Splatoon 3: Side Order Review – A Delicious Side Dish

Splatoon 3: Side Order Review - A Delicious Side Dish

Splatoon 3’s Side Order is an interesting mix of the solo based gameplay that players have come to expect from the story mode mixed with roguelite elements. It is a culmination of trial and error design that began with the Splatoon 2’s Octo expansion DLC. Side Order isn’t a standalone DLC though, as it’s part of the Splatoon 3 expansion pack meaning that players will have to buy the entire expansion pack to get it. While Side Order is worth the $37.50 price alone, it seems strange and unnecessary that they decided to package it together. 

Splatoon 3 Side Order 3

Side Order takes place five years after the Octo Expansion and while certain events are referenced from its predecessor, it’s not integral to the story of Side Order – even if they do share a protagonist. Agent Eight wakes up in a place that looks like Inkopolis Square if it was devoid of life. A small pink drone claiming to be Pearl explains that their friend Marina is missing and that it seems like she’s trapped in the spire in front of them. Wishing to find her, Eight and Drone Pearl enter the spire only to meet an Octoling named Acht inside the elevator. She also happens to be a friend of Marina’s albeit from her Octarian army days. Splatoon is not being subtle here as Acht is the number eight in German. For a small elevator, having two Octoling’s named Eight is a bit on the nose. Will they introduce Hachi next? Anyway, Acht explains that the elevator only goes up one floor at a time and that each floor requires a mission to be completed in order to go to the next floor. They have a suspicion that Marina is most likely on the top floor which means they will need to challenge each floor individually to reach her. 

It’s here that the game dumps the roguelite mechanics on the player. And I say dumps because it is a lot and it’s all interconnected. Players start off with one life and one palette. A palette is the load out Eight will enter the spire with and will be based on an existing Splatoon character. For example, Eight’s starting palette is Pearl’s and includes Dualies main, curling bomb sub and the reef slider special. This encourages players to play with weapons, subs and specials that they normally wouldn’t touch. The palette’s other function is it stores the temporary buffs selected on each floor. 

On every floor Eight is given a choice of three different missions which are accompanied by their Colour chip. Each chip has a special buff to apply to Eight and come in six different categories including power, support, range, mobility, drone and lucky. This allows players to modify the game to their preferred style of play. For example, the Luna blaster is a powerful burst type weapon, but fires very slowly. Stack five of the Orange Fire Rate Up colour chips and it becomes a sub machine gun. Colour chips are like the main game’s clothing buffs but on steroids. Unfortunately, the buffs are temporary as once Eight fails, they’re kicked out of the spire and all the chips are turned into a currency called Pris.  

Outside of the spire, Eight can unlock hacks to make challenging the spire a little easier. These are permanent upgrades that affect every run in the spire once unlocked and require the Pris currency. They include things like extra lives, upgrades for drone pearl, the ability to continue for membucks (the spire currency) and vending machine discounts. The vending machines appear randomly in the spire and allow players to buy back any lives they’ve lost, as well as colour chips, alternate subs or specials. If a player finds the special they currently have is tedious, they can buy a different one for 500 membucks. It’s lots of small things like this that allow the player to customise not only the way they play, but also the difficulty.

When Octo Expansion released it was praised universally for its improvement to the Splatoon single player mode but was criticized for its difficulty spikes. If a player didn’t have the skill or luck to complete a mission, there was an option to skip it or they could try a different weapon, but aside from that they were out of luck. Splatoon 3’s story mode improved on the difficulty spikes from Octo expansion further while keeping its soul, but it feels like with Side Order, the team have found the perfect balance of enjoyable and challenging. They’ve done this by giving the player the option to take it easy or risking it for the biscuit by taking on harder missions for greater rewards. No run ever feels like a waste thanks to the collection of Pris, and it always feels like the player is working towards something. I especially loved how the selection of colour chips influenced not just Eights ink colour, but also the sparkles in it as well. This special glittery ink is normally reserved for the single player mode and special splatfests so it’s always nice when it makes an appearence. 

By extension, the rest of the expansion pass pales in comparison. It unlocks the ability to go to Inkopolis Plaza, which means during Splatfest you can hear the squid sisters City of Colour instead of the Deep Cut’s Anarchy rainbow. The shops are open and items can be bought from them, but aside from different shopkeepers, there’s no real change to the shops in Splatsville. Completing Side order allows Inkopolis square to become an accessable hub as well. These changes are very minimal and don’t really change anything aside from the idols and location. But it’s okay, because players are also gifted a special banner for picking up the pack! I’m honestly not sure why they didn’t just sell this as Side Order DLC and just have the extras as nice bonuses or as unlockables. It feels very tacked on, or like an afterthought. Aside from the expansion pack, the only issue I had with Side Order as a game was that I found the music lacking in contrast to the main game, but Octo expansion was similar in that regard, especially as Dedf1sh (an in-game DJ) did the music for both. 

Despite the issue of it being called an expansion pack rather than just being called the Side Order DLC, Side Order is meaty enough that it could be its own spin off game. This means it’s rather unfortunate that it isn’t its own standalone game and requires the main game to play bringing the cost up to $117.50 for both. Still, Side Order has taken the formula introduced in its predecessor Octo Expansion and perfected it by creating a dynamic difficulty curve that can be adjusted thanks to a variety of permanent and temporary upgrades. The result is a colourful and satisfying game that paints with every colour in its palette. 

Splatoon 3: Side Order was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code kindly provided by Nintendo Australia

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