Splatoon 3: Side Order is filling, even if it isn't quite a full meal

Splatoon 3: Side Order's roguelite story is a fabulous new single-player experience, but it may leave players wanting seconds.

Nintendo
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As noted during our initial preview of Splatoon 3: Side Order, it's remarkable how Splatoon is a rare franchise that can fit in nearly any genre. Few could have pictured this series that was originally presented as an ink-blasting competitive multiplayer third-person shooter as a single-player roguelite, but Nintendo has managed to pull it off. Side Order is an expansion that gets its hooks into players fast. While it may not have the staying power of other full-fledged roguelites, it's still an entertaining new way to approach this rapidly-expanding universe.

Tower of power

Moving a ball around in Splatoon 3: Side Order

Source: Nintendo

Instead of using the original Splatoon 3 protagonist, players are once again thrust into the role of Agent 8 from Splatoon 2's Octo Expansion. Inkopolis Square has opened up from the main Splatoon 3 hub, but upon heading there from the subway, something appears amiss. The world appears dreadfully plain, bereft of nearly all color. Players soon learn that they are in the Memverse, a virtual realm created by Off The Hook's Marina. The Memverse has been hijacked by a rogue entity called Order, which has gone overboard in its mission to reduce chaos by looking to transform all of reality into a colorless void.

Order sits atop the 30th floor of the Spire of Order. Players need to climb each floor, one-by-one, in order to force a final showdown alongside Marina's partner, Pearl, who has turned into a helpful drone. The Spire of Order is filled with a new race of enemies called Jelletons. The base enemies will pursue players relentlessly, but more interesting enemy types show up over time, like ones that hover in the air and drip ink from above, ones that ride spinners, and vertical towers that shoot lasers on sight. While most of the strategy against Jelletons will boil down to shooting them until they pop, many of them have a way to use their abilities against other foes. Using the spinning top as a weapon or blowing up the vertical tower and using that explosion against other foes are just two ways that the minion design in Side Order excels.

Each run mixes up the game's various pre-arranged floors in a different way. Each floor is a small arena, so there's no need to get bogged down by committing massive layouts to memory. Plus, after a few runs, these floors will start to look more and more familiar. That's where some of Side Order's shortcomings start to become clear.

Deep dish

Fighting the giant roller boss in Splatoon 3: Side Order

Source: Nintendo

As wonderful as Side Order is, it's missing a certain level of depth. It doesn't take long to feel like you're splatting the same foes across the same stages with the same objectives, regardless of their sequence. The latter particularly hurts, as players are asked to clear out enemy-spawning portals, protect a Splat Zone, place a ball into a magnetic pocket, or chase some elusive foes. The objectives start to feel repetitive over time, and there aren't many ways to mix them up. Worse, the 10th and 20th floors will feature a boss fight, but there are only three bosses, and there isn't a lot of variety to these fights.

With that said, Side Order does offer some different ways to experience every run. Agent 8 will be given a makeup-style Palette for each run and will receive Color Chips at the start of each floor that can amplify a player's main weapon, grant passive ink bonuses, increase the power of their Pearl drone, or offer several other different buffs. A player's build can vary depending on their weapon of choice, with new ones available through fresh Palettes that get unlocked over the course of the game.

Players can also make their way a little farther through the Spire of Order each time with the purchase of small hacks. After paying Marina some Prlz, Side Order's in-game currency, she'll unlock some incremental bonuses. The main problem with the Prlz system is that earning them feels too slow. Even after finally hitting the 30th floor for the first time, I only came out with a little over 100 Prlz, which doesn't buy a whole lot. Getting every hack will require dozens of runs and it's an issue that's made worse with how repetitive Side Order can sometimes feel.

Room for dessert

Splatoon 3: Side Order feels refreshingly different from the rest of the game. That's not to say I don't like the story, the multiplayer, or Salmon Runs, because those are still great. Side Order, however, is a totally new way to experience Splatoon 3 and it comes through with its noticeably different presentation. This looks like a whole new game and my takeaway from Side Order is that with a greater focus, this could be a complete game in itself.

I sincerely hope Side Order is a trial run for Nintendo and the Splatoon development team, because I'd love to see what a full-blown Splatoon roguelite adventure could look like.


These impressions are based on a Splatoon 3: Expansion Pass provided by the publisher. Splatoon 3: Side Order is available now as part of the Splatoon 3: Expansion Pass, which is available on Nintendo Switch for $24.99 USD.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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