How Splatoon 3 Blends The Series’ Strengths Into An Inky Powerwash

Splatoon 3 is coming soon, but players will get their first taste even sooner. A special pre-release demo event is coming August 27, letting everyone get their hands on the first tricolor Splatfest. The special event will pit two teams against each other for the first round for a traditional Turf War, and then pit both of them against a leader for the second round, forcing the dominant team into a defensive crouch at the center of the map.

That’s one of the many new additions and wrinkles coming to Splatoon 3, which seems to be bursting at the seams with things to do and see. In advance of the release, GameSpot spoke with Nintendo product development SVP Nate Bihldorff and player and product experience VP Bill Trinen about welcoming new players into the Splatoon community, balancing approachability with a high skill ceiling, and the cosmetic catalogs that are coming for at least two years post-launch.

Now Playing: Splatoon 3 Hands-On Preview

GameSpot: What do you think makes Splatoon 3 a good jumping-on point for people who have never played a Splatoon before?

Bill: So the first thing of course is Hero Mode [single-player] itself. Hero Mode is, at least from my perspective, probably one of the underappreciated elements of Splatoon in the series as a whole, primarily because it just gets overshadowed by all of the multiplayer within the game because the game has such a heavy multiplayer focus. But obviously it’s designed in a way to onboard new players, teach them both the basics of movement, of abilities, but also introduce them to individual weapon types. And from that perspective it just does a really, really good job of being welcoming to new players.

But at the same time, it’s also a very traditional Nintendo approach to single player game design, level design–in this case a combination of platforming and things like that. A lot of people do view it as something of maybe a glorified tutorial, and while certainly the early stages are really geared towards getting people up to speed and getting them up to speed quickly, it also serves as definitely a challenging single player adventure.

And the way that the economy of the game is designed is that you’ll start off in Hero Mode and you’ll start to unlock weapons and unlock things that you’ll use in the multiplayer mode. And then as you go over into multiplayer it kind of encourages you to then dip into Turf War, and then as you level up you’ll eventually make your way into Anarchy Battles.

But of course the other thing is that this time around Splatoon 3 being the full on sequel, that it is players that are familiar with the game from Splatoon and Splatoon 2 are going to be essentially kind of starting over to a certain degree when it comes to learning some of the new weapon types, learning new techniques like Squid Surge and Squid Role, and understanding how those play into the overall strategy of the game. So that just means that right at launch anybody that is playing Splatoon for the first time is going to have an opportunity to be learning those techniques simultaneously along with the more experienced players.

With the Splatfest World Premier coming up, people are going to be able to get their hands on the game a little bit early. That’s going to be where those veterans are kind of experimenting with some of those new techniques and those new weapon types, and where those newcomers are able to get their first sense of what is the chaotic fun of the Splatoon series.

The Tricolor Turf War seems like such a frenetic, wild idea. Where did that come from? What do you think that adds to the general energy of more-traditional Turf War?

Nate: As you know I think, the first phase, before halftime, it plays out like a usual Splatfest where you’re doing four-on-four. But once you get on the other side of halftime, this concept of the two teams who are in second and third place, respectively, suddenly having a chip on their shoulder to really want to go after, as a team, the team that’s in the lead. That’s going to automatically boost, I think, the energy of the second half of the Splatfest. But obviously tactically it’s something that’s really never been done before, as you have the team on top essentially guarding this central area and that’s all they need to be doing during the Tricolor Battle. I mean obviously you want to be covering the turf, but if you let them get into these two other teams that are teaming up on you, if they get to the ultra signal that essentially you’re guarding at the bottom then the tides completely turn.

And so you have a shift between halves of, “Oh, I know what this feels like. This is a normal Splatfest”. To, all of a sudden full on defensive struggle for the team in the lead to try to hold onto what is rightfully theirs, which they earned during the first half. So it’s going to feel completely new, even though obviously the mechanics of the game are going to be something that’s familiar. I can’t wait to see how it plays out once we have a lot of people playing it, it’s going to be intense.

It almost reminds me of the trend of asymmetric multiplayer. One team has gotten into a dominant position somehow and so they’re the ones to beat now.

Nate: Yeah. There’s something nice about teaming up with your former enemy too to take on a common threat.

The mechanics of Splatoon are very versatile and support a lot of different options–Turf War, the Splatfests, Salmon Run, and this new card collecting minigame. How do you keep it from feeling overwhelming versus just letting people find their niche?

Nate: I hope that people self-select a little bit when you’re talking about that, because I think you’re right, it’s a full menu. You go in there and even visually–you get into town and you look around at all these storefronts and it’s just a riot of color and options for you to do. I do think that people will naturally, I hope, nibble on everything at the beginning and then slowly self-select into the stuff that they really feel is most appealing.

I think this comes back to how accessible it’s going to feel, especially for new players. The new players who come in based on, “Oh, my friend is playing this”. They’re the ones who are really going to benefit because the improvements to how you can join up with friends for Turf War, the improvements to Salmon Run being available all the time, it means really it’s never been easier for somebody who’s a little bit newer to the franchise to get of dragged into a mode that they wouldn’t have tried otherwise because their friends are playing it.

The Stringer bow is a good example of how this series treats skill. Everyone knows how a bow works in a game, but it has two levels of charge shot. It feels very easy to understand but with a high skill ceiling, which seems to represent this broader philosophy.

Nate: I think that Splatoon has really excelled at that from the beginning, but this game really brings it to an even finer point. Anybody can go out there with the new bow and they’re probably going to have fun. Even if they don’t even understand the charging levels or how to really take advantage of sticking things to the walls and attacking from the rear, they’re still going to be having fun because it’s just fun to shoot. But the skill ceiling for somebody who really wants to master it is super high. And I mean I’ve found that with practically every weapon and every special weapon, to be honest. You’d think that would come at a price, and for me it really doesn’t. Because I don’t feel like when I pick up a new weapon that I’m totally incompetent at it. It’s like, “Oh yeah, I’m pretty good at this”. And then you only realize 20 hours later, “Wow, I wasn’t good at that at all. There’s nuances of this weapon”. And it probably was the result of me getting shot with it many, many times by somebody else to realize how bad I was. But it doesn’t make you feel bad while you’re learning, you’re still enjoying yourself.

Bill: What I found interesting is in Splatoon and Splatoon 2, unlike Nate, I know when I’m bad at something. I’ve never been a fan of the charger weapons, they’ve just never been my forte and don’t really fit well with my own play style. So right off the bat, as I first started learning about the Stringer I was like, “Oh that one’s probably not going to be for me.” And then as soon as I actually tried it out in game, I was instantly amazed at just how approachable the weapon is from the get go and how versatile it is. Even without necessarily having studied up on everything that it can do, literally within minutes I was just like, “Oh my gosh, there are so many options with this weapon”. And I was thinking that the Splatana was maybe going to be my weapon of choice in this game, and I’m quickly starting to lean a bit more towards the Stringer.

One big change is that now the Salmon Run will be available all the time. What kind of feedback did you get that influenced that decision?

Bill: I think as you look at Salmon Run this time around, obviously in the last game it was a bit more of an event in terms of when it was available. It still was obviously geared towards trying to get people to play stretches and earn those rewards. This time around what they’ve done is by adding the boss Salmonids in those massive boss forms and adding in the extra wave that comes on at the end if you do well enough in the first three waves, essentially it’s increased the skill ceiling for Salmon Run. So by having it available all the time, it means people are going to be able to go in whenever they want, play whenever they want, and I think hopefully you’ll start to see people that are more familiar with the mode, with how it operates with the different waves, and what that’ll do as enable more teams to be able to hit some of those higher reward levels and engage in extra wave and things like that on a more regular basis.

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The Catalog system seems interesting, because it seems like it would play similarly to a battle pass, but it’s not that. What can we expect from the catalogs?

Nate: You mentioned battle pass, I think it shares certainly some aspects of it in the sense of wanting to have a finite period of time for people to have achievable goals that they can be working toward. With not a super sense of urgency, but with some urgency because these things are only available for a limited time. So it gives you, within a three month period, specific goals that you’re setting for yourself. Although obviously built into the game structure and not in a way that has any sort of monetization involved. It’s just these are rewards that you’re working towards within the game.

I personally think that this is such a perfect match for Splatoon because this game has always been about fashion. It’s always been about the cool gear that you’re wearing, and the idea of having a seasonal catalog just meshes so perfectly with that where you’re like, “Oh, this is the summer season”. And it’s like, “Oh, I really gotta have that sun hat. That one thing that’s really going to fill out my look for right now”. I just feel like thematically it’s such a perfect match for the game.

And then the way it’s incorporated into the game play and into the virtuous loop of how you’re playing and constantly wanting to say, “Oh, I want to see what that next thing is and I want to earn that next thing.” For completionists like me it absolutely is going to be a goal every season to fill out the whole catalog. But I think for everyone else who isn’t a Splatoon super freak it’s just going to be a fun thing that they’re looking forward to doing without feeling like the pressure of, “Oh my God, I have to do all these things”. Because they may well look through a catalog and be like, “That’s not me. I don’t like those shoes. I don’t wear purple shoes. I don’t care about those, I want these other ones. I’m going to wait for the winter series”.

So this is the third Splatoon, but it’s the second one on Switch. Nintendo usually releases one major franchise entry per generation. That looked to be the direction for this series too, but now we’re getting another one. What made now the right time to release another Splatoon game on Switch?

Nate: Number one I think we’ve been aided by the fact that Switch has had such a long and healthy life cycle. It’s a machine that’s still playing great, still has a great user base and we were fortunate enough to get Splatoon 2 relatively early on in the cycle. So I don’t think that there was necessarily an inherent calculus in saying, “Oh yeah, this is exactly the right time”. But more a matter of it was time for us to get some more Splatoon and the system is still very, very strong and so let’s get it out there.

I personally am incredibly excited because it’s later on in a console’s life cycle, we obviously have a very healthy user base to keep drawing on, which means we’re going to have just tons of people jumping into the pool and enjoying this game at the same time that I am.