Online multiplayer, platforming, deckbuilding, horde rushes, bizarre missions that barely make sense even in context — it seems the wizards at Nintendo could put the Inklings and Octolings through just about anything and make it a blast. Now it’s time for the cephalopodic denizens of post-apocalyptic Earth to tackle the roguelite genre in Splatoon 3’s latest DLC, Side Order. We got to have a good few hours with this new game mode at Nintendo’s UK headquarters, and let us be among the first to say they’ve nailed it once again.
Side Order has you entering a strange, monochromatic parallel version of Inkopolis Square from Splatoon 2, but the Deca Tower isn’t what it used to be. Instead, you’ll have little more than the entrance to a lift which will take you up the tower just one floor at a time, as all good lifts do. On each floor there’s a challenge to overcome before you can venture up to the next, and so on and so forth.
Each time you complete a challenge you receive a small stat boost in the form of Colour Chips (more on those later) to add to your Palette (again, more on this later). You can also unlock permanent upgrades to help you on each and every run, and if this is beginning to sound like the most roguelite-y of roguelites, you’d be right. And it works brilliantly.
The intrigue, as it so often is, is in the detail; each floor gives you the option to choose one of three challenges, randomly selected and each assigned a difficulty of Easy, Normal, Hard, or Rigorous (love that naming convention). These challenges are short and sweet, and come in a variety of flavours, from simply destroying all the portals from which enemies are spewing forth, to what is essentially just single-player Splat Zones. Again, these are simple objectives, but the deliciousness is once again in the detail. The enemies that spawn, the weapon you have, the bonuses you’ve accumulated, the fact that you’re probably on your fifth run of the afternoon — it all makes for a fresh and invigorating gameplay loop.
Speaking of weaponry and bonuses, let’s talk about Palettes. Before you enter the lift to begin your run, you’ll have to choose a Palette, which denotes your main weapon, sub-weapon, and special, alongside what Colour Chips are most likely to be offered to you. These could have just been standard loadouts, but instead each Palette is based on a character from within the Splatoon universe, letting you channel Marie and her Charger, Pearl and her Dualies, or Frye and her Slosher.
And once you start building up Colour Chips to boost the likes of your damage output, swim speed, or how likely enemies are to drop little extras from you, you’ll begin to see the logical conclusion to stacking these bonuses: insanity.
We’ve seen a Charger that charges instantly and homes in on enemies that you’re barely even looking at, a Brella that pops foes the moment they touch its fabric, and a Splatling that seems ordinary enough until you see it making almost every enemy it fells drop a bomb that causes a chain reaction, wiping out an entire arena with barely a finger lifted. It’s frankly outlandish, feels tremendously overpowered, and gives off enormous Grizzco vibes familiar to anyone who’s played Salmon Run extensively. You’re going to need it, though, because Side Order is tough.
You’ll start with just a single life, and no amount of hubris is going to let you blitz through to the end on that alone, even if it is technically possible to do so according to Nintendo (we asked them). Bosses will block your progress, sudden ‘danger’ challenges will cover the arena in fog, enemy ink, or just make adversaries stronger, and plenty more besides that we’re sure goes beyond what we were allowed to play.
We’ve only sampled a slice of Side Order so far, but if it maintains the momentum we experienced during our hands-on session, it could well end up being another main course for Splatoon fans despite its name.
Splatoon 3: Side Order releases on 22nd February 2024 as part of the game’s Expansion Pass DLC. Look out for our full review in due course.