Oh Nintendo, you do spoil us. What with the re-release of Earthbound, the surprisingly excellent Mario and Luigi: Dream Team and now the return of Pikmin, it’s almost as if you’re trying to paper over the rubbish sales figures you’ve been getting for the Wii U recently. Still, nothing like a nice distraction to keep me entertained for a week, so let’s critique the hell out of Pikmin 3.
It’s been a full nine years – precisely half my life – since the last Pikmin game, and if my recent replaying of the first game is to be believed, Shigeru Miyamoto’s criticism of the hardware was spot on. The camera was too close in to meaningfully command your Pikmin or see where you were going, it relied on zoom levels rather than a freely rotating camera and the story was, to put it kindly, somewhat lacking. All these are issues resolved beautifully in Pikmin 3 – but first, let’s examine the basic premise.
The setup of Pikmin was that Captain Olimar needed to repair his ship to escape a planet (Earth, for those of you with no grasp of subtlety) with an atmosphere which was toxic to him. Pikmin 2 saw the Hocotate Freight company going bankrupt and Olimar (complete with sidekick Louie) being sent to plunder the planet of its valuable natural resources (read: worthless junk). In Pikmin 3, however, things aren’t quite so simple.
The adventurers the player commands are not simply Hocotatians, nor are they in any form related to Captain Olimar. Instead, they hail from the neighbouring planet of Koppai, which is suffering from a food shortage. Why exactly residents of a different planet have the same species, technology and travel capabilities isn’t explained, but I may be overthinking this.
Fittingly, gameplay revolves around collecting the giant fruits littering the planet’s surface, then converting them into juice for consumption by the people of Koppai upon your return. Of course, your crew needs to eat too, so every in-game day one container of juice is consumed. This incentive to make as much progress per day as possible is a much kinder method than the hard 30-day limit of Pikmin, and does help to encourage the player to fit in the occasional fruit-collecting day in amongst all the boss battles and bridge building.
It can be hard to stay on track sometimes though, especially when the well-crafted worlds are full of so many nooks and crannies to explore. Many of these are at first limited by the selection of pikmin available, incentivising the revisiting of previous areas in the hopes of finding something new.
The new pikmin types, Rock and Flying, do much to enhance the exploratory abilities – rock pikmin fill the gap left by the absence of purple pikmin from the single player campaign by being used to smash glass and crystal structures and doing large amounts of damage to enemies on direct impact. Flying pikmin are useful in attacking airborne enemies (notoriously hard to hit with the targeting system for normal pikmin) and can carry objects across gaps. These are nice touches, not least because unlike the three original Pikmin types, they offer more than simply environmental resistances. Yellow pikmin have lost their exclusive use of bomb rocks, which can now be picked up by all varieties, but retain their higher throwing height and can now be used to form conductive chains to complete electrical circuits.
These different abilities are superbly demonstrated in grand strategy terms during the second major boss fight – a giant moth-like creature capable of invisibility but stunned by light. The player must use the yellow pikmin to switch on light bulbs while rock pikmin smash barriers to allow red pikmin to build a bridge leading to a giant, room-illuminating bulb allowing the boss to be finished off once and for all.
It’s in having a puzzle-based structure rather than a set of semi-open environments and a vaguely determined goal that Pikmin 3 succeeds over its predecessors. The three crew members (who can divide their efforts and pikmin as and when necessary) can be set to work on different simultaneous tasks – replenishing the pikmin population, collecting fruit and opening new areas, to name three – making the game feel streamlined and well-structured.
The gorgeous presentation – a macro-lens filter and vibrant, detailed worlds – only help to enhance the experience, as does the typical ethereal soundtrack in emphasising that this world which is so familiar to us would be utterly alien to, well, aliens.
Pikmin 3 is an utterly joyful game. It revels in weirdness and creativity, while retaining the sense of solidarity and care the player feels for their hundreds of tiny helpers. it doesn’t have the set-piece cutscenes or the grand battles of other games, but when fifty of your pikmin are munched by a giant worm, I guarantee the emotions felt will be just as real.
It’s not without small issues – the introduction of a freely moving camera using the second analog stick comes at the cost of the pikmin-directing horn of the original games, the game can be fiddly to control when not using a Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and the difficulty has been turned down a couple of notches, but these are easy to dismiss when presented with not just a wonderful campaign, but also the inclusion of mission modes to get your teeth into.
When industry analysts look back upon the first year of the Wii U’s life, they will focus on the shaky launch, the poor sales figures and the lack of third party support. They will be making a mistake, because they will be ignoring one of the best first-party games Nintendo have produced in years. If you have a Wii U, you should definitely buy Pikmin 3. If you don’t have one yet, this should be the game to make you change your mind. 91%