about. Here’s how it’s shaping up, with just a few weeks until its release.

Our quick take

Splatoon 3 is shaping up really nicely – it’s got a range of fun modes, of which we’ve been able to try a handful. All of these are engaging and fun-filled, with more weapons than ever and the promise of lengthy support after its release.

We’re looking forward to sinking more time into it, and the lure of Splatfests will surely make online play even more enticing once the game actually releases. On the visual side, things might not be all that drastically new but this is still a fun and striking game to look at, with the same funky soundtrack as ever.

A tonic for series fans, we’re hoping that the full game can prove worthy of sucking in a new generation of players, too. A truly family-friendly shooter, after all, is worth its weight in gold.

Splatoon 3

For

  • More fun inky shooting
  • New maps
  • A range of modes to explore
Against

  • Motion controls still an acquired taste
  • Doesn’t feel drastically new

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Back to splat

Splatoon 3 drops you into a new metropolis of Inklings, the squiddy kids that the series has starred from the beginning, and leaves it to you to once again make your own style of character.

You get to customise your outfits as well as pick your weapons, and then head off to explore a few different modes on offer.

We got to try a few levels from the game’s singleplayer campaign, although these were shorn of context so we don’t really have much insight into the story as yet.

We know that you’ll have a little companion on your back, Small Fry, who’s a little Salmonid (normally the baddies but seemingly not universally evil) that you can chuck about to open new paths or even act as a distraction in a pinch.

Playing through three early-game levels, the same classy level design that Splatoon 2 offered up is in evidence here, with funky environments that are fun to explore and splatter around.

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Salmon Run, the series’ co-op mode, is also back in Splatoon 3 and is very recognisable to veterans, again pitting you against waves of enemies as you attempt to gather a minimum number of golden eggs each round.

These are dropped by Boss Salmonids that drop by every so often and take a little more coordination to vanquish.

Finally, the game’s multiplayer side, such a huge focus for longtime fans, was shown off by some rounds of classic Turf War, 4v4 in a battle to paint more of the map in your team’s colours, while blasting each other away if you get the chance.

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That’s a broad smattering of modes, and each feels like it could offer up a rewarding loop to get hooked on, and while it isn’t necessarily an array that adds anything particularly new, it suggests that Splatoon 3 could enjoy just as much of a long tail with its players as the last game did.

A welcome addition across these modes is a lobby system that lets you choose loadouts and customise your Inkling while you wait for games, including a shooting range to let you warm up and get used to new weapons.

Brush off the competition

Actually playing these modes feels like slipping back on a pair of comfortable shoes – the operative word here is evolution, not revolution.

That means you’re still controlling your Inkling with the left stick, and aiming your inky shots with a combination of the right and optional motion controls.

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Many high-level players swear by the motion controls and get crazy results from them, but we still found them finicky enough to turn them off for a smoother ride. Your mileage may vary depending on how much muscle memory you have for other third-person shooters.

The shooting itself is just as fun and splotchy as ever, with an even-further expanded arsenal of weapons that we had a good time exploring. From buckets and twin pistols to new additions like a bow, each offers a bit of a swap in playstyle that is fun to navigate.

It’s great that Salmon Run swaps your weapons between rounds, for example, to make sure you’re not in a comfort zone the entire time, while picking new special abilities also makes for a layer of tactical thinking.

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Co-op and singleplayer were both fun and zany, but it’s Turf War that continues to grab our attention, and that’s the mode we most wanted to keep playing of the three.

The thrill of watching that paint meter fill up at the end of a round to see who managed to coat more of the scenery remains pretty unique. Similarly, the core conceit, that you can be just as valuable to your team if you’re splattering your surroundings or blasting away opponents, makes Splatoon 3 just as welcoming as the earlier games.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily feel brand-new or fresh, but it’s got a fresh coat of paint and is therefore as smooth and responsive as you could like.

Paint me a picture

The game also doesn’t look drastically different to Splatoon 2, we have to say, although the package of gameplay options at launch is more extensive, with maps that feel bigger on the whole.

NintendoSplatoon 3 preview: A whole bunch of inky fun photo 8

So, while fidelity doesn’t seem all that varied between releases, the devs do seem to have managed to fit more in while maintaining visual performance, which is nice.

We got the chance to play a few rounds in handheld mode as well as docked on a TV, and it’s also worth pointing out that on a Switch OLED, which came out a long time after Splatoon 2 dropped, the game’s colourful paint splatters look better than ever.

The contrast and brightness that the newer display offers makes a world of difference to the handheld experience – albeit one that applies to basically every Switch game, not Splatoon 3 alone.

NintendoSplatoon 3 preview: A whole bunch of inky fun photo 6

The music and sound effects are once again satisfyingly chunky and odd, with that same funky electronic vibe to the soundtrack that’ll have you bopping along as you wait for matches, and the all-important splatter effects sounding simply great.

This all adds up to a really solid package on the graphical and sound side of things, which is no surprise given how solid Splatoon 2 was, but it’s nice that things are perhaps a little brighter and easier to see this time around.

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To recap

More Splatoon is a very good thing, and we really enjoyed our time with the third game – how its online modes fare will be key upon release, though. We look forward to sinking our teeth into the final game!

Writing by Max Freeman-Mills.

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