Splatoon 3: Side Order review — Purple yellow red and blue

Something weird is happening in Inkopolis Square. Inklings and Octolings are spacing out and not coming back to reality. The Square is becoming a bit of a ghost town now, without the usual noise of turf war. Turns out, their souls are being sucked into a virtual reality called the Memverse, created by Marina of Off the Hook fame. Now she’s at the top of a huge spire in the Memverse, and it’s up to Agent 8, Pearl, and the mysterious Acht to climb the tower, find out what’s going on, and save the world.

Despite my love for the series, I haven’t been able to play much of 3 since my review because of my crappy internet and Nintendo’s insistence on Peer to Peer connections over servers, but thankfully there’s a new DLC to get me back in the single player. Splatoon 3’s Side Order is a rogue-lite follow up to 2’s Octo Expansion. After an introductory 10 floor climb, your main goal is to reach the 30th floor of the Memverse’s Spire upgrading Palettes along the way. A Pallette is a representation of a character’s soul, but more importantly it’s a weapon you can slot in upgrades as you progress in a run. For example, Pearl’s Palette comes with Dualies, a curling bomb sub weapon, and the reefslider special. Before each floor, you choose from one of three layouts which come with a mission type and, more importantly, a color chip to slot in. Color chips can do anything from increasing your run speed, ink damage, or range to giving defeated enemies a chance to drop items or even bombs. Planning out what chips you want to take can create some wild builds by the end of a run.

Splatoon 3: Side Order Gameplay - Switch [GamingTrend]

One of my favorites was using Marie’s charger, then collecting the maximum amount of charge time reducing chips. The end result was a sniper rifle that could rapidly fire a piercing cannon shot. Devising how you can break each weapon type is easily the most fun part of Side Order, especially since this type of unbalanced joy wouldn’t work in a multiplayer setting. If you really don’t like a weapon, you can always spec into chips that allow your partner Pearl, in drone form, to do all the fighting for you.

As for what you actually do in Side Order, there are only a few types of objectives for each floor, though several layouts that can change your strategy. You might need to defeat a number of speedy enemies while hoards of foes chase after you, break all enemy spawn points, have turf covered in your ink for a specified amount of time, or knock some balls into pockets. While the various layouts certainly help to keep things fresh, I do think Side Order could have used one or two more objective types as they became rote halfway through taking each Palette to the top.

Speaking of, you only have to reach floor 30 and beat the final boss once, but you’re incentivised to do so multiple times through a few rewards. As you climb, you’ll earn Prlz which persist between runs. You can spend these on hacks to make your next ascents a bit easier through damage reduction, more chip types to get like new attacks for the Pearl Drone, extra lives and continues, and much more. You can even unlock a hack that increases the amount of Prlz you earn based on how few hacks you have turned on, though you’ll only keep those Prlz if you can clear the tower.

You can earn more temporary currency to spend on extra chips, more lives, and different subs and specials at vending machines and gain more Prlz by tackling harder floors. Each floor has a difficulty associated with it, along with potential modifiers showing up. A Danger icon means you may encounter more enemies than usual, the floor may be shrouded in darkness, the turf already covered in black ink, the Pearl Drone might not be able to come with you, or any combination of two. Conversely, a Bonus icon means you might get the rest of your Palette filled with a type of chip for that floor or you’ll be challenged to not jump or use your weapon for bonus currency. Sometimes, you can be presented with a challenge that simply makes the current floor impossible with your current build, however, and there’s no way to check what the Danger or Bonus will be beforehand. For example, one of the hardest floors in the game, a Sisyphean task to keep two zones of turf inked on opposite sides of a massive tower, can take upwards of 10 minutes normally. Keep in mind other floors normally take less than a minute. With the Brella and a Danger of enemies spawning faster than usual, I just didn’t have enough firepower to complete the objective. That’s an extreme example, but objectives stopping your run or causing you to lose way too many too many lives is very, very common. Enemies have a habit of chasing you into a corner then knocking you off the stage to your death, which feels very unfair. It’s by far the most common death you’ll experience, and it makes me wish for invisible walls to stop this or at least let me go down fighting.

Each Palette also has three keys to earn as you climb, with one given to you after beating a boss. Keys can be used on the big locker wall outside of the tower, and give you more Prlz, entries into Marina’s dev diary to see how she created the Memverse, and new Palettes to use. The final Palette you unlock is your own character, Agent 8’s, and has a few special effects. The more hacks you have active, the fewer color chip slots this weapon will have, so you really need to balance what hacks you need to maximize available slots. This all sounds like a lot to keep in mind, but it’s introduced at a good pace so as not to overwhelm you while keeping things new and interesting. Once you’ve done everything, there are also rewards you can spend Prlz on which transfer to the main game, so you can keep coming back and chipping away at the tower until you have everything.

For many though, I suspect the story and character interactions are the main draw, and unfortunately both of those dry up pretty quickly. After the opening, characters will have a short conversation in the elevator before the next floor. These dialogues can range from useful tips to Pearl and Marina flirting while Eight and Acht stand there awkwardly. (Pearl and Marina are VERY gay here, almost to the point of codependency, and Nintendo does everything short of confirming they are in a romantic relationship.) Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough dialogue to even get through two runs with no repeats. Occasionally the same conversation would occur twice within a single run. As someone who enjoys the lore and characters of Splatoon, I really would have liked to see more dialogue, especially about Pearl and Marina’s relationship or Octoling life before they escape.

In general there just doesn’t feel like there’s enough content here to sustain the expansion. You’ll be reading the same dialogue, fighting the same four bosses, completing the same few objectives, splatting the same few enemies, and seeing the same floor layouts over and over and over. Repetition is inherent to this type of game, but just a bit more variety would have gone a long way towards keeping things interesting. The potential for different builds is great and there are a ton of little details to notice, such as Eight’s hair, ink color, and ink pattern all changing depending on what color chips you have, but by the end I just wanted to reach the top with the final Palette and move on.

That final challenge rewards you with… basically nothing. You get the final dev diary and some insight into Acht’s past, but otherwise there’s no fanfare or congratulations. It seems like they expect you to reach the top once, then chip away at the other Palettes slowly over time. That’s a perfectly fine approach, but I expected something to happen for 100% completion. Side Order is still a lot of fun and I’ll probably come back to it occasionally, especially since a run only takes half an hour, but I had expected more, especially after Octo Expansion. The only other things you get with the Season Pass are the Splatoon 1 and 2 lobbies you can use for a change of pace, but those don’t include their minigames, like Squid Jump and Squid Beats 2. As a whole, I’m left dissatisfied with Splatoon 3. It has some great improvements and ideas that make the jump to a new numbered title make sense, but it’s lacking in so many other ways I just don’t feel the urge to come back to it as much as previous titles.

David is the kind of person to wear his heart on his sleeve. He can find positives in anything, like this is a person who loved Star Fox Zero to death. You’ll see him playing all kinds of games: AAAs, Indies, game jam games, games of all genres, and writing about them! Here. On this website. When not writing or playing games, you can find David making music, games, or enjoying a good book.
David’s favorite games include NieR: Automata, Mother 3, and Gravity Rush.



Splatoon 3: Side Order

Review Guidelines

Splatoon 3: Side Order can be a fun and interesting take on the rogue-lite genre, but there’s simply not enough here to sustain everything the game wants you to do. There’s too much repetition here, and as a result the DLC leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

David Flynn

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