Developer: Nintendo EAD Group 4/ Publisher: Nintendo / Played On: Wii U / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Not Yet Rated
It’s been close to a decade since we’ve received a new Pikmin game. In fact, the franchise skipped an entire console generation with the Wii (unless you count the Gamecube re-releases), but such a long wait did not go without reward. There was cause for excitement when Pikmin 3 was unveiled at E3 2012, and even more so when it was clear it was the pet project of series creator and renowned designer Shigeru Miyamoto.
And to little surprise, the game is wonderful. It’s the most mechanically refined Pikmin experience to date, with charming new Pikmin types to command, comical main characters to play, frantic multiplayer to partake in and a gorgeous new coat of high-def paint to tantalize your eyes.
And despite an underwhelming conclusion to an excitedly climactic story build-up, Pikmin 3 stands as not only one of the Wii U’s finest games, but one of Shigeru Miyamoto’s as well.
In the original Pikmin, you played as Captain Olimar, a space traveler who crash-landed on a distant, dangerous planet. You discovered a group of adorable, leaf-headed, sprout-looking creatures called Pikmin (whom you plucked from the earth) that followed your every command. With their help, you were tasked with fetching all the necessary components to repair your space ship and depart the hostile world within thirty days before your life support suit malfunctioned.
Taking a note from Pikmin 2’s playbook, that 30-day limit is gone in Pikmin 3, but a similar urgency remains in-tact: a space exploration crew – with the addition of three new main characters: Alph the engineer, Brittany the botanist, and Charlie the commander – is sent into the galaxy to find a new food supply for their shriveled up home planet. As fate would have it, they crash-land on the planet of the Pikmin, and discover that it boasts edible fruit a plenty; earthly fruits no-less. The crew quickly discovers the adorable (and endlessly resourceful) Pikmin and puts them to use collecting the over-sized fruit, which is the base mechanic of the game. As is convention for the series, you have from sunrise until sundown to complete any needed tasks before your forced back to your ship for the night.
You turn fruit into juice to keep you and your crew members fed on this planet, and it’s also used to build a supply for your home planet when you return. If you’re a chiseled franchise veteran, the urgency associated with fruit-finding quickly subsides – as your supply easily piles high within in-game days. By the end, the fruit/juice mechanic doesn’t feel fully realized, and doesn’t amount to much more than a “carrot-on-a-stick” to keep you exploring the world. However this, in some way, does work to the benefit of experienced players looking to optimize their in-game activities beyond fruit, while also catering to newer players.
Previous characters Olimar and Louie do have a presence in the game, just not as much as fans of the franchise might anticipate. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, the game has a substantial build-up toward the latter half that falls unexpectedly short. You expect that there is a new chunk of the tale left to explore, and it quickly excites – but it was at that precise, anticipatory moment that the credits rolled, leaving me wanting (and expecting) much more.
Thankfully, the game up until the end is a delectable treat worth playing.
Pikmin has always revolved around a slate of basic mechanics: plucking Pikmin from the ground, increasing their numbers, and using them to collect important objects and defeat enemies. Pikmin 3 maintains this strategic set of mechanics, but boasts new Pikmin types and new ways to multi-task with groups.
The conventional red, yellow and blue Pikmin have become more realized in their specific roles. Reds are the clearly strong fighters who can withstand fire, yellows can carry bombs, dig with vigor, be thrown higher and can conduct an electric current, and blues can breathe underwater and fight while swimming.
Out of the spotlight are the purple and white Pikmin of Pikmin 2 and in are the two new types: pink flying Pikmin and grey rock Pikmin. The former can float above water and lift many objects into the air, and the latter can be thrown around to crack crystal and glass then deal significant damage to the world’s many hostile creatures.
The game revolves around the ability to strategically use these Pikmin to the best of their particular ability, each moment putting your multi-colored army in danger. In most situations, especially if you’ve played a lot of Pikmin, the solution to a particular environmental puzzle is clear in seconds. In others instances, like in the last hour of the game, you’re firmly pressed with a boss sequence that pushes your multi-tasking skills (and formerly robust Pikmin supply) to its very limit. Thankfully, boss fights aren’t nearly as threatening as they were in past games; though they are far more epic in scope, larger in size, and highly fun and rewarding to defeat.
There’s nothing quite like defeating a massive desert worm and dragging it back to your ship by dozens of your battle-weary Pikmin buddies, then having its carcass replace the twice as many lost in battle minutes prior.
Pikmin 3 boasts a bevy of control schemes, all of which are user friendly and swift to switch between. You can use the Wii U Gamepad, the Wiimote and Nunchuck combination, or the Pro Controller. Switching between these, as mentioned, really is a breeze – any time in-game you can turn on a different controller and a prompt on-screen appears stating which controller is now in-use (no menu navigation required). It’s an elegant solution that I hope sees similar use in future games like Super Smash Bros., where multiple controllers are likely to be supported.
Systematically, the game provides great incentive to use both the Wiimote and Nunchuck combo with the Wii U Gamepad, and it’s surprisingly intuitive. Using the Wiimote and Nunchuck to control your character and Pikmin, the Gamepad acts as an interactive mini-map that displays the area you’re in, and where objectives, fruit, caves and lost Pikmin are located. At any time you can pause the game by touching the screen and freely drag around the map (which is shown in full 3D on the television screen), as well as tell other party members where to go (which adds to the game’s multi-tasking-focused behavior).
It allows for a far more overhead view of the battlefield that Pikmin hasn’t previously offered with such ease and functionality, and it’s wonderfully useful for keeping tabs on the mayhem.
Additionally, you can pick up the Gamepad at any time and use it as an in-game first-person camera to take pictures of the battlefield from a Pikmin’s perspective and upload snapshots to Miiverse. You can spin around 360 degrees to see the entire battlefield around you too. It’s a cool cinematic twist on screenshot sharing.
Multiplayer was introduced in Pikmin 2, where players could engage in battle mode to steal each other’s marbles, as well as work cooperatively to complete collection challenges. In Pikmin 3, the marbles have been replaced with macaroons and battle mode has been effectively replaced by Bingo Battle. In Bingo Battle, you and your Pikmin are tasked with finding collectibles that match a row on a bingo card. Between you and a friend, the first to get a “bingo” wins. It’s a fun and quick twist on the deceptively thoughtful strategy of the series, and a welcome addition.
There’s also fruit-collection and boss-fight challenges available in co-op, not to mention with their own global leaderboards to match.
Pikmin has always boasted a photorealistic visual style with some cartoony flair. Now, that visual style has been vastly improved thanks to the Wii U’s additional processing power – making environments, enemies and reflections really pop. Specifically, the in-game water looks spectacular: it ripples as Pikmin enter and reflects sunlight and objects beautifully.
And since most of the environments look like the inside of a garden or a creek bed, soil and rock textures are particularly realistic and unique, and vegetation floats and flaps in the breeze very naturally. Enemy bugs are massive and delightfully multi-colored as opposed to their single-textured selves of games gone by. It’s a testament to how splendid an art style can look when designed with the Wii U’s system spec in mind, and it’s all extremely easy on the eyes. It’s the most gorgeous game on Wii U right now, and is a visual treat with not a framerate stutter or hiccup in sight.
Pikmin 3 isn’t a revolution for the series. It’s a refinement. It’s a semi-successful exploration of a new way of storytelling that Pikmin presented dryly and Pikmin 2 worked to expand. And though Pikmin 3 feels like it’s kicking off just as the curtain falls, it definitely provides some satisfying replay value in 100%’ing your fruit collection, bingo battle multiplayer, and leaderboard challenges for yourself and a co-op buddy.
If you’re a Pikmin fan, pluck the cash from your wallet, hand it to Nintendo, and enjoy the best Pikmin experience around. Just don’t be shocked if you’re left expecting a bit more in the way of story.