When you consider the circumstances under which it was released, Splatoon should really have been a failure from the start.
To release a completely new IP on a struggling console and, on top of that, to make it a game that focused almost entirely on online multiplayer (on a system that wasn’t exactly boasting a thriving online ecosystem) should have been a recipe for complete indifference.
And yet, somehow, Splatoon managed to become one of the Wii U‘s few success stories, eventually selling nearly 5 million copies on a console that only sold 13.5 million units in its lifetime – an absurdly impressive attach rate. Against all odds, Splatoon had gained a big fanbase.
This following only increased with the release of Splatoon 2 on the Switch, which to date has enjoyed around 12.5 million sales. In just six years since the original game launched, Splatoon has quickly transformed from an experimental new IP to one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises.
Next year Splatoon 3 will further drive this point home, given how Nintendo has seemingly prioritised it. This will be one of the first major Nintendo series to see two unique releases on the Switch – not counting remasters, Splatoon is getting a second brand new Switch title before the likes of Super Mario, Mario Kart and maybe even The Legend of Zelda will.
The theme this time is chaos, and if that doesn’t sound appealing to you then you’ve only got yourself to blame. The final online Splatfest event in Splatoon 2 asked players to choose between two sides, Order and Chaos, with Chaos winning out in the end (doesn’t it always).
It was hinted at the time that the result of this final Splatfest would determine the direction of Splatoon 3, and that appears to be the case. The new game mainly takes place in two new regions – the Splatlands, which are a sort of desert-themed area, and Spaltsville, which Nintendo itself describes as “the city of chaos” (though quite what that entails isn’t clear yet).
In one sense, Nintendo isn’t trying to rock the boat here. It knows it’s onto a winner with Splatoon’s formula and it isn’t going to pull any wild Overwatch-style revamps of its central mechanics. The game will still mainly be a team-based online game consisting of two teams of four players, and most (but not all) of the time the game will still be played with Turf War rules, where the aim is to cover more of the stage with ink than your opponents can.
Competing players will still be able to play as Inklings, and presumably they’ll be able to play as Octolings too after Nintendo added this in Splatoon 2’s paid Octo Expansion DLC. You’ll still be turning into a squid or octopus to swim through ink, and you’ll still be able to customise your character’s weapons and outfit.
“In one sense, Nintendo isn’t trying to rock the boat here. It knows it’s onto a winner with Splatoon’s formula and it isn’t going to pull any wild Overwatch-style revamps of its central mechanics.”
In some respects, then, it could be argued that Splatoon 3 should be considered in the same vein as ‘annual upgrade’ series like Call of Duty – were it not for the fact, of course, that by the time it’s out it’ll have been four years since its predecessor was released.
That’s not to say it’s going to be completely lacking in innovation, however. Nintendo may have decided that there’s no point fixing what isn’t broken, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to spend a bit of time gluing extra bits onto it anyway.
Players will be equipped with a number of new moves which help them avoid opponents’ attacks, ranging from a new diving roll to a technique that lets them quickly swim up walls and leap off at the top.
A new ‘spawner drone’ item will also change the way players respawn after being inked. Rather than spawning at the same point each time then using a Super Jump to land back into the thick of things, players will now be able to move their drone around and specify a specific spawn point, preventing the possibility of opponents spamming a team’s sole spawn point with attacks.
Weaponry is also being tweaked, with the main addition seen so far being a strange bow and arrow style gizmo which appears to fire three inky shots at the same time. New special weapons have also been confirmed, like the Trizooka (which acts like the Inkzooka but fires three shots) and the Zipcaster, which turns the player stretchy for a brief period and lets them grab onto distant walls, grappling hook style.
A bunch of the previous weapons from the first two Splatoon games are also returning, and the trailers Nintendo has shown of the game so far appear to suggest that they’ve all had a bit of a redesign, meaning even the familiar should hopefully still feel fresh to an extent.
Solo players will also be happy to see that Splatoon 3 includes a new single-player campaign called Return of the Mammalians. Here, the player dons a Hero Suit and heads out to Alterna, an Arctic-like region where a battle against the Octarian army is on the cards.
It remains to be seen just how detailed this single-player campaign will be – will it be a full-length adventure, or will it simply be an extra aside to support the main event that is online multiplayer – the Bowser’s Fury to Super Mario 3D World, as it were? With any luck we’ll find out more before release.
Which brings us to the main unknown at this point: exactly when we can expect to see Splatoon 3. Nintendo hasn’t confirmed anything other than a non-committal 2022 at this stage, but given the series’ colourful nature and the fact that both the previous games launched in the summer, that feels like a logical assumption to make for now.
Regardless of when it does finally release, Splatoon 3 could be the game that either blasts the series’ popularity into the stratosphere or, if it doesn’t change enough, may end up being an underwhelming title that suffers from ‘difficult third album’ syndrome. It’s rare that Nintendo EPD delivers a stinker though, so we’re leaning towards the first outcome for now.