Nintendo’s offbeat hit Splatoon has been around since 2015, but the idea is still so charmingly bizarre that it feels fresh: human-cephalopod hybrids splatter each other and their surroundings with colourful paint on ink-splashed battlefields. You transform back and forth between human and squid (or octopus), swimming through ink, emerging to chuck paint out of a bucket or shoot it from a squirt-gun or spread it with a roller, claiming territory with your own team’s colour. The arenas are city alleyways, abandoned factories, warehouses and urban landscapes – they have the feel of real-life underground skate spots, derelict yet cool.
Splatoon 3 does not change much about this premise, but it’s irresistibly stylish and gives you absolutely loads to do, from those chaotic trademark team battles to co-operative sorties on to industrial islands where you shoot at goggle-eyed fish to steal their shiny golden eggs. The more you play, the more you want to play, as new modes and weapons open up. A triple bow with exploding paint arrows, a transforming sword, an umbrella … they all beg to be toyed with, and they’re all gently hilarious.
There’s also a new, surprisingly brilliant single-player mode that turns the ink-splatting gameplay into a series of interesting puzzles – a superb showcase for the creative talent at Nintendo, who seem to be able to come up with limitless new ways to experiment with paint-guns. I’ve defeated an octopus DJ inside a mech suit, created paint-paths across floating architecture, and scaled a robot made of glass with a tank. The game is worth buying for this stuff alone: it is quietly one of the best and most inventive action-puzzle games around, reminiscent of the Mario games (in particular, 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine) in its playfulness and creativity. There’s even a climate-conscious subplot.
And unlike Mario, whose primary colours and big round-faced characters place it firmly in the safe zone of family-friendliness, Splatoon is just … cool. The aesthetic is flawless, an inimitable fusion of brazen Japanese street-fashion, urban art, architectural lines and effortless swag. This irreverent pop-art personality is long established by now, but it still makes me smile. Players’ doodles, which pop up in the city square when you’re wandering around checking out new trainers and t-shirts in the shop windows, are a constantly evolving sampler of memes, jokes and tribute art. Giant worldwide splatfests bring the community together every few weeks to settle such consequential questions as whether ketchup is better than mayonnaise, or what you’d bring to a desert island (gear, grub or fun?). It just feels so alive.
The wonderful thing about Splatoon is its welcoming nature. Most players you encounter in multiplayer go swimming off immediately in search of opponents to splat, but if you don’t have much appetite for competition, you can still contribute valuably to your team by busting out a giant paint-roller and diligently decorating your home base. Like Fortnite, it is a fun, competitive shooter without any of the performative violence or militarisation that used to dominate the genre. And it is popular – especially in its native Japan, where it has sold 3m copies in three days.
I’ve been playing versions of this game on and off for seven years now, but the fun doesn’t wear off. Splatoon 3 doesn’t offer something different, it offers more: more fashions, more modes, more ways to spend time in its messy, chaotic universe, alone or together. It is delightful to be back.