It’s late May and the long-awaited sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has just been released. My Switch friend list has never been more active, and all of them are playing Tears of the Kingdom. So am I, until my eyes wander to my phone, and land on the shift schedule for Salmon Run in Splatoon 3. This is by no means a review of (or even about) Tears of the Kingdom, but I immediately go: “Alright. This is okay. But that Salmon Run shift over there? That looks like fun. Yeah, I think I’d rather be playing Salmon Run.” And then I switch back to Splatoon 3, to return to the most miserable in-game job ever, that I cannot stop playing for some codforsaken reason.
Alright. First things first: What is Salmon Run? It’s a co-op multiplayer mode in Splatoon. It was introduced with limited time slots in Splatoon 2 and returned in Splatoon 3 with higher difficulty, new bosses, more content and, most importantly, permanent availability. You team up with three other players (your coworkers) to take on three 100-second waves of constantly spawning salmon-like enemies, the Salmonids. Salmonids fight using repurposed cooking utensils, like spoons and frying pans. In their culture, weapons are adopted to make themselves look tasty, and they take great pride in fighting to the death.
So why exactly are you here, putting your life on the line in their territory? Because you are
slaving away at working for the fishy Grizzco Industries and your boss is Mr. Grizz, who only appears in the form of a bear-shaped radio. Your job: To collect the precious Golden Eggs the Salmonids value and protect, an energy source that Grizzco needs for some unknown reason (so probably for the good of cephalopodkind, right?).
Golden Eggs are only carried by the Boss Salmonids and each drops 3 of them when splatted.
Is it a little shady to commit genocide against fish people and steal their offspring for some dubious corporation? Yes. Maybe. But a cephalopod has to stay afloat somehow, and I am just an employee here, doing my silly little job (but seriously, Mr. Grizz, why is the pay so abysmal, why is it gacha-based, and why is most of it just worthless, duplicate gear?).
Unlike other modes you don’t get to choose your weapon in Salmon Run. The shifts change about every 40 hours and use one of the 5 maps currently available, alongside a pre-generated pool of 4 main weapons. Each player is randomly assigned one of these weapons per wave, you can’t get the same weapon twice in a shift, and each weapon is always assigned (unless there is a disconnect, in which case good luck out there).
The weapon set is usually pretty balanced, so the team stands a fighting chance – provided everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. Emphasis on usually, Mr. Grizz has a bit of a sense of humor, sometimes. Each employee is also given two uses of one of the seven special weapons available in the mode, as well as the good old Splatbombs. Workers are given a Lifesaver that traps their soul when they get defeated (“splatted”) by enemies and allows them to be revived on the spot when sprayed with ink by their coworkers.
While you could join your friends for work, you can also go freelance and be matched with 3 other random freelancers close to your own rank. Communication, as always in Splatoon, is limited to “Booyah!”, “This way!” or “Help!”, for downed coworkers. A “Booyah” can signify anything from “Good Luck!” at the beginning of the shift, to “Well Done”, “Thank You” or a “I did a funny/stupid thing. Sorry. Please revive me tho.”. “This way” can help you to rally your coworkers to help you or take out some particularly nasty spawns together. Or remind them to not rush to the shore at the beginning of the wave.
Speaking of ranks: Successfully surviving your shift earns you 20 points towards a promotion, and the higher your title, the better (?) the pay and the more dangerous (read: harder) your work. Failing wave 1 will cost you 20 points, wave 2 will cost you 10 points and failing on wave 3 won’t lose (or earn) you any points. You fail a shift if you do not meet your egg quota on time or if the team gets wiped out by enemies. Freelancers have a tendency to complain about how badly their “randos” are playing when they fail a shift – but always remember: YOU are the rando to everyone else.
Okay, now that you’re armed, aware of your surroundings and have maybe even played the optional training stages, you’re good to go! But you’ll never fully know what exactly awaits you: All boss spawns are random, the tides are constantly changing, and the rising or falling sea levels will limit or expand your work area.
To keep things extra spicy there are a handful of Known Occurrences, special waves that tend to play out very differently from the normal ones. Like the dreaded Glowfly Rush, where one worker at a time is targeted by frenzied Chums, putting teamwork and quick decision-making to the test, or Goldie Seeking, a game of hot and cold where you and your colleagues must scour the gushers for a special Salmonid known as the Goldie.
And even if you live through all three waves: Sometimes the emergency sirens will go off, indicating the occurrence of an Xtrawave and the appearance of a King Salmonid, a particularly vicious Salmonid.
To better combat this massive threat, workers are given an Egg Cannon, which turns Golden Eggs into projectiles to deal massive damage. Encountering and defeating a King Salmonid rewards employees with bronze, silver or gold scales which they can trade in for all sorts of useful stuff, such as exclusive gear, cosmetics or new work equipment (for aesthetic purposes only).
But Grizzco does even more to keep their employees happy! Occasionally, they host a team-building event called Eggstra Work, where four workers team up to face a predetermined set of 5 waves with fixed weapons, while trying to collect as many Golden Eggs as possible (also dubbed overfishing by the community). The goal is to play the seed over and over again, to optimize strategies and improve highscores. And because Grizzco really, really, REALLY values its employees, the top 5%, 20% and 50% scorers are even rewarded with a special and exclusive sticker for their locker! Thank your corporate overlords!
Why would they need to keep you happy? Well, for one, aside from the usual working conditions, the Salmonids will occasionally attack the city of Splatsville, turning one of the PvP maps into a Salmon Run stage for a weekend. You and your coworkers must now fight to keep the city safe!
And while the mode is basically another overfishing event without any “real” stakes – the map will always return to normal after the weekend – it‘ is’s still a fun and challenging change of pace to learn an entirely new map over the course of a weekend!
Another more frequent type of special event are the random rotations, which are indicated by ? ? ? ? shown instead of weapons – you can literally get any weapon during these, including duplicates. Each random rotation has a rare, overpowered Grizzco weapon available, a very powerful but hard to master weapon from Mr. Grizz’s personal collection. These are exclusive to Salmon Run. Some rotations only have one randomly assigned weapon, while the super rare Golden Rotations, indicated by ? ? ? ? only assign Grizzco weapons. Feel like the strongest cephalopod around for a limited time!
So, what makes Salmon Run so fun? It’s the combination of its very easy to learn but hard to master gameplay that will force you to make split-second decisions constantly, the crazy, non-stop randomness of it all, and the variety of weapons you’ll need to know how to play that makes it so endearing and addicting to me.
Want to give it a try too? Company onboarding is a little rough and who wants to read the manual? Luckily, there are tons of resources provided by your future coworkers to help you improve! You could start by checking out Hazmy’s YouTube channel for tutorials, or try the Salmon Run discord server to find coworkers and even more advice and strategies. Or you could take a look at Reyko’s YouTube channel for top-level gameplay. (I swear, Grizzco does not pay me a commission for signing up new employees!)
And remember – happy fishing! And even more importantly: No matter how dire the situation, always Booyah back!
Visuals © Nintendo 2023