Splatoon 3: Side Order Opinion Review

Anna Lucas ‘24 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Splatoon 2 made waves with its 2018 downloadable campaign, Octo Expansion. The expansion pack put players in the role of Agent 8, an Octoling, as they battled through the Deepsea Metro train line for freedom at the surface. The community was ablaze with hype and speculation as Octolings had only appeared as enemies in story modes prior to that point. Emotions were high as players surmounted the challenges the game had in store to unlock Octolings as permanent playable characters.

Splatoon 3 released its own downloadable campaign this year, and it follows a similar formula. The campaign, titled Side Order, follows Agent 8 as they are pulled into a digital version of Inkopolis Square. They are accompanied by Pearl, one member of the idol group Off the Hook, who takes the form of a drone. In order to discover what happened to this digital world, Agent 8 and Pearl must climb the Spire of Order and find Marina, the other member of Off the Hook. 

I have been a Splatoon superfan since I was 12 years old. To say I was excited for the expansion pass was an understatement; I had it preordered months before it actually released. But now that it’s finally out, does it match up to the hype of its predecessor?

The gameplay

Side Order puts a unique spin on the traditional Splatoon shooter gameplay. It is a “roguelike,” a trek through a chain of randomly-generated levels, where if the player loses all their lives, it’s back to the very beginning. Though, the term “roguelite” is more accurate, as not all progress is lost at the end of a run. 

Players climb a thirty-floor tower. Each floor has a choice between three levels, all randomly-generated. Sometimes, Agent 8 is sinking an eight-ball into goals to pass a level. Other times, they may protect an area from incoming enemies, or destroy a series of enemy portals. While there are only five different “objectives”, there are different stages to play on based on the difficulty chosen. 

With each level the player chooses, they receive a “color chip.” Color chips are placed into Agent 8’s palette and can give them different buffs as they climb the spire. Examples of these buffs include increased speed, damage, item drops, and abilities for the Pearl Drone, which flies around and assists the player in combat. 

The player receives a currency, called Membux, for each level they complete. Membux can be spent at vending machines, where players can replenish their lives, replace their sub and special weapons, or purchase additional color chips. If players save their Membux, they earn more Prlz at the end of a run. Prlz is another currency that can be used before a run to make future runs easier. Players can reduce the damage they take, gain additional lives, or increase the variety of color chips they receive. 

Side Order’s gameplay is its best feature. It is easy to pick up but difficult to master. Some stages are simple, while others are incredibly challenging. The choice between difficulty levels at the start of each floor means players can establish their own pace as they play. There’s also a variety of factors that influence each run. As a player progresses, they unlock different weapons with their own play styles and color chips. On top of that, there are sixty-eight different color chips, each of which can be stacked up to five times, while Agent 8’s Palette only has room for thirty chips per run. Each run has the opportunity for a completely different gameplay experience, giving the campaign plenty of replayability. With the difficulty, gameplay, buffs and playstyle all being at the player’s discretion, it’s easy to fall in love with Side Order’s core gameplay loop. 

The story

Spoilers ahead.

As mentioned before, Side Order follows Agent 8, the protagonist of Octo Expansion. They were transported into a colorless replica of Inkopolis Square. Their goal is to reach the top and locate Marina, whose status is unknown. The tensions are high: was she kidnapped? Was she brainwashed? 

Many expected Marina to be the final boss of the campaign, but she’s actually introduced within the game’s tutorial run. After defeating a boss that was controlling Marina, the player is allied with Marina permanently for future runs. It is revealed that Marina created this digital world—the Memverse—and that the true antagonist is an AI named Order. The AI went haywire and is now dragging souls inside the Memverse to create “a world of order.” One of these souls is Acht, another Octoling who acts as the elevator operator. They’re a cool-headed and introverted DJ implied to have a history with Marina. In order to free the souls trapped in the Memverse, Agent 8 must climb the Spire and defeat Order at the very top. 

I fell in love with Octo Expansion’s story, as it was chock full of interesting lore about the post-apocalyptic world—yes, post-apocalyptic. Splatoon lore is actually quite dark when you dig into it—Side Order’s story is engaging…but compared to Octo Expansion, it is surprisingly bare-bones. Most of the story behind the Memverse is not revealed in cutscenes but in small “dev diaries” unlocked between runs. What is revealed has interesting implications, but I couldn’t help but wish it was fully explored in the proper game. This includes the new characters, Acht and Order. They have dialogue and character interactions, but it gets repetitive between runs. I longed for more moments between them and more exploration of the narrative. 

But this isn’t to say I didn’t have a good time with Side Order’s story. I did enjoy what we got—including the adorable interactions between Pearl and Marina. I just wished we received a little more story content within the game itself, aside from the unlockable bonuses.

In conclusion…

Side Order is an addictive roguelite experience with a customizable gameplay loop that makes it easy to keep playing. Even for those who are new to roguelikes, it is simple to pick up with a difficulty that can be changed to a player’s preferences. However, for those looking for lore and story content, what’s present in Side Order does fizzle out after the first few runs. If you are a fan of roguelikes or are interested in trying them out, I highly suggest giving Side Order a shot. 

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