When a creator chooses space as his dominant setting, the possibilities become almost endless. Anything can be created, altered or removed, as a result of humanity’s lack of knowledge regarding the stars, planets and comets that make up what has previously been coined as the final frontier. As a result, science fiction has and surely always will allow for more creativity than its genre counterparts.
Over the years, many stories about newfound planets and foreign beings have been written, filmed or turned into interactive fare. One great example of a property that has fallen into the latter category since its inception over a decade ago is Pikmin. That is Nintendo’s cute, quirky and thought-provoking strategy series that tasks gamers with surviving on unknown planets after unexpected crash landings. While the basic premise has been done before, there’s so much more to the games than that, and almost all of it pertains to the series’ titular aliens.
When one looks at a Pikmin, he or she sees a strange-looking and colourful being that is visually unlike any other creature found in pop culture. They’re small, but somewhat lanky, with bulbous eyes and leafed antennae popping out of their heads. Truth be told, they don’t look like the workhorses that they are, resembling characters from a Japanese manga or something along those lines. However, that couldn’t be further from the in-game reality, as the race is not only strong and able-bodied, but also brave and helpful. When they meet humans, they’re quick to show themselves and never seem to have an issue with assisting, forming the basis of the core gameplay found within what is now a trilogy.
Now, let’s turn our attention to Pikmin 3, the brand new and greatly anticipated second sequel to 2001’s Pikmin. Many have waited years to get their hands on the intergalactic adventure/strategy sequel, and that wait is coming to a quick close, with a lot of excitement surrounding it. As such, we must now focus on the game itself, and whether it’s been worth the anticipation. The short answer is yes, but the long answer describes a high quality game that is unfortunately bogged down by a few issues that keep it from nearing perfection.
This time around, the plot centres upon a trio of explorers from the planet Koppai and its colonized moon, Kopali. Forced to leave their homeland in search of food, the three astronauts chart their course for a distant planet called PNF-404, which resembles our planet Earth. All is good until it’s time to land, and a crash ensues, sending named explorers Alph, Captain and Brittany to different parts of the sphere. As a result, a new main objective is created: Linking up together, in an attempt to find a way to repair the ship. Wrenches are later thrown into that plan, forcing the team to rely on the help of the world’s odd inhabitants, whom they’ve just met. However, those plot point spoilers will not be mentioned in this review.
For the most part, the presented storyline, while far from revolutionary, is thoroughly engaging and remains interesting throughout what is a ten to fifteen hour-long campaign. While it never approaches award-worthy territory, it provides a good backdrop for what is truly at the heart of the game: strategical exploration.
In order to succeed, one must traverse the varied continents found within Pikmin 3 and complete its main quest by the end of the 100th in-game day. That extended limit provides a lot of time for players to explore, but the heroes’ survival still requires fruit, with one vial of juice being consumed at the end of each brief, fifteen minute-long day. For that reason, fruit collecting is always a priority, with sixty-six different pieces being available for the taking. Of course, as expected, finding each different fruit item will take some time, lots of strategizing and tons of effort, because one simply cannot go over and grab the healthy food. Instead, the Pikmin must do it for you, and each of the five different types has its own strengths, weaknesses and abilities that must be taken into consideration at all times. The red ones are fire resistant, while the yellow ones are electrified. Conversely, the black ones are incredibly strong, while the pink ones can fly and the blue ones can go into water that would normally kill their kind.
Fully completing each map requires the use of different types of Pikmin, some of which are not unlocked until closer to the end of the game. As such, backtracking always presents itself as a viable option when you’re in need of more fruit. This design feature can also add replay value to the experience for those who feel the need to 100% every game that they play. On the other hand, those who don’t really care about collecting things or perfecting their play throughs won’t need to worry much about extra backtracking. Still, if the mood ever strikes, earlier days can be revisited at any time, allowing those who’ve completed their quest to pick up before the final boss’ demise and explore to their hearts’ content. I did that myself, after beating the game in about 40 digital days and between thirteen and fourteen real world hours.
Mechanically speaking, Pikmin 3 is a very sound offering, but it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. At its core, it’s a very true-to-form experience, which still lives by the mentality that day is safe and night is evil. As such, Pikmin left outside at the end of each day end up perishing, making it important to keep tabs on where your troops are at all times.
Players can control each of the three aforementioned heroes individually, taking control of each one after he or she is thrown out of the main group. This mechanic is pivotal for progression, and comes into play regularly throughout the story mode. Still, gameplay boils down to the core design that has been prominent within the franchise since its GameCube introduction, requiring the user to collect, and then throw or dismiss different types of Pikmin whenever need arises. Of course, their strengths and weaknesses always factor in, and each enemy, piece of fruit or miscellaneous item requires a certain amount of the little ones in order to be lifted back to your base. There, new seedlings are born out of alien onion cocoons and discovered items are analyzed.
Controlling one’s colourful army is relatively simple: A cursor is used to highlight items, enemies, blockades or allies, and one button is used to throw select aliens at them. Using the GamePad control scheme, the mentioned button is A, while L lets players cycle through their soldiers in order to select a certain type. Going forward, the ZR trigger is used to whistle, which draws the attention of every Pikmin in the cursor’s highlighted area. It all works quite well, and is aided by the GamePad’s touchscreen map and its Go Here command. However, even though it’s similar to what the GameCube games offered in terms of control, the GamePad isn’t the most ideal option for Pikmin 3 because it lacks some of the finesse and speed that the WiiMote/Nunchuck combo offers. There were quite a few times where I had issues throwing the little guys perfectly while using the Wii U controller, and those instances led to some frustration. I assume it would’ve been the same had I employed the use of the Wii U Classic Controller.
After a while, I got used to the GamePad, and stuck with it because it offered everything in one. However, its issues became more prevalent during some of the game’s boss battles, which required more finesse than anything else. At times, it seemed as if it was the boss’ designs themselves that sometimes got in the way of the game’s mechanics – something that was especially true of the third one. It aggravated me, because I had a hard time getting my Pikmin to actually do what they were supposed to when I’d throw them at the boss, who’d appear out of mounds of dirt. They’d sometimes stand on top of the mound, and wouldn’t attack, highlighting an A.I. problem that became a bit more prevalent as the game went on.
Although Nintendo EAD Group Number 4 deserves a lot of credit for creating a very solid strategy game that is both welcoming and engaging, the final product carrying the Pikmin 3 title suffers as a result of mediocre A.I. It’s hard not to overlook some of the deficiencies when you consider that up to one hundred different Pikmin can be in play at one time, but some of the decisions that the characters made during my play through were mind-boggling. Sometimes they’d get hung up on rocks, or on landmasses as I went around corners. Then, there were other times where some decided to hop in the water in order to get back to me faster. If they had been blue, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but they weren’t and ended up perishing because of their stupidity. That’s not all, either, as there were other occurrences of hang-ups and characters (including Brittany) getting stuck in water.
Don’t get me wrong, though: I never expected the A.I. to be perfect. I did, however, expect it to be a bit better than it turned out to be. Still, the noted problems didn’t turn me against the game. Even though it’s marred by occasionally problematic A.I. and also suffers from a bit of slowdown, Pikmin 3 is still a very good game. It’s a bit on the short side, and doesn’t offer a ton of replayability for those who aren’t completionists, as only a brief/timed challenge mode and a neat, but basic (two-player) local Bingo mode are included in addition to the campaign, but it’s immersive, fun and serene. Furthermore, it looks and sounds beautiful, thanks to charming high-definition visuals and a great orchestral score. The world, with its land of giants perspective, provides engrossing exploration, as well as lots of colourful detail, aided by strong texture work and graphical shine.
As a sum of its parts, the entire Pikmin 3 package is a very good and important release for Nintendo’s struggling Wii U. Still, it is not the bonafide masterpiece that fans surely dreamt of, due to a combination of relatively minor issues, plus a campaign that is a bit short and familiar mechanics that lack evolution.
This review is based on the Wii U exclusive, which we were provided with.
Pikmin 3 is a quirky, serene, beautiful and engaging strategy game, which fans of the genre will surely enjoy. However, a short campaign, problematic artificial intelligence and GamePad control issues prevent it from being the masterpiece that we'd hoped for.