Splatoon 3 hones and refines the series to new heights

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Splatoon 3 hones and refines the series to new heights

Whether a game console is a smash hit or a dismal failure, I find myself drawn to each of them – and usually there’s at least one killer game you need to play. Nintendo’s Wii U arguably falls into the latter category, despite the fact that the system actually has a bunch of great releases – and one of those titles is the original Splatoon, actually Nintendo’s take on the third-person shooter genre with its own unique twist, the paint system. It’s a game that oozes style, much like Nintendo’s version of a classic Dreamcast game – and that’s great.

Like many Wii U titles, Splatoon hit Switch via a sequel: familiar in many ways, but fleshed out with a fuller single-player offering and the excellent Octo expansion. Five years later, the third installment is here – and there are plenty of changes and improvements to consider. I liked Splatoon 2, but this new release feels like a proper sequel, improving on the series’ strengths and moving in new directions. The presentation instantly looks more elaborate, the single-player mode is expansive, and the visuals have improved. Looks like the game Nintendo has been working on since the very beginning.

It starts with your first encounter with the game – a basic menu on the original Wii U with more polish on the sequel with a title sequence leading up to the practice sequence. Splatoon 3 packs a lot more punch, with a mysterious desert scene instantly setting the stage for what’s to come. The camera then switches to your character with a fuller, animation-heavy character customization sequence. It then moves seamlessly back to the starting point before embarking on the practice mission.

Splatoon 3 – Digital Foundry’s tech review, delivered here as a video.

This first step, while simple, reveals some nice improvements to the visuals – in particular, the pre-rendered lighting. We’re not looking at fancy new global illumination techniques here, but look closely and you’ll think the developers have done a surprisingly good job of simulating the appearance of diffuse interreflection – basically, the light from the sun bouncing around a scene, triggering color bleeds in the process. It is entirely absent from the original version and makes a profound difference here.

When you eventually complete the formation, you’re dropped into the game’s hub. The original Splatoon and its sequel place you in different parts of Inkopolis, but each square is similar in size and scope. It’s a relatively small area running at 30 frames per second with increased resolution and detail. This is where you access all the different modes and stores. Splatoon 3 shakes that up by sending the player to Splatsville – the city of chaos. Ultimately, it functions much the same as previous games, but the visual fidelity and size have increased significantly. The hub is about four times larger than either hub in Inkopolis and there’s more to discover, including, by the way, the ability to recognize main cards rather than being limited to the current rotation.

In the video embedded on this page, I’ve included a bunch of comparisons between the three Splatoon titles, showing the series’ gradual evolution in terms of visual composition – it’s not something that text can really convey, but essentially what we see here is the growing ability and confidence of the development team, which has always had to work with less than state-of-the-art hardware. In this scenario, ideas and talent go a long way.

Digital Foundry’s preview for Splatoon 3 is based entirely on multiplayer capture and is indicative of the quality and performance found in the final code.

As for resource-constrained hardware, let’s talk about basic image quality and the use of AMD’s dynamic resolution scaling and super resolution FidelityFX 1.0 in Splatoon 3. In terms of resolution, it’s pretty straightforward – Splatoon goes beyond native 1080p by using dynamic resolution scaling to ensure smooth performance. It seems to bottom out around 820p in docked mode. Handheld mode peaks at 720p while DRS can see drops of around 540p. However, the resolution manages to hit its maximum pixel count more often than expected, meaning Splatoon 3 is noticeably brighter than your average Switch game lately.

As for FSR 1.0, it’s listed in the license section of the Switch menu, so it’s most likely committed, but that doesn’t add much to the table. The thing to keep in mind is that FSR 1.0 is not anti-aliasing – it’s a spatial upscaler. Splatoon 3 doesn’t use anti-aliasing in any form, so maybe Nintendo uses it in combination with its DRS algorithm? Either way, I’d say there’s no obvious advantage as the final image looks very similar to other Switch games with a similar resolution profile.

Multiplayer access was limited during the review phase, but from what I’ve tested so far, performance is very stable overall and perfectly represents Nintendo doing what it does best – a Game locked and stable at 60fps, even on low-end hardware. As someone who doesn’t typically enjoy online multiplayer, I like Splatoon’s approach: matches are fast-paced and finished quickly, making it easy to jump in and out as you please.

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However, the single player mode sees the biggest improvements. Even in the original, this mode offers a lot of fun but it was relatively brief, never really reaching its full potential. Splatoon 2 went further, but the new game is much more satisfying. Without veering too far into spoiler territory, it builds on previous games but offers more of everything. There are so many stages now and the variety is awesome – combat challenges, puzzles, platforming and a combination of all three, there’s plenty to see and do. Each island now contains more levels and the method to unlock them is to slowly clear a weird, hairy goop that has infested the world. Speaking of which, it’s one of the new visual features – shell texture fur applied to that goo and some enemies.

Another interesting detail I noticed while playing – there is real persistence during a session. Between each stage you will explore the islands and this includes spraying paint everywhere. In the original game, however, this reset between each step so you could spray the island, play a level, then return to the island to find that all of your excess paint has been removed. In Splatoon 3, this is no longer the case – it is remembered. Of course, it doesn’t persist if you close the game and reopen it, but regardless, it’s still a nice feature to add.

Ultimately, the single player mode is so beefed up and improved over previous offerings, I think Splatoon 3 is worth checking out even if you have no intention of engaging with the multiplayer modes. And there’s more good news: as with multiplayer, I struggled to find any lag – it’s a smooth, consistent 60fps from start to finish. That’s not to say performance drops aren’t a possibility, but it’s certainly a case where the overall experience is very polished and very enjoyable. Criticisms? Most of the narration is delivered via dialogue-based cutscenes – an area where Splatoon hasn’t evolved much beyond previous games. And the new improved hub area? Yes, unfortunately it still runs at 30 frames per second.

What we’re looking at here might not be a leap forward in technology, but it’s a polished game that’s great fun to play with plenty of content to dig into. While it may not reinvent the series, there’s a lot to enjoy here and I recommend checking it out.

Article source https://www.eurogamer.net/digitalfoundry-2022-splatoon-3-hones-and-refines-the-series-to-new-heights

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