What Can We Expect For Splatoon 3? And What Do I Want Anyway?

“Knowing You,” Kenny Chesney, I’d rather talk about something that’s much more interesting.

Those who have followed the blog and/or my Twitter feed for a while know that I do two things in life: Listen to country music, and play Splatoon (often at the same time, which leads to some bizarre juxtapositions of sound and action; imagine racking up double-digit kills in an intense match while listening to “Last Cheater’s Waltz”). With over 2,300 hours and 4 X ranks in Splatoon 2, I’m probably more-qualified to discuss that game than I am to dissect anything Thanos has dropped in the last year, and so I was understandably hyped when Splatoon 3 appeared in last month’s Nintendo Direct.

I made some brief remarks about Splatoon 3 in that last post, but since I’m incapably of briefly doing anything (these song reviews seem to get longer every month…), I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the possibilities offered by Splatoon 3, and what we might expect from the game when it launches next year.

The Lore

To reflect the victory of Team Chaos in the “final” Splatoon 2 Splatfest, the focus of Splatoon 3 moves away from Inkopolis and over to the city of Splatsville and the harsh terrain of the surrounding Splatlands. There’s been a lot of excited speculation about the prospects of exploring a ruined civilization, but I think this is a bit misguided: Squid/octoling society is likely just as it was in Splatoon 2, with Inkopolis still standing and several fan-favorite maps from the first two games likely returning. (We’ll talk more about returning maps later, but if you think Moray Towers won’t be back next year, you’re crazier than I am.)

Instead, I’m most intrigued by the human angle of the story: We’re already canon in the game as an ancient race that went extinct due to “a climate apocalypse,” but that upside-down Eiffel Tower in the S3 reveal trailer suggests there might be a lot more to that story, and the developers are ready to tie this world a lot more closely with ours. So what does that mean for us?

  • It means the single-player environments are going to get a lot more recognizable. If the Eiffel Tower’s there, expect some more famous landmarks to be thrown in: The pyramids of Egypt? The Roman Coliseum? The Taj Mahal? Whether or not the campaign will be open-world or not, chances are we’ll be traipsing through more-familiar scenes. (They’d better include a Willie Nelson doppelgänger here, because you know he’ll still be alive twelve million years from now.)
  • It likely means the single-player levels will be a lot more “realistic,” for lack of a better term. The levels in Splatoon and Splatoon 2 were mostly floating-block sequences reminiscent of Mario Galaxy, but if this game is going to resemble the real world, then the levels are going to be more natural-looking, or at least have more platforms that obey the laws of physics (and fewer giant Game Boys floating in space).
  • I’m very curious to see how the designers expand on the human-extinction angle. Splatoon 2 has only been out since 2017, but a lot has happened since then, and if Nintendo wasn’t afraid to hide climate change in the background before, I wonder if they’ll broach subjects like the rise of authoritarianism and the possibility of a public health crisis in their Sunken Scrolls.
Image from Nintendo Life

I’m also intrigued by our new “little buddy” Salmonid that tags along with the protagonist through the first half of the trailer. Octolings went from enemy to playable character in Splatoon 2, but does this suggest a similar transition for Salmonids in Splatoon 3? While I doubt this (there’s just no obvious parallel to Inklings, unless “Salmonlings” become a thing), I wonder if there will a Mandalorian angle to the story: There could be something special about this Smallfry, and we must transport it across the desolate landscapes to its home far, far away. (The origins of Salmonids are completely undefined right now, so there’s a lot of world-building potential here.)

Much of this won’t translate to the multiplayer modes, but the single-player campaigns have been a surprising strength for the series (even if Splatoon 2‘s original campaign was the carbon copy of Splatoon‘s), so I’m looking forward to what this mode has to offer.

If the Undercover Brella doesn’t come back, I’m review-bombing this game on Metacritic.

The Gear

From a weapon standpoint, many of the existing classes were confirmed in the trailer (shooter, rollers, blasters, chargers, sloshers, splatlings – no dualies or brellas though, at least not yet), the headline was easily the introduction of the Splat Bow that can fire a trio of shots at an opponent. It’s hard to say how they weapon will behave without much gameplay, but the inking power of its shots in the trailer looked pretty minimal, so I’m guessing it will have a fairly long range to compensate, similar to a Splattershot Pro or H-3 Nozzlenose (or perhaps even charger-length?).

We saw a number of weapons get visual redesigns in the trailer (Splattershot, .96 Gal, Range Blaster, E-liter), but given how balanced the meta seems to be in competitive play right now, I doubt we’ll see a ton in terms of weapon stat changes (although the bow might shake things up a little). Just as with Splatoon 2, we’ll likely get a mixture of old favorites and new kits to play around with, and as much as I don’t like the game’s slow rollout of weapons (1-2 a week over many months), it seems to help maintain interest in the game over the long term, so I’m guessing we’ll see more of the same in Splatoon 3.

In terms of sub weapons…well, we don’t really see them at all in the trailer. In truth, I think there’s not a ton of room for improvement here: We have sprinklers, we have mines, we have bombs of every kind, we have sensors, we have walls, we have beacons big and small…outside of reimagining Toxic Mist, I think the sub weapons are in a good place.

The bigger question is the rest of the available gear (headgear, outfits, footwear). Games like this need a consistent stream of new content to keep players engaged, but with so much gear already available in Splatoon 2, I wonder if the franchise will run into a Pokémon problem: Every new game will have some shiny new gear to get peoples’ attention, but if every old shirt or kicks develops a dedicated group of fans that demand its inclusion, we’ll just end up with a bunch of gear that barely anyone uses that will eventual get cut and draw the usual ire on social media. Clothing items aren’t Pokémon, however, and Nintendo’s no stranger to absorbing slings and arrows online (hey, they ended up getting away with it in Pokémon Sword and Shield), so hopefully this won’t be a problem.

Something that would help cushion the blow of lost gear is the complete de-coupling of abilities from gear: Any ability should be able to appear as a main or sub ability on any clothing item (although there may be some that are locked to main-only or sub-only). We’ve already got this functionality through Annie’s gear shop on SplatNet, but it should be incorporated into the main game and made as easy as possible (perhaps you can choose your main ability when you buy something, and be able to change it as many times as you want for a fee?)

What about new abilities for gear? There’s definitely room for improvement on this front (Bomb Defense Up DX still seems like its trying too hard to justify its existence, and Main Power Up feels over-represented in the current meta), but I don’t think the developers have to go too crazy here. Maybe movement enhancers for the new ‘squid roll’ and ‘squid surge’ techniques? Honestly, I think we mostly get more of the same in Splatoon 3, and I’m fine with that.

Finally, we have the eternal question of special weapons: Do we wipe the slate clean like we did for Splatoon 2, or mix some new ideas with some old favorites? So far, Splatoon 3 seems to be doing the latter: A reworked Inkzooka has prominent placement in the trailer, and what looks to be a multi-Stingray can be seen as well (its origin is obscured, but I wonder if it’s the crab robot that appears later?). While I constantly raise the question of reviving Echolocator, I mostly haven’t missed the original specials from Splatoon, so I’m content to see how the game designers decide to mix things up this time around.

Image from Nintendo

Game Modes

I know people are predicting new game modes for Splatoon 3, but from the standpoint of the main multiplayer game, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t get one. Splatoon 2 didn’t add Clam Blitz until late in 2017 (and we’ve all been complaining about it ever since), so my guess is that we stick with the five primary modes we’ve got right now: Turf War, Splat Zones, Tower Control, Rainmaker, and Clam Blitz. (I know ThatSrb2Dude examined some of the unused modes from Splatoon 2, but neither of them look viable to me.) That said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes to the existing modes: I feel like a lot of people complain about the volatility of Rainmaker matches, so maybe they do something to significantly slow your movement speed when you’re carrying the Rainmaker around. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a new Ranked mode added later in the game’s lifecycle.

Instead, what I’d like to see is some cross-pollination between the current modes:

  • For Ranked modes, I’d like to see some less-competitive options available for players who don’t want to stress about their ranking, perhaps along the lines of the For Fun/For Glory split in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I enjoy ranked battles, but I don’t enjoy how salty I get from extended losing streaks, so I think being able to play the game in a no-stakes, Turf War-like atmosphere would be much more fun.
  • For Turf War, I’m honestly ambivalent about the idea of making it a formal Ranked mode, but I’d like to see some League Battle functionality migrate to the mode—specifically, the ability to form teams with your friends rather than being randomly tossed in to play with or against them. Getting only one or two matches together with a friend after a hour of playing can be a bit demoralizing, and I’d like to see us get the ability to play as duo or quartets (and trios too! If they can do it for Salmon Run, they can do it here).

Speaking of Salmon Run: If not salmon hunting, then some kind of horde mode needs to be in Splatoon 3. Given the dedicated community that has built up around the mode, I’d not like to see this mode continue, I want the bizarre availability restrictions of the mode removed, so people can play it whenever they want rather than only at specific times. Set up a map/weapon rotation system similar to that in regular Ink Battles (but on a longer timeframe; perhaps a day or two), get out of the way, and let the salmon runners run! Also, instead of continuously resetting scores to Profreshional 400, I’d like to see another higher rank option in the mode for those that can reach 999, similar to X-rank in regular Ranked Mode, or at least give them a little badge or something that they can show off for being an elite salmon player.

Could we see a new mode along the lines of Salmon Run? It’s hard to say: Perhaps an escort-like mode where a Rainmaker-esque object through an winding course against a varying number of enemies? My imagination fails me at this point, but I wouldn’t rule it out.

(And yes, Splatfests are coming back. Not bringing them back would be madness.)

Finally…how about the game let us make our own game modes? Instead of shoehorning a game like Hide & Seek into a Ranked mode, give us granular controls for Private Battles that let us play the game the way we want to. Also, how about making a public option for health care Private Battles, so that these custom games could be opened up to the masses? In other words, I’m for anything that helps people play the game the way they want to.

Image from Fandom.com

Maps

My attempt at map predictions for Splatoon 2 turned out pretty badly, so I’m not going to even try anything like that here. Still, there are some obvious candidates for readmission to Splatoon 3: Moray Towers remains wildly popular, and Wahoo World has become the map for ranked tournament matches, so to not bring them back would be lunacy.

In terms of “retro” maps, the one map I’d like to see return from Splatoon is probably Flounder Heights. No other map features the sort of vertical setup that Flounder does (Moray Towers drops in elevation as you reach the middle, while Flounder rises), so it might lead to some exciting playstyles when tossed into the Splatoon 3 meta. Bluefin Depot is a possibility as well, although I hear complaints about Camp Triggerfish’s split setup, so maybe not.

A new Salmon run map is also likely, and my off-the-wall idea would be something in between Shellendorf Institute and the Lost Outpost: A multi-level structure that players would explore inside as the tide got lower. Regardless, expect there to be more options for this mode, regardless of what form it takes.

Other Additions

  • I was asking for “player rooms” all the way back in 2017, and I’m getting some strong vibes that they might actually be coming to Splatoon 3 (especially given the way apartment buildings tower over Splatsville). It’s yet another fun customization option that players have been begging for (and frankly, the more Animal Crossing features that end up in Splatoon, the better).
  • Player reporting needs to be available through the main game, and not exclusively through the smartphone app. There should be as few barriers as possible to reporting morons who use offensive usernames.
  • Speaking of player toxicity: I’ve noticed a sharp rise in taunting, griefing, and other toxic behavior in Splatoon 2, and I’d like to see Nintendo do more to try to combat it. Here’s a suggestion: Mute all the audio but the ambient music after you die, so you can just pull up the map and not see or hear someone squid-taunting you in your death cam.
  • Precedent says we’ll get another Inkling amiibo triplet with Splatoon 3‘s release, but what about another amiibo set? I’ve already argued for a Grizzco-themed set that gives us the uniform items (we’ve only got the hat now), and our new little buddy from the trailer would look perfect as a plastic figure, don’t you think?
  • If there’s one thing I think the game already gets right, it’s the ability to mix-and-match any character with any hairstyles. There’s no reason to lock a style behind a gender, and I’m hoping more games will follow Nintendo’s lead.

At this point, I’m out of both ideas and breath, but I’m still overflowing with hype for Splatoon 3. Any way you slice it, I think we’re in for a treat when the game releases in 2022, and I can’t wait to learn more about it in 2021.

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