Splatoon 3: Side Order is a tasty side dish

Posted on March 4, 2024

For those who aren’t in the know, the whole setting and aesthetic of Splatoon 3 was entirely dependent on the result of the final Splatoon 2 Splatfest in 2019 where players fought on the side of either Chaos or Order. Chaos won out, resulting in the desert wasteland that Splatsville sits in the middle of and many players (myself included) found themselves wondering what kind of game Splatoon 3 might have been if Order was the one to come out on top during that all-important Splatfest.

This is what makes even the title of the new Splatoon 3 expansion all the more intriguing. Side Order. I was very glad to see that the idea of an orderly apocalypse was not dead in the water and that through this expansion, squidkids will have a way to see the other side of the coin.

Side Order takes place in Inkopolis, the hub area from Splatoon 2, but something strange has happened there. All of the colour has drained from the city and most of the civilians have gone missing too.  It was definitely a bold move to do away with the iconic bright color palette of the Splatoon series, and it pays off by giving Side Order a completely different feel to the rest of the series. Areas are usually a stark white, and enemies are made out of living fish skeletons nestled in a gelatinous black goop, making entire stages monochromatic apart from your ink. Even the color palette for the ink is quite different, still a lot more colorful than the rest of the environment but it leans more towards pastels than the bright neon colors the series is known for.

The meat of the expansion sees you scaling a 30-story tower with the help of Splatoon 2 fan favorites Pearl and Marina, as you aim to find the one responsible for what’s happened to the city and its inhabitants. Each level presents a new challenge, be that defending a small splat zone, or destroying all of the enemy summoning portals in the stage. None of the stages take particularly long, and there are only a few different types of missions available, but the actual number of stage layouts is quite large and whenever I think I’ve seen them all, there’s always a new one on my next attempt.

Each level that you tackle on your trip up the tower also gives you access to a new colour chip, these are the main form of progression that can be found in the tower. You are always given a selection of three different stages to choose from on each level, each of varying difficulty and each with a different colour chip available to collect. Working out which chips work best with your loadout and trying to nab as many of them as possible offers a very satisfying power creep as the elevator slowly ascends the tower. Most of them are passive abilities, increasing weapon damage, ink regeneration and the like, though many of them also work to power up your other main asset, the drone.

Pearl, one half of Splatoon 2’s Off The Hook, takes the form of a drone that accompanies you in each stage. By default there isn’t heaps that she can do; she’s able to point out enemies for you and if you jump off a high ledge you can hold onto her and glide until you hit the ground or attack. This is where the colour chips come in; a lot of them upgrade her abilities instead of yours directly. Pearl can be equipped with sub-weapons like a mini Killer Whale or Splatbombs that set off automatically whenever her meter fills, it’s a great extra hit of damage, and putting most of your chips on her can make her incredibly useful in later stages.

Some of the stages also have additional challenges alongside the main objective and completing one of these stages often nets you two chips instead of just one. These are really interesting and were some of the most difficult levels I encountered. Sometimes you will be challenged to complete a stage without using your main weapon, or without ever walking on your little octoling legs meaning that you have to swim in the ink as much as possible. The challenges are a little more lenient than they sound, usually giving you a buffer on how many times you can actually perform these actions without the challenge being forfeit, which is good, because I can’t imagine the trouble they would be without the leeway.

If you are kicked out of the tower for losing all your lives, there are a few things to do back on the ground. As you are climbing the tower, you earn points that are converted into Prlz once you exit and these can be used to purchase permanent upgrades from Marina.

There are also locker keys that can be collected by defeating a boss, as long as you haven’t beaten them with that weapon before. Opening a locker could potentially give you access to a new palette, these are what determine which weapons you are equipped with for the next climb and what kind of chips you are most likely to get in your next attempt. It’s neat because certain weapon types will benefit more from certain colour chips than others, so increasing the possibility of you finding chips that work best with your current weapon is a clever idea.

Where Side Order really shines though is in its audio design. Selecting options in menus is always accompanied by this tasty click sound that is incredibly satisfying, and the noise that plays each time you add a new colour chip to your palette is so good that I found myself wanting to eat the little things. The music is outstanding as always, but it goes for a much different vibe than the rest of the Splatoon series, leaning far more electronic but still sounding as great as ever. There was not a moment that I wasn’t bopping along to the tunes as I played. Side Order really manages to carve out its own little aesthetic both visually and audibly and it’s so cool to see the team being brave enough to try something different.

Splatoon 3: Side Order manages to be a more than decent rogue-lite with plenty of weapons to try from the game’s original roster, interesting enemies and lots of cool ways to customise your build. It does fall flat just a little when it comes to difficulty, not really ramping up until the last few stages in the tower, but there is still plenty of fun to be had and a lot of reasons to check out the cool style direction this expansion takes the series in.