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‘Splatoon 3’ breaks Nintendo’s streak of shunning competitive players

(Washington Post illustration; Jordan Strauss/Invision for Nintendo/AP; Nintendo)

Two issues have plagued Nintendo games for years: issues with online competitive play and frequent complaints from fans that motion controls are more of a gimmick than a legitimate way to play. In those regards, “Splatoon 3” is a course correction.

Nintendo, often known as the “casual” brand among gamers, has long faced technical issues with online multiplayer, and hasn’t properly built out a catalogue for competitive gamers in the same way that Sony and Microsoft have. But “Splatoon 3,” which released Sept. 9, offers not just a functional online mode, but also a bevy of new side content, including rulesets that will speak to more competitive players, like Clam Blitz with speedrunners.

This is no mistake, according to Bill Trinen, senior director of product marketing at Nintendo of America. While it wasn’t a singular focus for the designers, Trinen, as well as other developers, kept their eye on Splatoon’s growing competitive scene.

“I was watching some of the more competitive Splatoon players as they were dabbling in the first demo version … Very quickly, we saw players already looking at Squid Roll and figuring out not just how to use it to be defensive, but how to use it to be offensive,” he said. Squid Roll, a new mechanic that offers invincibility frames as you dodge in Squid form, has been studied by the Splatoon community to figure out its offensive potential.

“It’s been really interesting to see the way that they’ve been exploring what’s possible,” notes Trinen.

Review: ‘Splatoon 3’ adds a fresh coat of paint to a proven formula

This level of nuance can also be found in the game’s take on motion controls. While it may seem like a joke at first, motion controls are the competitive community’s preferred method to play Splatoon, and “Splatoon 3” expands on what’s already worked in previous games. In a first for multiplayer shooters, motion controls in “Splatoon 3” offer much more accuracy and control than typical stick controls.

“I do use a mix of motion and stick,” Trinen said. (He uses the stick sparingly to turn the camera.) “What’s nice is that the motion gives you just that subtle accuracy with your aiming to begin with. It’s weird because it feels like there isn’t even a learning curve.”

“Splatoon 3” has received positive to mixed reviews from critics. I gave the game a 9.5 on Metacritic; I appreciated that it didn’t shake up the formula too much. Other reviewers, however, pointed to this as a weakness, arguing that the third game had not changed enough from the previous games to merit a purchase.

When asking about his take on these reviews, Trinen referred back to the competitive scene’s response.

“I haven’t had a chance to read many reviews yet, but I would almost wonder, you know, how well do they know the intricacies of Splatoon? Because as we have seen from the competitive players, the people that have played this game the most, they are looking at ‘Splatoon 3’ as an amazing, new game that they are all eager to dive into.”

“I feel like for some reason people like to try to pin [its sameness] on Splatoon in ways that they don’t try to pin it on other games of a similar genre.” he states. “There is a brand new single player story mode that has been evolved incredibly … that alone to me is worth it. And then I look at the ways that, you know, the new actions like squid roll, new abilities and new weapons … [they] are going to change up your approach to strategy. It’s going to change the way you play the game.”