Splatoon 3 Is A Bunch Of Wholesome Joy

In the days since Splatoon 3 came out (keep in mind I write these a week before they post), I’ve played the game more and less than I expected to. The relatively smooth and straight-forward nature of the game lends itself to pick-up-and-play gaming, with me fitting in a couple matches by myself or some time working through the challenges in story mode into whatever spare fifteen minutes I have. At the same time, the often-times frustrating nature of repetitive losses or getting stuck on a challenge that requires a level of skill you just don’t have can make the game incredibly easy to put down. Over all, though, I’d say the fun, light-hearted nature of the game and relatively swift matches tips the scales so that I find myself enjoying my time with the game far more fequently than I find myself putting the game aside in frustration. In my experience with online, mostly player versus player games, that’s about as good a result as you could ever hope for.

Most of the issues I encountered in the Splatfest demo period a few weeks back are gone. There are still connection issues from time to time despite the patch intended to fix them and I still occasionally get kicked out of a match by what the game tells me is a connection error solely on my end, which sometimes results in a short ban form online play (about ten minutes). Less frequently now than prior to the patch, I’ll get kicked out by a mysterious communication error that only strikes when I’m group up with my friends but that hits all of us and doesn’t restrict play. As frustrating as all that is, I would still call this a pretty impressive launch given that these random disconnections are the only issues I’ve had, save a couple instances of lag and rubberbanding in matches. Each lasted only a few seconds and were incredibly frustrating at the time, but none of them helped or harmed me in the moments they happened, so I’m willing to overlook it. Given the frequency with which Nintendo games are cited as having horrible online experiences full of lag and minute but devastating delays, I think this is a pretty solid win even if I do sometimes need to stop playing because the connection issue bans are incredibly defeating (since they mostly seem to strike during matches I’m doing well in, go figure).

Beyond that, the game’s story is fairly basic. I’m sure there’s far more going on than I’m aware of (the game has a dedicated following and impressive lore base, after all), but nothing I’ve run into at present requires any knowledge of past games or events where that information isn’t provided by the game itself. Some of the current characterization of significant NPCs in the story mode seems to be based on past events and lore developments, but I’ve got two knowledgeable friends to answer the surprisingly few questions I’ve had come up. Such as whether or not the characters you play as have bones. Or why some of them seem capable of growing mustaches. Or why some of the enemies are like severed tentacles rather than the humanoid characters you play as or against in online play. Or why this apparently important giant electric fish going missing isn’t actually big enough deal to warrant a proper budget for the group ostensibly charged with retrieving it. All kinds of fun questions with much more specific answers than I anticipated. The only one I haven’t gotten a decent answer to yet is if the ink involved in all modes of play violates the laws of conservation of mass given that it appears to be a limitless resource. The incredibly detailed world makes me believe the answer I seek is out there, but I’ve yet to find out where said answer might live.

I have a pretty low standard for what I’d consider a fun game, since I genuinely just enjoy doing things with people I care about. This game’s many PVP modes all have the ability for you to queue up with friends (though there might be a limit on how many friends you can queue with in some of the game modes I’ve unlocked but not played), so that alone is enough for me to call it a fun game. That said, it’s fun enough on its own that I’m completely willing to play it by myself. The story mode challenges are an amazing mix of frustrating and clever. The difficulty is never adjusted by changes to the map or the objectives within the level, but by which ink gun and sub-weapon combo you use. Some challenges had me almost weeping with frustration as I had to confront my poor precision when using the most difficult weapon option and then breezing through them when I finally opted to go with the easier solution. Not that the “easy” option is always easy, just that it is fairly straight forward and you can tell that you’ve been set up for success. Sometimes the difficult options (and half the weapons in the Salmon Run game mode) feel like you’ve been deliberately set up to fail. That said, the challenges are organized in a way that will help you hone your abilities with the weapons involved, so I have to tip my hat to the level and challenge designers for their clever work.

Even beyond the story mode challenges, I’ve never found myself stuck in a set of matches that I can’t win at least part of the time. I don’t know if it’s just my limited experience and how new the game is to the world at this point or if the developers actually put a lot of work into the matchmaking system, but I have also enjoyed just going online by myself and jumping into the online portion of the game as a single player. Even during Overwatch’s heyday, I rarely ever did that because of how often I’d find myself forced to attempt to carry my team to victory (back before tanks got nerfed) or constantly losing against players that were just so much better than me and the others on my team. Competitive mode fixed some of that, but it was still a frequently frustrating and toxic experience. So far, though, Splatoon 3’s online play has been a joy and a breeze. I had one set of matches with the same group of eight players (myself included) over almost an hour of play that had us swapping teams back and forth so that we all won about fifty percent of the time and bonding over weird hijinks in the waiting room while the next match loaded or players swapped their gear around. It was a magical experience tragically ruined by a communication error.

This may be the optimism of my early days with the game, but this is genuinely the most wholesome online PVP experience I’ve ever had. Some of that might have to do with the lack of a chat function and the limited ability to communicate, a lot of it might have to do with queueing with my lovely and supportive friends from Splatfest, but there might still be a part of it that is the result of how fun, colorful, and low-stakes most of the matches feel. I always find myself looking forward to whatever color my team will be, to acknowledging my opponents’ skill whenever they outplay me and my team, and am only frustrated with one color. And I even recognize that it isn’t that color’s fault! I’m just really back at spotting moving objects in the purple ink. Given that I play on my computer monitors a lot so I can talk to my friends as we play, some of that might have to do with the color temperature settings on that specific monitor, so it isn’t purple’s fault. It’s mine for playing on a monitor that tends to make everything look a lot darker as a result of my eyestrain reduction efforts.

Anyway, I’m having a great time and I’m willing to bet I’ll keep talking about this game in the months to come as I work my way through the story mode, as DLC comes out, and as more Splatfests happen. The next one was announced the day I wrote this (along with a lot of other incredibly exciting news), and it’s happening only three days from when this posts! Who knows what I’ll have to say about that once it’s done. They’ve said they’re working to fix the tricolor battles, so hopefully that’ll be ready by the time we get into it this weekend.

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