Cast your mind back to the original concept trailer for Nintendo Switch (or watch it above, up to you). Nintendo had shown photogenic people playing Switch in the park, on a plane, at rooftop parties, and also in esports. Though Nintendo has generally gone for a relatively low-effort approach to pushing its role in esports, avoiding a great deal of the pesky work and monetary investments, it has been slowly trying to do more. In the grand vision of late 2016 it was Splatoon 2 that would play out in a packed arena of excited fans, as Nintendo evidently envisioned big things for the franchise.
That didn't happen, for a broad combination of reasons, but the game was a success. It was certainly meatier than its experimental Wii U original, offering more content and options for solo or co-op play. The competitive multiplayer, of course, became the long-term focus for many, and you can still find players battling it out online with terrifying rankings.
Commercially it's been a success too, and an instance of a new IP from Nintendo making a mark - the original sold nearly 5 million copies on Wii U, impressive considering the system itself only shifted 13.56 million units. The Switch sequel has hit 12.68 million units to date, good enough to establish itself as the 9th best-selling Switch title at the time of writing.
How do we assess the success of Splatoon 2, though? It's sold a lot of copies and has an ongoing loyal player base online, especially considering the relative youth of the franchise. That said, it's well off more established franchises that have comfortably passed 20 million (30 million in some cases) sales on Switch; Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros., Pokémon. In the big picture of first-party franchises Splatoon arguably sits in a second tier; it's sold less than Super Mario Party, for additional context.
A success, then, but perhaps a slightly qualified one. Yet we can expect Nintendo to give Splatoon 3 a big push this year, not only in an effort to grow the brand further but because it's a huge domestic hit. Many of us like the Splatoon games, but in Japan it's got a more significant place in pop culture. Concerts of the game's brilliant music, merchandise, limited edition snacks and more - all were prevalent in Japan with Splatoon 2 in particular, following up on the huge impact of the original (against the odds). In Nintendo's home market it is a banker.
The question is whether Splatoon 3 can be a tipping point to take it truly into the top tier of Nintendo IPs globally. The development team has had a good period of time to work on the game, no doubt utilising the engine and tools from the first two games to enable the focus to be on content. The Story Mode could be the biggest yet, for example, and we've already seen some fun weapons and arenas showcased. After all of the foundational work in the original, and the expansion in the sequel, this third entry could certainly be a new level for the series.
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The IP also has all of the tools to go to the next level and start contending with Nintendo's most established and iconic franchises. It's colourful, both family friendly and open to high-level skilled play, there's a lot of personality in the characters, fantastic music, and variety of content. It's also a game that gets close to a 'live service' approach in multiplayer, if Nintendo opts to continue running regular events and content updates. The tools are there, and assuming the quality of the game holds up it has the potential to be a smash hit.
Arriving this year with a huge install base of Switch owners, it's undoubtedly a big opportunity for Splatoon 3. What'll be most interesting is release timing, courtesy of an already packed first-party line-up. If, and it's a big if, development is far enough along, a Summer or early Fall release would arguably be best suited to the game's style and to give it breathing room from the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2. This would also allow Nintendo to go big with the game at events like E3 or Summer Game Fest.
In any case, it should be an exciting year for Splatoon fans. Forgetting conversations about sales figures and so on, getting a second full entry on Switch is likely to be a lot of fun.
Let us know what you think about Splatoon 3 and its chances in 2022, we've even thrown in a couple of polls for you. We're generous like that.