What is Salmon Run?

Salmon Run is a co-operative game mode in Splatoons 2 and 3. You and three players get teamed up, flown out to a purpose-built stage, assigned weapons from a fixed (per-rotation) pool, and fight your way through three waves of enemy salmonids (anthropomorphized salmon armed and armored with repurposed kitchen gear). Instead of just slaughter, you have to get golden eggs to drop by splatting bosses, ferry them to a basket, and meet your quota before time runs out.

Salmon Run changes what happens when you get splatted. Instead of going back to spawn, your ghost sticks around on a flotation ring until a teammate spends some ink and precious attention to revive you with their ink (from their main weapon, a thrown bomb, or a special weapon.) You can still pick up and carry a golden egg, but you can’t throw or deposit it. If everyone’s splatted, you lose immediately, even if you’ve hit quota.

Many online shooters have a horde mode; “Gears of War” and “Mass Effect 3” are the ones I put some time into. What sets Salmon Run apart to me is the variety of it all. Enemy behavior is complex and extremely varied, with lots of interesting interactions. While there are fodder salmonids that wander towards you and whack you with kitchenware, they’re used in the service of making the bosses that drop the Golden Eggs you’re required to collect more interesting. The tide on the stage can rise and fall between waves too. High tide closes off areas and focuses the action in interesting ways, while low tide opens up a new section of the map that usually functions as an entirely new stage.

Doom 2 and Classifying Enemies

Andrew “Linguica” Stine, curator of the Doomworld forum, wrote a post on August 27, 2014 about how the added monsters in Doom 2 greatly change the experience of the game even for Doom 1 players.

[The Doom 2 monsters] nearly all enhance the gameplay along one or more of three axes:

  • time awareness - what is happening that I need to immediately address?
  • immediate spatial awareness - what is in my close vicinity right now?
  • general spatial awareness - what is the architectural layout, like walls, buildings, etc, in my area?

Doom 1 enemies were designed by what we would consider today to be novice FPS players, for whom basic movement and avoidance were challenging enough, without monsters making it much more difficult. However, as a more advanced FPS player, what tactical problems do you end up having while fighting them? Beyond getting boxed into a dead end, there is practically nothing preventing you from kiting Doom monsters indefinitely with little challenge.

He then bins the Doom 2 monsters (and the Cyberdemon, an episode-ending boss from Doom 1 that sees way more use in Doom 2) into the three different awareness categories.

a venn diagram of three intersecting circles for time awareness, immediate spatial awareness, and general spatial awareness

Pain Elemental is in Time Awareness, the Manucubus and Arachnotron are in Immediate Spatial Awareness, ya boi the Revenant is between Immediate and General Spatial Awareness, Chaingunners and Archviles are in Time and General Spatial Awareness, and Cyberdemons are in General Spatial Awareness.

I like to put the salmonids from Salmon Run in these categories too.


I’m putting the salmonids into four groups:

  1. “Fodder” are the enemies that move towards you and swat at you.
  2. “Bosses” have complex behaviors and drop golden eggs.
  3. “Occurrences” aren’t salmonids per se, but a scripted encounter that drastically changes the way the stage works.
  4. “Kings” are a notch above bosses, showing up randomly after victories.

Salmonids all ink territory. They can all physically block you with their body. They can all splat you too. The differences are in how they do these things.

The territory inking brings into mind the general spatial awareness aspect of Splatoon movement. Your ink is like a nice rug that’s super-pleasant to walk on, non-inked territory is like a hard floor that’s not bad to walk on, and opponents’ ink is like if a rest stop bathroom was flooded ankle-deep. This is omnipresent in Salmon Run, as the salmonids spawn in the dozens and ink territory as they move and attack.


Small Fry are small. They move relatively fast, leave small trails, and are hard to hit once they mob you. They create general spatial pressure because the packs tend to to deny you territory and movement options.

Chum are basic, and only a bit smaller than players. They’re slower than small fry, easier to hit, and splat you faster. They create general spatial pressure for the same territory denial reasons, but also have a time aspect because they can soak up more damage, which requires consideration of your ink supply and what they’re going to do in the meantime.

Cohocks are big and slow and will splat you in one or two hits. They’re not great at denying you territory because of the slow speed, but being close to them creates immediate spatial pressure.

Snatchers are the same size as Chum, but instead of targeting players, they travel to golden eggs that haven’t been collected, pick them up, and spirit them away. In Splatoon 2 they waddle and carry three at a time back to the shore. In Splatoon 3 they fly1, and can carry eight eggs back to a consistent spot off-stage they spawn from and return to. Both varieties have a time awareness component because you put a lot of effort in to popping those bosses, but in Splatoon 3 they bring a general spatial awareness component too. Their flight paths may go past the basket, so often you can use them to do the difficult and dangerous work of moving the eggs closer to the basket.


Steelheads are big and slow and have a big bomb on their head. They charge it up slowly, lob it a relatively short distance, and advance once it explodes. The awareness factor is immediately spatial, since you want to be positioned to damage the inflating bomb but also have an escape path planned.

Steel eels snake around as an impassible wall of ink, separating you from your fellow players and blocking off huge swaths, only defeatable by going to their rear and shooting the driver. They’re an immediate spatial awareness pressure as they rapidly close off routes you might want to take.

Scrappers (my friend group simply calls these “cars”) are a salmonid driving a little armored box. You damage the front or sides of the box, and then shoot ‘em in the back while they’re stunned. They’re a general spatial pressure, since you should mostly just be thinking about how to lead them towards the basket to make depositing their bounty easier.

Stingers (“towers”) are a tower of pots and pans, with a little guy at the top that shoots an infinite-range ink jet that pierces walls at you. Avoiding the jets and getting close enough to shut them down are both immediate spatial awareness challenges.

Maws takes the form of a fishing bobber that chases players around the stage until they get close, at which point a ring-shaped indicator will apear, and a shark-like salmonid will pop out of the ground and chomp. They have an immediate spatial awareness component, again regarding escape path planning, but for players that aren’t immediately threatened, there’s a time awareness component, since you can have a bomb ready to feed them when the indicator appears.

Drizzlers are a boss that floats around the stage under an armored umbrella, lands, and simultaneously flips upside down to a vulnerable position and launches a torpedo that, after a few seconds turns into a moving drizzle of salmonid ink. You can damage them while upside down, do massive damage by shooting their torpedo back at them2, or shoot them while they float to their next landing site. While they’re lining up a shot, you want some general spatial awareness to be ready to shoot them, and not getting splatted by their drizzle also requires general spatial awareness.

Flyfish are true devils. They fly around on a jet of ink with two big armored styrofoam coolers. Eventually they’ll pause, open the coolers, and launch salvos of missiles at two different players. While the coolers are open, you can drop a bomb in each one to bring them down. Surviving being targeted by the missiles requires immediate spatial awareness since you don’t get much warning about where each one will hit, and you need general spatial awareness because you don’t want to run into missiles that target teammates either. Bringing them down requires time awareness, since the coolers aren’t open for very long. It’s possible to solo one if you’re good, but teammates really help.

At the start of a Salmon Run match, I’m wielding a Hydra Splatling stands atop the platform in the middle of Um’ami Ruins. A Flyfish shows up, and I start aiming towards it and signal “This way!” to my teammates. We perfectly put three splat bombs all in the same side of the Flyfish as a Drizzler takes flight.

Fish sticks3 are a big rusty pillar tethered to and placed by a ring of small fry, who then fly in a circle around the top singing and spraying ink. They require just general spatial awareness, since while it sucks to be in their radius of ink, they’re pretty easy to pop. The only rough part is that the eggs appear at the top of the pillar, so you can either climb up and grab them or let a snatcher do it for you.

Flipper Floppers are a salmonid wearing a dolphin mask, throw a ring of their ink on the stage, and dive down into it. You need immediate spatial awareness to escape that ring of ink, but if you then re-ink it back to your color, they’ll flop around on top and just require a few shots to finish off.

Slammin’ Lids (“UFOs”) are a flying saucer that parks and dispenses fodder salmonids. Much like Doom 2’s Pain Elemental, this is a huge time awareness challenge. Defeating them is a bit of an immediate spatial awareness challenge, since you have to move under them to make them slam down, not be under them when they hit, and then usually jump on top to hit the salmonid driving it.

Big Shots are just big salmonids in overalls that install a morter on a beach, and launch cannonballs at the basket. The cannonballs bounce and send out waves of damage that require immediate spatial awareness to dodge.

Goldies are a special boss salmonid that only shows up in Known Occurrences, and have special behavior for those different occurrences.

Known Occurrences

Known Occurrences are waves that bring a distinct scripted event. These waves can’t be handled the same way as the usual shambling masses.

In Glowflies, one player gets swarmed with glowing flies, and more than a dozen of super-fast Chum and a Goldie will rush them. You need immediate spatial awareness to survive the rush, with more generalized awareness to get the eggs in when you’re not being swarmed.

Grillers are a nightmare on wheels. One or more charcoal grills, vomiting ink under them, will each point a red laser at a player and try to rush them. You need immediate spatial awareness to steer the grillers to a productive spot for your teammates to hit their weak spot.

Motherships spawn in the sky and send out Chinooks. Chinooks4 fly out carrying a cooler that, if placed, starts spawning chum. Shooting down a Chinook instead makes them drop a golden egg. Twice in the round, the Mothership itself will fly to the basket and attempt to suck off any eggs you’ve already captured, which requires time awareness to deal with.

Mudmouths are a grotesquerie that pop out of sewer hole covers, and spew either Chum or occasionally Cohocks from their mouth, and you can stop them by putting grenades in their mouth. The mass of fodder they spew is time pressure, but it’s not a tough occurrence.

Cohock Charge, often called “Cannons”, is a normal wave but instead of Chum and Small Fry you only get the bigger meaner Cohocks, but you also get cannons that deal massive explosive damage to them and the other bosses that appear. If you’re an egg runner, you need general spatial awareness, and if you’re operating a cannon you need similar spatial awareness and also to keep an eye on your ink.

Fog is a normal wave with fog, so spatial awareness is harder.

Goldie Seeking has goldies hiding under taps that pop out of the same sewer holes Mudmouths use and waddle across the stage to a different tap to hide. It’s mostly about time management, and understanding the space the goldie will move through.

Tornado is a low-tide event that requires you to ferry golden eggs from a big pile that spawns on a low tide shore all the way to a distant high-tide basket. It’s generally pretty easy, but I guess there’s a spatial awareness component just to efficiently bucket-brigade the eggies to the basket.

King Salmonids

After three successful waves, you usually hear a triumphant organ melody and get back in the chopper to receive your reward. Sometimes the melody is dissonant, and a King appears in an “Xtra Wave.” You still get a victory if you fall to the King, but dethroning them gets you bronze, silver, or gold scales that can be redeemed for unique gear. The way to defeat a king is to pop the other bosses that show up with them, get the golden eggs, and launch them at the king.

Cohozuna is the first king enthroned. Named after the top rank in sumo wrestling (Yokozuna5), they’re very big and jump from place to place. This puts an additional immediate spatial awareness constraint on you, since the other bosses still spawn while you’re trying to not get squashed.

Horrorboros is an eel-shaped salmonid that flies in a loop around the stage, charging and lobbing bombs at you Steelhead-style, but on a larger scale. Avoiding the bomb is a general spatial challenge, but blasting it while it’s charging is way more timing sensitive.

Megalodontia6 is big Maws. They extremely obviously target a player while swimming beneath the stage, hold still, and then chomp. You need immediate spatial awareness to avoid their bite, and control where they spawn and which direction their weak point is pointing for the benefit of your teammates.

Closing Thoughts

venn diagram summarizing the above blog post

One problem with categorizing Salmon Run enemies in the same way as Doom 2 is the decades between them. As Linguica said:

Doom 1 enemies were designed by what we would consider today to be novice FPS players, for whom basic movement and avoidance were challenging enough, without monsters making it much more difficult.

Salmon Run enemies aren’t designed by novices, they were all designed by people who had already played Splatoon 1 and almost certainly countless other shooters. The behavior of a Flyfish is more complicated than anything Doom 2 can throw at you. If it feels like many of the above classifications of salmonids into a single awareness category is a stretch, it’s because, to an extent, it is.

I wrote this because I was already having interesting conversations about it, and figured you might as well.

References and Thanks

This post wouldn’t’ve been possible without the Salmon Run Next Wave page on Inkipedia.

I’d’ve never even thought to write it it without “Sorry fraggle all the new Doom 2 monsters are great…” by Linguica.

Super thanks to the Nintengoons Splatoon chat for helping me hash this out a few months ago, and for being good teammates!

  1. now 

  2. or other salmonids! 

  3. you know how I’m always pronouncing this 

  4. (presumably named after the helicopter) 

  5. I will always call them “Yokozuna” because I worked with Basho’s Yokozuna back in the day. 

  6. Megalovania,” to me