Pros: Unique approach to strategy, great visuals, it’s a Pikmin game.
Cons: Odd controller stew, endless juicing.
Pikmin are strange, ambulatory flowering creatures that will do your bidding and can team up to carry items 100 times their size, which, because that size is very small, include oranges and cantaloupes. But as the strategy game Pikmin 3 finally, after several delays, comes out for the Wii U, those little creatures are being asked to carry something far heavier; the hopes and dreams of a console maker looking for a system seller.
Developed and published by: Nintendo
For ages: 10+
Platform: Wii U Exclusive
Release Date: August 4, 2013
The Basics: Handy Minions to Carry Your Stuff and Fight Your Enemies
The game begins as a spaceship crash lands on a mysterious planet. The three crew members are separated, and the player’s first job is to reassemble them. This would be impossible if not for pikmin, cute creatures with leaves sprouting from their heads who seem eager to be lead to build bridges, battle gigantic insects, and carry fruit the crew must juice for sustenance.
Pikmin 3 is essentially a game of exploration, as you overcome obstacles to find new types of pikmin to get you past more obstacles. The color-coded pikmin have varied attributes; red pikmin can walk through fire, yellow ones can break through electrified barriers and repair frayed wires to turn on giant light bulbs. Rock Pikmin, which are new to the series, can break crystal, which they do by running towards it, or, more effectively by being thrown by the player. Pikmin can also be thrown to reach higher ledges, after which you can throw a comrade to them use him or her to continue the journey.
You have some choice in how you control your pikmin army. The gamepad can be used as the controller was for the original Game Cube Pikmin games, with the addition of a touchscreen map for finding fruit and setting waypoints for your avatars, a wonderful addition that lets you dispatch squads of pikmin to various areas.
Most people will prefer the excellent Wii remote/nunchuk controls introduced when Pikmin was ported to the Wii. You can still use the touchscreen map, although this is slightly cumbersome, as every time you touch the screen the game makes it the primary controller and you have to press a button on the remote to reset. You also have to look to the gamepad for informational data, which is just awkward. But it’s worth learning to juggle controllers.
Pikmin have developed the ability to recall where they found stuff. Find a pile of tiles or a bunch of grapes and pikmin will carry them to their destination and return for more. This ability to return to a source comes in handy in collecting red berries that can make your pikmin deadlier; you can assign a few to spend the entire day collecting them from a flower.
The Gameplay: Wander, Fight, Admire the Scenery
The game is divided into days that take about 15 minutes to play through. As night arrives, you are forced into your spaceship, where any fruit you have gathered is tediously juiced (only Nintendo would make you push a button at the appearance of each fruit, then show bottle after bottle filling up, then make you push a button, watch one bottle get drunk, and make you push a button a couple of more times before finally saving the game).
The division into days creates an interesting urgency, and encourages replay in order to complete the adventure in the fewest number of days, but I found it annoying when I was pulled out in the middle of a boss battle. On the bright side, monsters retain their injuries overnight.
For the most part, Pikmin 3 is not a difficult game, and there is little in it as challenging as the caves of Pikmin 2. The difficulty ramps up sharply at the end though, with exploration hampered by a pursuing monster and culminating in a tough battle that required me to spend virtual days replenishing my pikmin stock before returning to shave a little more off of the monster’s health. This was a bit aggravating, but seems part of Pikmin 3’s strategy of encouraging players to learn the ins and outs of the game and then find the way to most quickly and efficiently replay it.
Pikmin 3 is the first HD Pikmin game, and it looks impressive, with crystal walls, translucent bugs and nice lighting effects. Bosses are particularly cool; one is a centipede with a crystal exoskeleton you must chip off with rock pikmin, another is a night dweller covered in soft violet lights.
The Extras: Fun Local Multiplayer
Besides the single player game, there are some competitive and cooperative modes. The most interesting in bingo mode, played 1 vs. 1 or 2 vs. 2 in a variety of arenas, in which you have a bingo card you must fill up with fruit and bugs. If you get near the other side’s pikmin, they will attack your pikmin and avatar, and at times I would get rid of attacking pikmin by attacking a bug to force them into battle.
The mode’s structure reminded me of Mario Kart Wii, in that you have power-ups, gained by collecting cherries, that include attacks on opponents or an increase in pikmin, and can find special items that will fill in random parts of your card so that you can be on the point of winning yet still, very suddenly, lose.
There are also co-op modes in which you work together to collect fruit, kill bugs, or battle a boss. Teaming up to fight a boss seemed rather dull to me and my friend Francis, who helped me check out multiplayer, but we enjoyed the other two modes, which involve high-speed exploration as you build bridges and demolish barriers to try and open up as much of the area as possible within a time limit.
As with previous games in the series, Pikmin 3 is an engaging game that offers a fascinating, intricate world to explore. And it adds just enough new ideas to make the familiar experience fresh. Overall, I still consider Pikmin 2 the best of the bunch, with more challenge than the third game but less needless frustration than the first, but like the previous two games, this one is a must-play for anyone who loves its unique blend of strategy, exploration, and adorability.
Pikmin lovers are, however, a niche audience, and the series is unlikely to exhibit the muscle needed to carry the Wii U to financial success. Pikmin 3 is like a lone pikmin, able to carry only a single grape. But as Nintendo spends the next few months launching games such as The Wonderful 101, The Legend of Zelda Wind Waker U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World, and Wii Fit U, perhaps together they can, by and by, lift those heavy, heavy hopes and dreams.