The original Pikmin, released with the GameCube over a decade ago, marks the last time that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto came out with a major new franchise. Coming nine years since the last game in the series, Pikmin 3 doesn’t throw out the established formula of the series but instead perfects its core mechanics.
The inhabitants of the planet Koppai have depleted their natural resources and are in search of a new world that will provide them with the supplies they require in order to survive. When a signal suggests a distant planet may have bountiful natural resources they send a squad of three to investigate the planet and hopefully return with life saving nutrients. Just prior to landing however their ship is hit and the three astronauts are separated as their ship crash-lands. Beyond the introductory cutscene the story takes a backseat to the game’s core gameplay mechanics of exploring and surviving in the new world with the only acknowledgement of a continuing story coming in the form of journals that are written at the end of each in-game day.
The main objective is to collect fruit from the planet, although there are more immediate objectives as well such as locating the other crew members or finding communication devices to boost the ship’s transmission range. Almost immediately after starting the game as the first playable captain players will run into a group of Pikmin. These obedient little creatures follow the player around awaiting instructions, which can be initiated by throwing them individually at points of interest where they will act automatically. As a group they can attack enemies, work together to lift heavy objects such as fruits or pick up fragments and build bridges out of them. With greater numbers of Pikmin thrown towards a task the process speeds up but players can leave a small group working towards their goal while they take the rest off to accomplish further goals.
As players progress they will recruit different Pikmin types that perform well at different tasks. Red Pikmin are fire resistant, yellow ones can conduct electricity and dig faster while rock types can hit heavier on impact than the lighter ones. There are some unfortunate AI hiccups as occasionally a portion of the Pikmin will get stuck behind obstacles that the rest of the swarm have managed to navigate around with little effort and while it can get irritating once you realise that a small group are trapped behind a wall it doesn’t happen frequently enough to severely annoy.
The Pikmin themselves are diligent in doing whatever the player commands, whether it be suicidally attacking a giant shelled insect en masse or collecting fruit or other resources and promptly taking them back to the space ship. Despite their ability to perform well as part of their group, individually they are quite pathetic and limited. Even while fighting weaker enemies a stray Pikmin is easy prey and will soon be gobbled up, with the risk of small groups falling victim being a greater threat in boss battles.
The game is broken up into a daily cycle requiring players to make use of their limited time effectively. If there’s any unfinished business in a given area at the end of the day when you retreat back to the ship it is possible to simply go back the next morning and pick up where you left off, whether it be finishing off a weakened boss or simply returning any fruit or communications devices that your Pikmin didn’t manage to deliver in time. The more relaxed time limit doesn’t apply too much pressure or punish players for doing their own thing, as long as there are enough nutrients back on the ship for the team to survive at least. Players can take as many days as they require to complete the main campaign or they can rewind the clock to an earlier time, erasing their progress in between, in order to more effectively utilise their time and stock up on more plentiful fruit supplies.
Once the three captains have been reunited the strategic options become much more expansive as working together they are able to cover more ground. Splitting up and completing multiple tasks at once can get a little brain-taxing switching between the three groups to accomplish objectives. Thankfully there is the option for a team to automatically move towards a point in the map reducing the need to babysit every set of Pikmin incessantly.
Overall, Pikmin 3 is a fairly short game and not as difficult as some players would no doubt prefer. There isn’t a strict time limit as in the original, and with how quickly you can gather and store fruit supplies on the ship the sense of urgency does dwindle. Despite these minor nitpicks however the game remains a joy to play thanks to the beautifully constructed miniature world. Returning to previously explored areas and past days do provide some extra replay value for players wishing to finish the game in the most efficient manner or collect every piece of fruit.
A neat little optional activity players can participate in is to use the Wii U Gamepad as a camera and take photographs which can be posted to the Miiverse, in addition to the standard screenshot feature. There is limited control over zoom and focus and you can create some outstanding images thanks to the shallow depth of field. There’s not really a greater purpose beyond the act of taking the images but that doesn’t detract from what is a fun little hobby to take part in within the game, and the wider Nintendo community.
Pikmin 3 supports a variety of different control inputs with the Wii U GamePad, Pro Controller, the Wii Remote and Nunchuck or a combination of the GamePad with any other input. When playing on the TV the GamePad will display a map allowing players to scan over the area and plan what they are going to do with their remaining time. Beyond that the GamePad and Pro Controller control in a similar fashion to the earlier games in the series. There’s also the option to play the entire game only on the Wii U GamePad screen using any control method, including the Wii Remote and Nunchuck combo. The Wii Remote and Nunchuck with the GamePad displaying the map is by far the best option as the pointer controls are much quicker and more accurate than playing with the traditional controls. The only concession made for pointer aiming is the lack of free control over the camera with the only option being to re-centre the position of the view, but the elevated view will make the need to make adjustments relatively rare.
Separate from the Story Mode are two other other modes, Challenge Mode and Bingo Battle. In Challenge Mode up to two players can either play solo or cooperatively with another player locally to complete set tasks in a set time limit with objectives based on gathering, defeating enemies and boss battles. It’s possible to check your times in comparison to other players on the leaderboard upon completion. Rather than a simple list-style board the results instead show your position on a graph with bars representing how many other players perform in similar brackets, much like in Mario Kart Wii’s Time Trial leaderboards. Playing through these challenges does encourage effective use of the Pikmin thanks to the time limits in place and skills and processes learned through playing through these challenges can be put to use to be more efficient in Story Mode.
Bingo Battle pits two players against each other as they attempt to gather fruits on a bingo card presented at the bottom of the screen. While it is simple in concept the matches can get quite frantic and surprisingly for an extra mode are quite replayable.
This is the first truly visually impressive title that Nintendo has put out since finally entering the HD arena. The bright, realistic aesthetics are for the most part wonderfully rendered with a nice shallow depth of field effect enhancing the miniature landscapes the Pikmin inhabit, with the water effects being particularly impressive. Objects within the world such as the foliage, fruit and enemies are detailed in their appearance and finely animated. With the elevated view throughout most of the gameplay the ground textures do look decent but do appear to be disappointingly low resolution and blurry when the angle zooms in closer or while looking around with the camera. The soundscapes and humble musical score are equally impressive, even if the constant whistling the players will initiate to get their Pikmin into line might grate after extended play.
Pikmin 3 is the game that should have launched the Wii U. Its combination of calming atmosphere and strategic gameplay create a unique and mesmerising experience while it lasts. While it may be over too soon for some players it still remains by far the best first party game currently available for Nintendo’s latest system.