Pikmin 3 is a shining example of what Nintendo is capable of...”
Not only has it been almost a decade since the last Pikmin game launched, but it has also been quite some time since Nintendo last released a fully fledged 3D title on console. Pikmin 3 essentially kicks off what is surely going to be a great few months of solid releases for the Wii U. But is it too little, too late for those who have already written off the Wii U as an underpowered, reduced library, console?
The Pikmin series has always had quite a passionate following, but due to launching on a console that wasn’t exactly an over-performer, the following wasn’t overly large. Thanks to that, there are probably quite a few of you who have no idea what this game is about, so let me introduce you to the amazing world of Pikmin.
In the original game a small human-like alien crashes onto an unknown planet and manages to wreck his ship in doing so. After wandering about he stumbles upon a small, strange looking plant in a world of oversized foliage. With a simple tug of the root he finds a strange bipedal creature within his grasp; Captain Olimar has plucked his first Pikmin from the soil beneath him, and it won’t be the last.
Olimar soon discovers that the Pikmin are insanely loyal and that not only do they vary in colour, but the colours signify a very specific trait. The red ones are fighters and can really pack a punch, the yellow are lighter, and the blue are at home in water (where the others will meet their aquatic end). Not only will they follow Olimar to the ends of the earth, but they’ll do everything in their power to ensure Olimar gets the pieces of his ship back together, even if it means dying at the hands of their leader. Pikmin is, in essence, a single step away from being a RealTime Strategy (RTS) and could be considered Nintendo’s answer to Starcraft.
The sequel introduced Louie – Olimar’s brother and second playable character – and a couple of new coloured Pikmin. The gameplay stayed relatively similar except you were trying to get back to your ship, and that you could control two Pikmin commanders simultaneously. It too, received great reviews (albeit lower than the original), and also fell victim to being released on a console that had a small audience outside of Japan. Pikmin 2 set a precedent when it came to being a sequel; a third would need new variants of Pikmin, and a third controllable character. Which is exactly what Pikmin 3 has brought to the party.
Pikmin 3 starts with, you guessed it, a crashed landing onto what is now known only as “PNF-404”, only this time Olimar and Louie are nowhere to be seen. This time, Alph, Brittany, and Captain Charlie have stumbled onto this planet in search of food for their starving planet. After being knocked from the ship and separated from one another, the crew slowly make their way back to their craft, and of course meet up with Pikmin along the way.
The gameplay in Pikmin 3 is exactly what you’d expect from a Pikmin sequel: control the Pikmin to return stuff to your ship, take advantage of the Pikmin’s unique skills to over power the multitude of enemies in your way, and gain extra Pikmin by returning food or dead enemies to the Onion (the Pikmin’s organic spacecraft). Where the original game had a time limit of thirty days (each day being about thirteen minutes), Pikmin 3 only ends when you run out of food for your brave crew, which can be obtained by turning the fruit your Pikmin find into juice. Fruit can be obtained through at least one of the following ways: puzzle solving, exploration, strategic thinking, or boss battles.
Days in Pikmin 3 last around twenty minutes and it’s up to you to ensure that every Pikmin in your control is either close to their Onion, or still in your control. Once the day ends the crew and Pikmin soar into the skies in their respective crafts, while any remaining Pikmin will be sadly devoured by the nocturnal predators. Once you’re safe above the atmosphere of PNF-404 you’re given a breakdown of Pikmin found, Pikmin lost, and using the Gamepad you can choose to watch an instant replay of the day via the overhead map.
While Pikmin 3 is quite non-linear in the way that you go about it, there’s always a guiding nudge towards where you should be going. Sure, you can ignore the flashing marker on the map and focus on fruit collecting, or increasing the number of your multi-coloured army, but you’ll always be curious as to what is going to happen next. The story in Pikmin 3 isn’t overly detailed, but it’s enough to make you want to know what happens next and players will fall into the old “one more go” trap. Twenty minute days are over all too quickly, and suddenly you’ve lost a few hours of the night to this gorgeous looking game.
It seems a few gamers are voicing their distaste for the graphics found in Pikmin 3, but there’s very little to complain about. There’s everything you’d expect of a current gen title (depth of field, normal mapping, fantastic shaders, high res textures) and it’s mixed with a beautifully coloured and realised miniature world that only Nintendo could do. The game looks fantastic with its mix of cartoony characters and realistic environment, and runs without a single frame-rate drop. To finally see the Pikmin world created with this kind of tech was a joy from the moment the game started.
Another complaint was that the default controls really aren’t worth using, and while I agree 100% on that front, the game becomes almost perfectly controlled with Wiimote and nunchuck in hand. This may mean you need to fork out another $100 to play the game properly, but considering the amount of Wii U software that utilises those controllers, it’s probably a good investment anyway. Using the analog stick on the nunchuck to control members of your crew, and the Wiimote to point where you need to throw Pikmin (or as a pointer to calls specific ones back), allows the Gamepad to be freed up as an overhead map and Encyclopedia for the new world you’re exploring. Later in the game you’ll also be using the map to select points for individual crew members to head to automatically. It’s all part of the Pikmin strategy.
Strategy plays a giant part of the Pikmin experience, as you’re constantly evaluating what ratio of Pikmin you’ll bring along depending on what your current task is. If you see some fruit on the other side of a river, you’ll probably want to take along only the ones who won’t drown as you walk across, whereas you’ll probably want a small army of fireproof red Pikmin to take out that lava spurting bug. The game eases strategy upon you, and there are times where you can chance your way through areas, but you’ll need to be prepared for resource management and quick thinking by the time you get to the final stage.
The game can turn quickly if you haven’t quite thought ahead, with the ability to lose numerous Pikmin with one wrong decision. It’s never easy seeing them fall dead, their small coloured ghost rising from their bodies with a pained squeak. For those who can’t bear the loss of your army you can always quickly restart the day, but the game expects you to lose some Pikmin; and while you may want to limit the number of deaths, there are always more to be grown. Should you happen to have trouble with the numerous predators on PNF-404, there are always tips for defeating them lying about as pick-ups. They’re always given to you after you’ve confronted a creature, which may ruin the challenge for more experienced gamers; if only there was an option to turn them off.
If you’re not so fussed about bringing every piece of fruit back to Koppai (the home planet of Alph, Brittany, and Charlie) you’ll have the Story Mode finished in a little over 8 hours. But if you’re going for completion, expect to spend almost double that going back and entering previously inaccessible areas. Not to be content with a sixteen hour title, Nintendo have also included challenges (which can be played as 2 player co-op) and a Vs mode. Both are incredibly fun when played with an opponent, which only makes me wonder why they didn’t get online play working. I could imagine picking this up and going head to head with someone in Bingo Battle on a nightly basis - but if my only option is ‘same couch multiplayer’ - that’s just not going to happen.
I guess Nintendo just haven’t sorted out that aspect of their online system yet. Leaderboards, however, are something we’re starting to see more of on the Wii U. Once you complete the game you’re given some simple stats on how you went, compared to the rest of the world. Oh, you got all of the fruit in 47 days? The average is 43. You only got 35 pieces of fruit by the end? Everyone else got 40! It’s a good incentive to get back in the game and do better, but once you reload an earlier save and get all the fruit, there’s little reason to go back into the Story Mode.
Pikmin 3 was a joy to play, from start to finish, and will continue being so as I make my way through all of the challenges. The game is outright adorable, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to crack a few grins at the army of loyal idiots following your every move. There really are only a few things wrong with this game, and only one of them is excusable. I understand AI can be tricky and that some Pikmin might get caught on the geometry and have to be rescued from time to time - but I can’t understand Nintendo being so behind on online multiplayer. It’s also a shame that due to low Wii U sales that this will likely go the way of the previous Pikmin titles: adored games with a minimal following. Pikmin 3 is a shining example of what Nintendo is capable of, it’s just a shame that I had almost forgotten that.