It’s finally here: a game that I had hoped was in development since the original Wii debuted. It’s been a long time coming, especially since it should have been a launch window game (plus it was playable as far back as E3 2012). Nevermind that it took me almost two months for me to finally sit down and play it. The point is, Pikmin 3 is here and if you were scrounging for reasons to turn on the Wii U, the game succeeds in being one.
The Pikmin games and I go way back. The original was one of the first titles my brother and I owned for the Gamecube alongside Luigi’s Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Super Monkey Ball. It was a great looking game, and a unique one at that. My experience with strategy titles at the time didn’t extend much past those of the RPG flavor or the insanely popular ones that Blizzard makes. So what a change in pace it was to not only be in command of an army of plant soldiers, but to be down on the ground with them. I wasn’t a fan of the time limit to finish the game, but I enjoyed every other aspect of the title.
When Pikmin 2 released, I was even more enamored. Not only was the time limit for the entirety of the game lifted, but there was even multiplayer support. Then the series went silent, only to return as “enhanced” Wii ports…
But enough about its predecessors, let’s talk about Pikmin 3, yeah?
The story revolves around three explorers from the planet Koppai on a mission to locate food from around the galaxy. Koppai has lived beyond their means, and unfortunately for them, they cannot locate any other planet to provide sustenance. That is, until they crash land on PNF-404 and become separated. Charlie, Brittany, and Alph (does not eat cats to my knowledge) each discover the ever helpful Pikmin, whom they realize can be commanded to aid in their search for food and each other.
It’s a lighthearted tale that exists to justify moving from one part of the planet to the next, and it works. Each day is followed up with a journal entry from one of the characters that describes events from their perspective, and the dialogue is generally quite humorous. And then there’s the Pikmin. Which is really all that needs to be said, because look how damn cute they are.
When you begin Pikmin 3, you will only be in control of one character at a time, though as the game progresses you will eventually gain the ability to swap between all three. Any Pikmin obtained will follow whomever plucked them from the ground or whistled for them using ZR. The left analog stick controls both your character and the cursor for where your Pikmin would land if you were to throw them. Throwing the cute critters seems mean until you realize that doing so is the best way to dispatch of their predators. Launching one onto the backs of foes will cause the Pikmin to slap them with the large stalks on their heads and bring them down. The bodies of the creatures will then be automatically carried back to serve as food for the Pikmin, thus allowing them to spawn more. You can control up to a hundred at once, with any excess hanging out in the Onion (which is their home).
Any creatures or objects can be locked onto with ZL, which allows your character to strafe around it without moving the cursor, as well as making it easier to throw Pikmin on target. If you have something locked on, pressing B causes any Pikmin following your character to lead a charge, allowing them to swarm like an army of ants. It replaces the capability of prior games to line up your minions with the right analog stick (which now controls the camera) and as a result, takes some getting used to. Though it works almost as well. If you have any Ultra-Spicy Spray in your inventory, your followers will resort to something of a roid rage and will act even more aggressive than before. Some objects will sprout nectar for the Pikmin to consume, which makes the sprouts on their heads bloom into flowers and grants them the capability to move and perform their duties faster, though simply leaving them in the ground before plucking them will generate the same effect.
There’s not just one kind of Pikmin however, and learning to manage them is where much of the strategy lies. Red Pikmin are resistant to fire and incredibly strong fighters, so it’s likely that you’ll build an incredibly large number of them by the end of the game. Likewise, blue ones can swim (whereas all others will drown) and yellow can withstand electricity and be flung higher than the rest. New to Pikmin 3 are Rock Pikmin which can shatter things and can’t be squished, as well as Winged Pikmin that can hover over danger and pull things out of the ground that the other types can’t reach. White and purple Pikmin do still exist, but only outside the story mode.
The time limit from the original game is back, though it’s far more lenient this time around. Rather than having thirty days to do all there is to do in the game, the amount of days you have is only limited by the amount of fruit juice you have on hand. The primary objective of the game is to have the Pikmin carry back as much fruit as they can, with each one providing varying amounts of juice. The thing is, there’s enough juice to collect all that there is to find with time to spare. One container of juice equates to one in-game day (which in itself is about twenty minutes of real time). So in order to make meaningful progress, you must micro-manage each of your three characters so that you can accomplish as much as possible before the sun goes down (while not stranding any Pikmin in the process, as this leads to their demise).
The boss battles are some of the most intense that the series has to offer. They all have a very specific strategy and I’ve found myself restarting days several times on account of early losses I’ve suffered trying to figure it out. There’s even a few that took me multiple days to fight, as even just finding an efficient way to deal damage is as important as figuring out how to do damage at all. I guess what I’m getting at is, expect a lot of casualties your first time through.
Not that this makes the game punishing by any means. As I alluded to earlier, any day that you’re currently working on can be restarted if you feel you didn’t advance enough within the allotted time, plus you can roll things back to a previous day. If you run low on Pikmin, resupplying is as easy as finding pellets strewn about and carrying them back to the Onion, with many of them located close by. There’s no longer any caves either, so the days of the underground numbers-preservation marathon are long gone. Your followers do have issues getting hung up on obstacles and when you have a full roster in tow, you may find a few of them wander their way into the water or the jaws of a creature you were hoping to avoid. Still, if you move at a slower pace, it’s easy to manage.
Though Pikmin 3 can be played with any number of controllers (including the Wii remote/nunchuk and Pro controller), the game pad works the best. The main reason being the addition of the mini-map displayed on the controller’s screen. Not only that, but any characters can be guided to a destination using this map without you having to babysit them. For example, if I wanted Alph to go back to base to pickup additional Pikmin without my input, I would just draw a path for him on the map and he will go there on his own. This means sending characters that aren’t doing anything on errands while continuing the explore with the rest. The game has off-TV play as well, which is a nice bonus.
Aside from the main story, there’s exists Mission and Bingo Battle modes. Mission can be played solo or cooperatively with another player, but is itself divided into three separate modes of play. You can opt for treasure gathering, monster hunting, or taking on one of the bosses from the Story mode. Bingo Battle pits you against another player, challenging you to earn spaces on a bingo card by obtaining whatever it is that a space asks of you. It’s a good variety, and I’m quite glad that multiplayer wasn’t left behind from the previous game.
I had always thought the Gamecube releases looked fine enough with their well designed environments and incredible looking water effects, but the HD facelift really adds that extra layer of polish. Each area looks like a living, breathing ecosystem, complete with vegetation and critters that either sleep or just hang around. The Pikmin themselves all animate individually too, and even having a full one hundred Pikmin roster doesn’t cripple the performance of the game.
While there is a light soundtrack at work here, it’s barely noticeable on account of the gibberish speaking characters and the cute exclamations of the Pikmin. Your little leafy pals don’t talk, but they do make sounds of surprise and excitement, as well hum little tunes while you’re walking and utter the Pikmin equivalent to “one-two, one-two” while carrying things. The whole audio experience is quite charming overall.
Despite the return of the time limit, Pikmin 3 is an improvement over its predecessors in nearly every other area. An additional character means the amount of multitasking that can be done on a given day is increased, plus the boss battles are far more exciting endeavors than they once were. If you were a fan of the previous two games, or were looking for something good to play on the Wii U (or both), definitely give it a look.
Short Attention Span Summary
Pikmin is back with its first installment after a nine year hiatus. And the best news is, it was worth the wait. Pikmin 3 looks great in HD and the gamepad lends itself well to the experience, allowing players to send unused characters to a new location via the mini-map, resulting in far more efficient multi-tasking than was possible before. Boss battles are far more exciting too, plus the two new Pikmin types are a welcome addition. The return of the time limit from the original is something of a minor disappointment, despite its leniency, though every other aspect of the game is a big step up. If you own a Wii U, it’s worth checking out.