Splatoon 3: Side Order Review – An Exquisite Side Dish

Splat, die, repeat.

Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion surprised many when it released in 2018. A deliciously challenging collection of bite-sized levels that echoed much of the design philosophy and novel ideas of Splatoon 2’s base campaign. While Splatoon 3’s Return of the Mammalians took the successes of Octo Expansion even further, it felt more like a honing of a proven formula as opposed to another reinvention.

Splatoon 3’s second wave of downloadable content in Side Order feels much more revolutionary, taking the game’s core pillars and fitting them into a roguelite framework. The end result is a relentlessly creative and impossibly moreish expansion to Splatoon 3’s suite of content that proves this franchise still has plenty of untapped potential.

splatoon 3 side order review

Player’s once again step into the shoes of Octo Expansion’s Agent 8, who has been unexpectedly transported into the Order Sector. The Order Sector is a world built around its own rules, drained of the colour and vibrancy that typically punctuates Splatoon’s environments. Lying at the centre of a monochrome Inkopolis is the Spire of Order, an ever-changing mega-structure in place of the Deca Tower.

Also lost in the Order Sector is Off the Hook’s Pearl, who’s been transformed into a drone, and Acht, a newcomer also known as Dedf1sh whose knowledge of the spire is key to surmounting it. After picking up a signal from the other half of Off the Hook, Marina, the group sets out to climb the spire and uncover the truth behind the Order Sector.

splatoon 3 side order review

While it’s a fairly standard narrative setup, it’s great to be back with the Off the Hook gang again as Agent 8, and Acht also provides some light comedy as she comments on the dynamics between Pearl and Marina. While the core story here provides enough of a mystery worth seeing through, the highlight of Side Order’s narrative content come in the form of its supplemental worldbuilding.

Primarily found through Marina’s dev diary entries, Side Order’s world and characters are vastly expanded through the unlocking and reading of these sequential expansions to the story. They’re by no means necessary to get the full picture of Side Order’s core narrative, but they go a long way to fleshing out the characters and exploring how things came to be the way they are. It’s always been these fun expansions to the lore that add to Splatoon’s world, and Side Order doesn’t disappoint in this regard.

splatoon 3 side order review

As far as roguelite experiences go, Side Order doesn’t entirely reinvent the wheel, but it does a fantastic job of capitalising on the possibilities that come with this kind of gameplay format in a franchise like Splatoon. The gist of it will be familiar if you’ve played any roguelite; you’ll attempt to ascend the Spire of Order’s 30 levels without losing all lives in any given run. Failing will almost always net you some currency to spend on permanent upgrades, so you’re constantly getting to higher floors with each attempt.

Each run starts off with you choosing a Palette. Palettes are effectively loadouts, preset with a main weapon, sub weapon, and special weapon. Each is based off of a character from the franchise for narrative reasons I won’t spoil here. After choosing your Palette, you’ll enter the tower, and move through the floors. Each time you enter a new floor, you’re given a choice of three Chips to slot into your Palette, which function as upgrades that last for the rest of that run. A successful run usually goes for 30-40 minutes, making them a great fit for pick up and play gaming on the Switch.

splatoon 3 side order review

These Chips have some really fun bonuses. Things like poison ink that gives inked turf a damage over time effect to any enemies who tread it, or increased swim speed when submerged. There’s a few basic bonuses amongst these also, but the vast majority of them allow you to experiment and create fun builds within the preset Palettes. You can also stack Chips of the same type to bolster the strength of that bonus, but these will also take up slots in your Palette. Chips are also divided by Tone, which attribute what kind of buffs they’ll give you. Where Chips of the Power Tone generally increase your damage output, Chips of the Luck Tone revolve around increasing drop rates for items.

Each Palette has two Tone types that they’re more likely to get than others, and while that sounds restrictive at first, there’s so many Chips within each Tone, that you hardly feel strapped for choice. Some weapons also just don’t synergize as well with certain Tone or Chips, and each have game plans associated with them from the outset. Understanding where a Palette’s strengths lie is important because Side Order can be quite difficult at times.

splatoon 3 side order review

Octo Expansion was no stranger to introducing hard challenges thanks to its non-linear nature. Anything that was too difficult could be skipped past for later, or even entirely ignored. Difficulty in Side Order is usually informed by the Chip you choose for any given level. The stronger the Chip, the harder the challenge, with the general difficulty scaling up as you climb the spire. Part of how hard any given floor is, usually comes from the amount of enemies thrown at you at once.

Side Order is most comparable to Salmon Run in this regard. The enemies you face in the spire – known as the Jelletons – are mindless vertebrates made up of gelatinous black goop and white bones. They come at you hard, fast, and in large numbers. They also vary greatly in design, from the fodder type enemies like the Marching Andantes to the imposing turret-like Towering Nobilmentes. There are so many with unique mechanics, and the way they rush at you makes for exhilarating on-the-fly decision making as you scramble to make it out alive.

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splatoon 3 side order review

What makes Side Order even more difficult, is having to contend with the Jelletons while you complete objectives. These are tied to the Chip you choose when entering a new floor, but each is different in what they entail and how you approach them. They vary from destroying all the enemy portals to capturing a zone and holding it for a certain amount of time. The only issue with these is that there’s only five of them in total, so some of them eventually wear out their welcome despite having a few different level layouts. There are boss encounters on the 10th, 20th, and 30th floors to break up the pacing, but these also eventually grow tired as you rack up runs.

There are some other variables that can be introduced to levels as you climb through the tower, though. From having the floor covered in enemy ink or darkening the room, to offering you the prospect of extra Membux if you limit your toolset. There’s also floors that buff you through Colour Saturation, which replaces your entire Palette with a particular Tone type for that floor. Engaging with these harder floors and optional objectives always rewards you with extra Membux, which can be spent at vending machines for replacement sub weapons, special weapons, extra lives, and even Chips.

splatoon 3 side order review

You don’t have to brave it all alone, though, as Pearl accompanies your every run in drone form. The Pearl Drone functions as a support buddy similar to Smallfry from Splatoon 3’s campaign, though more passive in application. You can get Chips that increase her capabilities also, allowing her to drop bombs, plant mines, and ink turf while you’re engaging the Jelletons. You can use the Pearl Drone to glide in midair as well, which is a particularly useful tool when you need to reposition. Additionally, some of the Chips you can get to bolster the Pearl Drone make for some very strong builds that unleash utter chaos on any unfortunate Jelleton in the area.

When you do get booted from the Spire of Order – and you will – you’re sent back to the base of the tower where you can spend Prlz on Hacks with Marina. Hacks function as permanent upgrades for your runs, increasing your damage output, total life count, damage reduction, and much, much more. These are drip fed to you across runs as to never feel overwhelming, but there’s more than enough in totality for long term engagement, which works well with the way Side Order promotes replay value. Prlz can also be spent to resume a failed run from the floor it ended at, which can take the sting out of losing a really good build, though it does get more expensive based on which floor you’re resuming from.

splatoon 3 side order review

Subsequent runs after your first clear will always leave you with more story details regarding the Order Sector and its ruler. Additionally, clearing the 10th, 20th, and 30th floor for the first time with a Palette will net you keys you can use to open lockers. These award you the aforementioned dev diary entries from Marina, but also new Palettes and therefore builds to experiment and play around with in the Spire. What you get out of Side Order ultimately comes down to what you put into it, so it’s nice to always have something to work towards as you clear the Spire with new Palettes.

Splatoon 3 continues to be a showcase of the Switch’s power and how Nintendo is able to squeeze every ounce of fidelity out of the hardware. If you’ve played Salmon Run, you know how hectic things can get in Splatoon without the Switch missing a beat. Side Order is much the same – later floors can be absolutely swamped with Jelletons, exploding ink, special attack effects, and so much more, all without any impact to the overall performance. It’s impressive how stable Side Order is when you consider how crazy it gets sometimes.

splatoon 3 side order review

The game also continues to look like a treat, and the monochromatic environments of the Spire are a great playground to ink for obvious reasons. One really neat attention to detail is the way Agent 8’s ink and hair colour changes with the Tone type that occupies the majority of your Palette slots. It provides a fun visual evolution of your power as you progress through runs.

Like Octo Expansion before it, Splatoon 3: Side Order brings more fantastic single player content that uses Splatoon’s core gameplay mechanics in fresh and inventive ways. It’s incredibly satisfying to put together a build that has Jelletons exploding in showers of ink across the battlefield, and the way in which it tells its story is always interesting. It might not have as much longevity as other roguelike experiences, but I have no doubt I’ll be taking every Palette to the top of the Spire of Order thanks to Side Order’s addicting gameplay loop.

Side Order is another excellent single player addition to Splatoon 3 that proves that this franchise's core gameplay pillars are ripe for experimentation. Engaging worldbuilding, incredibly moreish gameplay, and unique aesthetic help it to stand out in an already creative game. It's so hard to put down once you get started, and paints an exciting picture for what the future of the series could look like.
Simple narrative expanded by engaging worldbuilding
Quick and digestible runs make for a moreish loop
Loads of enemy variety
Plenty of replay value past your first complete run
The monochrome theme is a joy to ink up
Objectives and boss fights wear out their welcome