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Splatoon is an online multiplayer shooter delivered in a way only Nintendo can — instead of engaging in realistic violence, teams of half-kids, half-squids engage in raucous competitions over who can cover more of the arena with bright, colorful ink. It’s a delightful formula that’s accessible enough for casual gamers while packing plenty of depth for the competitive crowd, and it’s looking to get even better in the upcoming Splatoon 3 for Nintendo Switch.

I had a chance to go hands-on with Nintendo’s hotly anticipated ink-shooter — which is up for preorder now and releasing Sept. 9 — as well as get a close-up look at the special-edition Splatoon 3 Nintendo Switch OLED launching this month. After about an hour of trying out the single-player campaign and engaging in some raucous multiplayer bouts with my fellow attendees, I didn’t want to put the controller down. Here are my early impressions, as well as a heads up on where to get your hands on the game.

Where to preorder Splatoon 3 and the Splatoon 3 Nintendo Switch OLED

Mike Andronico/CNN

Splatoon 3 is available for preorder now at most major retailers ahead of its Sept. 9 release date, and some of them are throwing in some extra goodies for those who buy early. Walmart is offering a Neon Inkling Squid Plush in four different colors (perfect for collectors or kids who want something to cuddle up with), while Best Buy will give you a free keychain with your preorder. For those who prefer to go digital, Nintendo is offering double My Nintendo Gold points on the Nintendo eShop from now through Sept. 30. You can also get the game at Amazon and GameStop, albeit with no free extras thrown in.

• Splatoon 3 with free Neon Inkling Squid Plush ($59.99 at Walmart)
• Splatoon 3 with free keychain ($59.99 at Best Buy)

It wouldn’t be a big new Nintendo release without some limited-edition hardware to go with it, and serious fans can also pick up a special Splatoon 3 edition Nintendo Switch OLED (which we got to see up close). The system’s dock, Joy-Cons and even the tablet portion are all adorned in Splatoon-inspired graphics, which strike a nice balance between subtle etchings and eye-popping blasts of color.

splatoon 3 2

Mike Andronico/CNN

I especially love the Joy-Cons — one in a bluish purple and another in a yellow/green mix — to the point where I really wish Nintendo would sell them separately for existing Switch owners.

• Splatoon 3 Nintendo Switch OLED ($359 at Amazon, Best Buy or GameStop)
• Splatoon 3 Nintendo Switch Pro Controller ($74.99 at GameStop)

The special-edition system costs $359 (that’s $10 more than a standard Switch OLED) and unfortunately, it doesn’t include a copy of Splatoon 3. Its squidly aesthetic might not be for everyone, but if you’re a Splatoon superfan who hasn’t upgraded to the OLED model yet — which has a larger, much more colorful screen than the standard Switch — this may be a good time to jump in. The system goes on sale on Aug. 26 at major retailers like Amazon, Best Buy and GameStop, and as with any special-edition Switch, we expect it to sell out fast. As such, have your credit card ready on launch day. And if all you want is a new controller with similar aesthetics, the $74.99 Splatoon 3 Switch Pro Controller is launching alongside the game on Sept. 9.

Nintendo

For the uninitiated, Splatoon is a third-person shooter in which you play as a “Squid Kid” who can use a variety of cool ink-spraying weapons in human form and swim through said ink while in squid form. The series offers a level of movement and creative action that’s unlike anything else in the genre while still scratching a competitive itch for the Call of Duty crowd. Nintendo hasn’t messed with the formula (or the look and feel) a whole lot for Splatoon 3, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing.

I started with the game’s single-player story mode, which, like in previous releases, provides an increasingly challenging (but fairly light) set of levels that help you get familiar with the mechanics before you hop online. There’s a basic overarching story here (you play as an agent going up against a nefarious group of octopus creatures called the Octarians), but you won’t have to worry about it much. This mode is really about having fun and getting comfortable with the game’s range of joyously cool weapons.

Nintendo

The handful of story levels I played involved a mix of shooting down angry Octarians and using my weapons to solve some light puzzles. Certain stages allow you to choose a weapon loadout before you jump in, with more advanced weapons providing a higher challenge — but also a higher reward. Classic Splatoon weapons like the Splattershot (your basic pistol) and the Splat Roller (a giant paint roller that can cover lots of ground at once) are back, but I was quickly drawn to the new Tri-Stringer, essentially a bow and arrow that lets you get really creative with your shots.

Taking out lots of enemies up close with the Tri-Stringer was super satisfying, as was using its long-ranged charge shots to hit hard-to-reach areas. All in all, my short time with the Splatoon 3 story mode served up some simple but engaging puzzles and fairly challenging firefights (I was admittedly taken out by Octarians a few times), and I’m looking forward to playing through all of it in the final game. But as most Splatoon fans know, it’s really all about the multiplayer.

Nintendo

After sampling the solo campaign, my group and I moved on to Salmon Run, which is a cooperative team-based mode in which you and three friends battle to keep angry fish away (and collect their eggs) throughout waves of increasingly intense encounters. It all felt very similar to how it did in Splatoon 2, which is to say that it’s still great fun. New boss characters, such as the Slammin’ Lid, forced my team and I to get creative when it came to finding their weak spot, as did the occasional horde of octopus enemies that would swarm the arena in a flash. This mode can be seriously challenging, and the feeling of finally getting through a particularly difficult round — after a few failed attempts — was exhilarating.

Nintendo

But for my money, Splatoon is all about the classic four-on-four turf war experience, which is what I ended my demo with. It’s as fun as ever, as scrambling to cover the arena with as much of my team’s ink as possible — while fighting other Squid Kids in the process — was a real thrill in victory, and had me itching for just one more game in defeat. As familiar as the action was, there were a handful of changes that I appreciated, including new movement options that let you surge up walls and quickly jump backward out of ink as well as fun new weapons like the aforementioned Tri-Stringer and a special attack that essentially lets you mow the opposition over in a snowblower. This all allowed for a chaotic good time, and I’m especially excited to see how the competitive crowd takes advantage of these new abilities.

Just as significant as any gameplay upgrades is the fact that jumping into these modes online should be a lot smoother in Splatoon 3. Salmon Run will now be available to play at all times rather than in limited-event windows, and unlike in previous installments, you’ll always be paired up with your friends when jumping into Turf War battles. Splatoon 2’s somewhat wonky multiplayer experience was one of my biggest issues with it, so I’m especially excited to have a more frictionless experience when engaging in inky battles online with pals.

Nintendo

Splatoon 2 has long been one of the best Nintendo Switch games, and Splatoon 3 looks to give us even more of what makes it great. The game’s various solo and multiplayer modes feel as great as ever, and are bolstered by some seriously fun new weapons and abilities. And I haven’t even scratched the surface — the real meat of Splatoon is its ever-evolving online experience, which this time around will include years’ worth of new cosmetic items that will be rolled out seasonally, new ways to hang out and personalize your character in online lobbies and some especially promising three-way Splatfests that should make for some of the most chaotic Splatoon battles yet.

If you’re looking to try out Splatoon 3 before you buy, you can take part in the free Splatfest World Premiere happening this Saturday (Aug. 27) from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. PT. All you have to do is download the free client to your Nintendo Switch, and you’re good to go. We’ll be sinking many, many more hours into Splatoon 3 closer to launch, so stay tuned for more.

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