Splatoon 3: Side Order Review

Splatoon 3 became a must-have Switch title thanks to its packed online features and addictive single-player campaign. The turf wars were always fast and frantic tug-of-wars where aquatic gremlins in Harajuku-style fashion would slather paint across a battlefield. It was kinetic and the game never wasted time, always pushing the player forward with some reward.

The story mode was no slouch either and further built upon the hub-style environments and levels that would offer various challenges for replays. Splatoon 3 is easily the most refined of the trilogy, offering a lot of bang for your buck and limitless enjoyment if you get hooked on the multiplayer. Much like its predecessor, it would get a DLC single-player expansion, but this time it would take the core mechanics as far as possible.


Unlike the Octo Expansion DLC to Splatoon 2, Splatoon 3‘s additional campaign is not a straightforward mission pack. What happens when you combine the Wild and Crazy Kids antics with the variables of roguelike gameplay? Find out in this Splatoon 3: Side Order review!

Splatoon 3: Side Order
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: February 22, 2024
Price: $24.99 USD

Side Order begins ominously when the player-created avatar is riding on a train, and passes out. The player then assumes the role of Agent 8, the Octoling protagonist from the Octo Expansion, but things are off. The world appears to be some kind of simulation and the overall atmosphere is evocative of the NieR games with the whimsical style of Nickelodeon cartoons.

The setting resembles Inkopolis from Splatoon 2; all color and life are sucked out of it, and everywhere you look is matrix rain code falling. Pearl shows up but has taken the form of an aerial drone that can also be used as a hover device like 2B’s Pod 042. There is a malevolent entity known as “Order,” and it has only one purpose: to sanitize all life and impose its will on life beyond the confines of the memverse.

The only thing Agent 8 has to worry about is getting to the top of the Inkopolis tower. The first ten floors serve as a tutorial and a prologue to the events that will unfold. Marina makes her return and a sanitized version of Acht mans the elevator which can only move up one floor at a time.

Each floor is a randomized challenge from one of five possibilities. Sometimes, Agent 8 might have to push a huge eightball up a gauntlet of slopes, like Sisyphus… but while being accosted by raving jelletons. Other times, Agent 8 will have to defend one or more territories, destroy portals, defeat speedy jelleton, or escort a turbine tower.

Since there are nigh infinite possibilities, the difficulty can range from easy to impossible. The deciding variables depend on the upgrades players choose between floors and the challenge they choose before leaving the elevator. Luck is a major pillar that makes Side Order compelling and adds a lot of surprise to the events. Even if it’s a familiar challenge, it won’t unfold the same way depending on your loadout.

Even if luck isn’t on your side, Splatoon 3 is deep enough that a skilled player can overcome some utterly insurmountable odds. It’s moments like these where the core gameplay can be pushed to its limit and players can see how deep the mechanics always were.

The Spire of Order allows players to use most of the weapon types found in the multiplayer mode, but these weapons can be upgraded thanks to the palette system. Each floor offers three randomized choices, where players can choose a chip that grants an upgrade.

These upgrades can range from simple and basic enhancements like improved range, splat radius, refill speed, and so on, but sometimes they offer passive perks or allow Pearl to attack or assist. The upgrades can also lead to unbelievably devastating guns with fire rates and bonus effects that could never happen in multiplayer.

Under normal circumstances, overpowered weapons like a rapid-fire and long-range slosher that poisons would break the game. Since the tower’s main enemies are jelletons that can overwhelm the player with large numbers, Agent 8 will need anything to even the odds.

Some floors can erupt into utter bedlam of black and pale goo turning the screen into a chaotic Jackson Pollock painting. The thrilling loop of Splatoon 3’s gameplay shines very brightly in Side Order in ways I couldn’t have imagined. This is the most challenging and deepest Splatoon 3’s mechanics have ever been.

Players are also discouraged from sticking with their favorite weapon because Side Order has incentives to use all of them. There is a locker full of new abilities, palette options, and permanent upgrades, but to earn a key, Agent 8 has to make it to floors 10, 20, and 30. Each weapon is only capable of earning three keys max, which pushes players to experiment with all of them if they want to open up all the lockers.

This is only one of the many ways Side Order lures gamers back to keep playing. While Agent 8 does lose all chips upon death, earned pearls are retained and can be spent at the bottom of the tower. Marina uses the pearls to make permanent upgrades to Agent 8’s stats and more become available the further you get. Side Order respects the player’s time by always allowing some progress to be made even if you fail.

Starting a run in Side Order is like popping open a can of Pringles. It is hard to stop once you get started. It feels less like a side dish and is almost an all-you-can-eat buffet. The only drawbacks are how few mission types there are and how there are only three boss types to encounter. The randomization saves the spartan missions from becoming repetitive and bosses do go by quickly enough that they don’t overstay their welcome.

Side Order aspires to be highly replayable and it succeeds with flying, gooey colors. Just when you think you’re done, more content and features open up with new items to purchase. The gear that Agent 8 uses also unlocks for use in multiplayer, so you can show ’em online. Even if you choose not to, Side Order is unbelievably addicting and hard to put down.

Getting sucked into the loop of riding elevators to get into goopy scuffles with slimy, boney fish for upgrades and quickly moving on to the next is stimulating. Compounded with the already excellent foundation that Splatoon 3 is built upon, it is a necessary and worthwhile addition to the game and takes its mechanics to new heights.

Splatoon 3: Side Order was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by Nintendo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy hereSplatoon 3: Side Order is now available for Nintendo Switch.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Focused and polished gameplay that maintains a rock solid 60 fps
  • The palette system fosters unconventional playstyles with the established Splatoon 3 armory
  • Fast paced frantic splatter action meets randomized roguelike gameplay
  • Permanent upgrades make retrying enjoyable
  • Just when you think you're done, Side Order keeps on giving

The Bad

  • The sting of choosing from three unhelpful chips for the palette on an unlucky run can happen
  • Only five possible objectives and only three boss types
  • The story is inconsequential

About

A youth destined for damnation.


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