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Platform: Wii U
It has been close to ten years since the release of Pikmin 2 on the GameCube and five since Pikmin 3 was announced to be in development. For fans of the series, it has been an awfully long wait – made worse perhaps, by the supposed “launch window” release of Pikmin 3 being unfulfilled. The wait is finally over and after getting Olimar’s ship back together with plenty of time, saving Hokotate Freight and learning Louie’s dark secret, I’m pleased to have experienced yet another adventure in the series.
Whether you consider it a cute RTS or a horrifying survival game, Pikmin 3 will be at once familiar to any who have played the first two. The game retains the art style, character design and even many of the jingles and sound effects of the original two games. The now classic “Night Comes” melody still plays at the end of each day, the soundtrack is still ambient when exploring and imposing when the Pikmin do battle with the game’s humongous bosses. The worlds are also familiar but far more beautiful and organic due to the higher resolution and visual power of the Wii U. At the same time they still feel alien due to the perspective and the strange creatures that inhabit them. Something largely lost though is the sense of isolation of the first two games, due in no small part to the three protagonists and their banter.
While the gameplay of the first two Pikmin games remained essentially the same, they differed in approach; the first being a time sensitive adventure and the second more of a dungeon crawler with time negated when underground. Those who preferred the former will be pleased to know that Pikmin 3 has largely returned to the series’ roots, with only a few small caves within the large, lush and well.. lovely areas. Making the most of the daylight is just as important as ever, and there is also the additional responsibility of collecting fruit to be bottled and returned to your starving planet. The catch is that you’ll also consume a container a day meaning you always must be bringing in at least as much as you’re consuming, and preferably more. This sense of urgency is stunted somewhat by the ability to replay days you aren’t happy with, and even without this, it is generally easy enough to find at least one piece of fruit before a day is up.
This time around there are three new protagonists from the planet Koppai; Charlie, Alph and Brittany who are initially separated. Their reunion is necessary to complete many of the game’s puzzles and splitting into teams will get the most out of each day. Fans of Captain Olimar (and maybe Louie) might be disappointed with the new heroes, but I can assure fans that you’ll be more than happy with the story, if you enjoyed the previous games. As mentioned, they have to collect fruit from around the planet referred to as PNF-404 but naturally more than a few obstacles are in the way, with the Pikmin old and new there to overcome them.
Something that slightly irritated me about Pikmin 2 was how often you needed to have all five types with you. The purple and white Pikmin from Pikmin 2 do return, but not in the story mode. This was a relief as I was initially put off by the idea of having seven types to order around in Pikmin 3. The two new types are the flying pink Pikmin and the rock Pikmin. The red, yellow and blue Pikmin are back with their respective talents as before but they aren’t all available from the beginning. Simplicity can be a complication of its own and many of the new puzzles are actually based around not having certain types and having to overcome them in different ways. At least three times during my playthrough, I knew I had to use one type of Pikmin but didn’t know in what way. One area I traversed was surrounded by streams of water but I hadn’t even found the blue onion and searched for it in vain. The actual way to solve puzzles and remove obstacles often turned out to be surprisingly simple, but still totally rewarding once solved. There are still many times when you will require more than one type and some times when all will be needed, but these simpler puzzles were a true highlight for me.
The rock types are merely blunt instruments, used to smash enemies and barriers alike. They can also be used defensively as some enemies will be unable to injure them. They aren’t all that different from the purple Pikmin though and their use doesn’t extend much past smashing a new type of barrier and one boss fight. The pink Pikmin are smaller and weaker, but can fly over many obstacles and enemies and are very effective against flying or suspended enemies like bees and spiders. They can also carry objects over enemies and obstacles and can even open trap doors and lift barriers. The pink types fit in much better and some of the puzzles requiring them are more thoughtfully implemented. For example, in one instance I needed to get blue Pikmin past a barrier in a body of water and the pink Pikmin were needed to temporarily hold that barrier up while they passed. They also add some depth to fights involving flying enemies where previously only yellow Pikmin could be used.
The Wii Remote and Nunchuk can be used, as can the the Wii U GamePad and Pro Controller. While always a fan of options, I much preferred using the GamePad although I tried out the remote too. The GamePad is functional with all choices as a map and is also used to show some dialogue and review collectables. The GamePad can also be used to watch a replay of the day from the map. Of course, when nature calls, Pikmin 3 can be played off screen as well. The one noticeable advantage gameplay wise, is the ability to send the characters to different areas of the map while you complete other tasks. This will become more and more useful later in the game; when well managed it can maximise every minute of each day, and there is incentive to do this when you are assigned a ranking after completing the game.
I found Pikmin 3 a lot more streamlined overall but players who got into speed-runs, no death-runs and who are just a bit OCD might be disappointed with the absence of the “march” ability from the first two. Unfortunately, the second analogue stick sacrifices the Pikmin march – an ability that had your Pikmin pack snake and sway out of danger – for camera control. This means that control of your Pikmin is reduced to the whistle and throw commands. You can no longer smoothly move Pikmin out of danger or over narrow crossings. You also can’t quickly bring them back on course when they inevitably wander astray. There is an ability to quick dodge with the d-pad but that doesn’t give you the same control. There is also the ability to lock-on to enemies and surround or attack them but these are only useful in combat and not as smooth and easy as the march command. One final related issue is the behaviour of Pikmin set to work building bridges, who will always return to the site of the building pieces – even when all have been removed. It was irritating not to have them stop or at least wait at the completed bridges. While this absence is an annoyance, none of the bosses or areas are ever so difficult that this hurts the gameplay, it is just an issue for those who want more control of the Pikmin and to see less of them die. This is something that could have been implemented or at least left as an option for those that don’t mind not having a rotating camera.
There is also a mission mode similar to the challenge modes of the originals, with three scenarios and multiple levels. One has you collecting fruit, another defeating enemies and the third lets you re-fight the story mode’s boss battles. All can be played co-operatively and are ranked, but disappointingly the co-op is only local and the ranking is very basic and you cannot see friends rankings. There is also a “Bingo Battle” versus mode in which players compete to complete tasks on their bingo grid. Both grids are different and can be viewed by each player, meaning completing your own grid while also trying to hinder your opponent is the key to winning. It is fast paced and fun and includes multiple maps to play through. As with the mission mode, it is local only. While I’m personally less interested in the multiplayer aspects, I know many players loved this aspect of Pikmin 2 and I think there was a real opportunity to expand this, at least with online play. I am also surprised that there has been little done with the Wii U GamePad, as this was a perfect opportunity to sell its functionality. An example might have been having one player with the GamePad putting up obstacles and enemies that the other player has to overcome.
The Pikmin characters and Olimar were charming due to their simplicity and the contrast with the highly detailed enemies and environments they inhabited. Pikmin 3 sees the return of many familiar enemies whose design remains largely the same. The worlds themselves are even more beautiful than ever, taking somewhat seasonal themes. On occasions the foliage surrounding the landscape looks almost photo-realistic (I am serious), due to some fantastic lighting and bloom effects. But the real stars are the boss battles, as all the game’s battles involve new designs and at times take up the entire screen. I would have certainly liked to see more enemy variety overall but what is here still works and I only groaned when that damn bird enemy first popped his head up again.
I said a while back around the Wii U launch that Pikmin 3 was the system seller for me. I bought one a little while ago ready for Pikmin 3, and I’m not disappointed that I did. This is the best game on Wii U and certainly one of the best games released this year, but there are aspects of it that will disappoint fans of the series. This goes especially for those who loved the dungeon crawling and more strategic play of Pikmin 2 or anyone who just wanted more features such as online play and extra modes. Nonetheless Pikmin 3 is as addictive as it is beautiful and the gameplay still feels unique all these years later. Pikmin 3 isn’t exactly what I wanted it to be but it is what I expected it to be.