I used to play quite a bit of Splatoon back in the Wii U days but in the end I let Splatoon 2 pass me by because, from what I could gather, it basically looked like the same game with just a few minor changes.
After going hands-on with Splatoon 3 at a recent preview event, this new sequel felt pretty similar to how I remember the first game playing. Sure, there's a new single-player campaign to play through, along with a bunch of new maps for Turf War and Salmon Run, but to my out-of-touch eye the focus for this sequel seems to be on updating and improving what the players already love, rather than revolutionising the game and giving Splatoon fans something new to wrap their fish fingers around.
You can see what I mean in the video below, in which I showcase three early levels from Splatoon 3's new single-player mode, along with two matches of Turf War and a couple rounds of Salmon Run.
Splatoon 3's single-player mode (worryingly called "Return of the Mammalians") starts off pretty gently, introducing the player to a few of the new mechanics in the game, as well as most of the returning ones. There's a loose narrative behind it all, something to do with the Octarian Army and some Fuzzy Ooze, but honestly, it just seems like a nice place to get to grips with the controls and weapons.
Speaking of which, in the third level I played, I was able to use one of Splatoon 3's new weapons: the Tri-Stringer. This bow-like weapon can fire in three directions simultaneously as well as unleash charged shots that briefly freeze before exploding. The level itself was more like a shooting gallery than anything else, and it wasn't that challenging to get through. It did however act as a great training ground for understanding how the Tri-Stringer's two attacks worked and in what situations they worked best. Taking out three boxes or enemies at once with a horizontal triple shot felt very satisfying but, as you'll see if you watch the video above, powering up the bow and letting rip with an explosive charged shot is an excellent way to deal maximum damage.
The other new weapon I used was the Splatana Wiper, which I got to wield during a 4v4 Turf War match. The Splatana is a genius combination of a Katana sword and a car's windshield wiper and when swung, it sends blades of ink flying out across the arena. You can use rapid swipes of the Splatana to quickly cover the ground at your feet with paint but it can also be used as quite a powerful melee weapon if you charge it up before swinging it. This isn't an attack I used too much though as (and as you'll see this in my gameplay) I tend to play defence in Turf War and go for maximum paint coverage rather than maximum squid damage.
The Turf War matches I played took place on two brand new maps: Eeltail Alley and Scorch Gorge. Both felt great to play on but, aside from a few new power-ups here and there, I would have believed you if you told me I was playing a previous game in the series. It all felt similar to my experiences from the first game, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, but maybe seasoned players will be left wishing Nintendo had experimented a bit more.
Finally, we were also given the chance to take the new and improved Salmon Run mode for a spin. This mode will be familiar to Splatoon 2 fans - it tasks four players with collecting Golden Eggs from angry Salmonids who are advancing from the inky waters surrounding the arena.
As the levels and waves progressed, the Boss Salmonids increased in size and at one point we even went up against one that looked like a huge, segmented sea serpent. At this point the difficulty quickly ramped up, which meant we had to work as a team in order to meet our quota of Golden Eggs.
Unfortunately, I don't have any capture of that moment in my video as we played that portion of Salmon Run in handheld mode, but I'm happy to inform you that, in both docked and handheld versions, the gameplay was as smooth as the topside of a tentacle.
Splatoon 3 finally releases on Nintendo Switch on 9th September, but if you'd like to try it out before then, a free demo that features three-way fights comes out later this week.
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