Review: Pikmin 3 for Wii U
One of the Wii U’s top Piks.
As I’ve tried to pull together this review, it’s been difficult to think of just what to say about Pikmin 3. Short of its two prequels, obviously, there is just nothing else quite like it. But, generally speaking, I can offer up one word which seems to describe it rather well: glorious.
If you’re already familiar with the Pikmin series, then you already have a good idea of what to expect here. The basic idea in each game is that one or more tiny explorers (about 2 centimeters, or 3/4 of an inch tall) from a far-off, distant planet to a strange world full of relatively enormous plants and creatures, designated as PNF-404. Interestingly, the number of spacemen in each title matches the game’s number: The first game had one, the second had two, and Pikmin 3 features a trio.
What is different from before is that series star Captain Olimar of the planet Hocotate is not one of the protagonists of this adventure, nor is his compatriot Louie anywhere near the spotlight. Instead, a trio of explorers named Alph, Brittany, and Charlie have been dispatched from planet Koppai to try solving the planet’s food shortage. It is this food shortage which is key to the game’s primary objective, as well as some other interesting dynamics.
Whereas the first Pikmin title had players retrieve the pieces of Olimar’s broken spaceship and the second had them procuring junk to save Olimar’s workplace, Hocotate Freight, from bankruptcy, fruit is the main thing you’ll be gathering this time out. However, it’s not just a matter of collecting fruit and calling it a day.
The series has toyed around with time limits in different forms, with each possessing a short day-night cycle allowing you just enough time to get around before deadly predatory creatures come out to hunt at night. The first added to this by only having so many days for Olimar to rebuild his ship before his life support gave out, a factor that was put aside to encourage more exploration in Pikmin 2. What Pikmin 3 does instead is include a juice system.
As you go around and pick up different fruit, you’re able to gain seeds to take back to Koppai to plant and hopefully solve the food shortage. But while on the planet, the Koppaian spacecraft will also make juice from each piece of fruit, with the amount depending on size. For each day of exploration, one full container of juice is consumed by the trio, and so the idea is to complete your mission before the juice runs out.
Overall, it’s an interesting mechanic which manages to offer a little more freedom than what players had to contend with in Pikmin, while still offering a little more pressure and tension than Pikmin 2. It’s always struck me as odd when games with a focus on exploration, discovery, and puzzle-solving seemingly try to stifle that with time limits, but this is a decent compromise.
Of course, the core of the game is built around the titular Pikmin, a great source of much of the game’s joys, as well as a bit of guilt. Friendly and eager to help, the Pikmin are plant-like creatures who can be plucked from the ground and will follow you to the ends of PNF-404– even using their own “Onion” craft to do so!
This time out, the developers have taken away some types of Pikmin introduced previously, and added others in their stead. The strong Purple Pikmin and speedy, poisonous White Pikmin are now relegated to multiplayer modes, replaced by the new Winged and Rock Pikmin, who accompany the standard Red, Blue, and Yellow Pikmin. While Winged Pikmin are capable of avoiding obstacles by flying, it’s the new Rock Pikmin who are the most fun to use. In addition to inflicting all the damage one would expect of throwing a rock at someone, they’re also good for shattering more rigid materials such as crystals, glass, and some types of natural armor on the local wildlife.
The Pikmin’s interaction with the player also creates an interesting dynamic. Simply put, this game will do its best to make you feel bad. That is to say, as you lead your unwavering army against the local fauna, there are inevitably going to be casualties. Some of these will come from the Pikmin dying in battle, their spirits rising from their bodies with a ghostly cry, but the ones that will really get you are those who are left behind.
Some Pikmin get caught up along the way back to the ships as the clock ticks down for nightfall, and while you can go back for them, there’s never a guarantee you’ll get them all. The worst is when they come running up to the ships after they’ve begun taking off, with predators hot on their trail, gulping them up right before your very eyes. It’s enough to trigger a modest bit of guilt for leaving a man behind, to be sure.
What will really put you to the test in Pikmin 3 is the multitasking. There is much to do and only so much time in which to do it, so dividing and conquering is the order of the day. Truth be told, this is where I got hung up the most, with one crew of Leader and Pikmin sometimes reaching a designated spot before I was finished taking care of other business. Incidentally, it didn’t help that I found the interface for sending a group to a certain location to be slightly unintuitive. However, once you get the hang of it, it works pretty well.
Helping to make this level of micromanagement possible is the GamePad’s built-in screen, and this could be where people begin to get a little divided on how to play. There are three main ways to play, with one control scheme shared between the GamePad and Pro Controller, while the other uses the same Wii Remote and Nunchuk scheme introduced in the “New Play Control!” releases of Pikmin and Pikmin 2 on the original Wii.
For me, I found that the Wii Remote and Nunchuk was the most optimal for directly controlling the characters, especially when it comes to attacking some enemies that move a bit quicker than your reticule can easily follow with the other schemes. However, this and the Pro Controller schemes leave the GamePad screen to be dealt with, and deal with it you must, as you’ll be checking maps, drawing routes for teams to follow, receiving communications, and more through it.
What I didn’t like here was having to put aside one controller to go over to the GamePad that was sitting by my side, and then back again– especially when the time is always ticking! Using the GamePad alone condensed everything into one utility, but that sacrifices the superior control scheme and aiming ability of the Wii Remote. Either way you go, you’re likely to be losing something, unless you manage a setup conducive to reaching everything easily– your mileage may vary.
In addition to the substantial single-player Story Mode, there is more fun to be had. Mission Mode is available for solo and cooperative play, so you can bring in a friend to help in your Pikmin-powered fruit farming. This comes in three types of mission: Collect Treasure, wherein you do as much gathering as you can in an area unique from the Story Mode within the allotted time for a high score; Battle Enemies, wherein you defeat enemies in order to earn points; and Boss Battle, where you’ll face off with a boss you’ve already encountered in the Story Mode, trying to beat them as quickly as possible. The best scores will go to the top of an online Leaderboard.
In addition to the content already on the disc, this is a game in which Nintendo has chosen to dabble in the realm of downloadable content. New missions can be downloaded, some free of charge, others ranging in price from $1.99 to $4.99, with the latter featuring more levels and even the ability to play as Captain Olimar! And just in time for the holidays, the Mission Mode pack you get free after performing the latest software update even contains a little bit of Christmas cheer.
If you’re looking for something a little more personal in your competition, there is also a Bingo Battle mode. Two players compete on a split screen with Wii Remote Pluses and Nunchuks to complete a fruit-filled Bingo card by getting four of the fruits shown in a row or column. You can also compete in something a little more capture-the-flag-ish by turning on the “Victory Macaroon”. Capture your opponent’s Macaroon to get an instant win.
The main focus of Pikmin 3 is still the Story Mode, especially as it unlocks features in these secondary modes. Even so, these help extend and make the entire Pikmin 3 experience a bit more robust.
On the flash-and-dazzle level, Pikmin 3 truly shines. Pikmin always has, with its gorgeous Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-view of the larger world around, but the added boost of high definition visuals from the Wii U adds a very noteworthy boost overall. The sounds, meanwhile, are very ambient and enjoyable. There’s an odd combination of relaxation and tension about it, as you bask in the world of nature depicted around you, but just as in nature, the threat of predators and the always-ticking clock keeps you on your toes as you set about your work.
The characters are likeable, too. As noted before, you’ll feel bad when you see Pikmin who inevitably wind up being left behind, but the three new explorers are a welcome addition as well. I wasn’t sure about going from Olimar to an all-new cast, but these three won me over. Alph in particular; his wide-eyed expression led me to believe he was going to play the part of the impulsive young rookie character, causing as much trouble as he helps solve due to his inexperience, but he turned out to be a reasonable, rational, and fairly intellectual individual. Of the three, I think Charlie is my favorite, but it’s hard to imagine one without the other two as a sort of space-faring family.
So here’s the thing: In the end, I think Pikmin 3 is a game everyone, or at least every Wii U owner, should experience. However, I’m not sure it’s a game for everyone. That is to say, it’s not a game I would recommend for someone who is new to the world of gaming. Though it is an all-ages-friendly game for the most part, I would recommend that a player have a little bit of gaming experience before diving into it.
That aside, it’s a very rich and rewarding experience. Nintendo continues to evolve the Pikmin formula one game at a time, and while I’m not sure whether or not it’s perfected yet, this installment nonetheless takes another big step (perhaps even a couple) forward for the series. Now we just have to hope that we’ll see Pikmin 4 a little sooner than 2022.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.