Wonderfully delightful, occasionally frustrating and intrinsically Japanese; this is Pikmin 3. The long-awaited sequel in a franchise that had, until now, unfortunately evaded my grasp finally arrived on the Wii U after a disappointing delay. Whilst it may not have the franchise clout that many were hoping for with regards to shifting those difficult to move hardware units, Pikmin 3 is without a doubt a standout title on the platform.
Having taken a nine-year hiatus from the franchise following Pikmin 2’s GameCube release, Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto and the team at Nintendo crafted a thoroughly enjoyable game that constantly has you returning for just one more day.
A race of stylised humanoids called the Koppai’s have been suffering from a shortage of food which resulted in a search team of three scouring the galaxy for sustenance before they unexpectedly crash-land. The plot and personalities of the trio act as little more than fluff to the gameplay mechanics and give a reason as to your current predicament that doesn’t leave you scratching your head.
Unsurprisingly it expands upon the gameplay formula from the previous two titles; you command hordes of intriguing flower-like creatures called Pikmin in order to navigate the indigenous and dangerous terrain and other lifeforms. There are five varieties of Pikmin each discovered at different stages of the game and each with their own usefulness and weaknesses. Carrying segments of broken bridges, destroying barriers, digging up items, and attacking enemies are traits seen throughout, but, for example, the red Pikmin are good fighters and resistant to fire, the yellow ones can conduct electricity and the blue ones walk through water (where the others drown).
The three based on the primary colours will be familiar faces to those who have spent time with the first two titles, but the threequel adds both a rock Pikmin and a pink flying Pikmin. They offer even further diversity in what boils down to an interesting real-time strategy scenario. With three Koppai characters – Alph, Brittany and Captain Charlie – at your disposal it’s often vital to manage both your time and distribution of Pikmin throughout the level. Every time you land your ship on the planet – having recovered it during the tutorial level – you must try to both collect fruit (needed to eat) and complete mission objectives.
Missions are a set length as you touch down at daybreak and have until dusk before the big nasties make their rounds at night. Upon the final countdown before the day ends it’s a frantic rush to ensure all of your Pikmin are within the safe zone otherwise they’re lost and eaten during the dark and dangerous night. A seemingly organic ship named an Onion accompanies you to both keep the Pikmin alive and stored, meaning as you find and recruit more with each day you can bump your numbers considerably as time passes.
Unfortunately, it’s only possible to have 100 Pikmin with you at any one time – surely a technical limitation – which can feel somewhat restrictive when you have over 500 waiting in the wings; this could have been addressed by either making the volumes of Pikmin more stringent or their lifespan limited perhaps.
The core adventure mode plentiful in length as well as quality, offering replayability through collecting all of the fruit as well, but outside of that there’s also a split-screen, competitive, two-player multiplayer mode called “Bingo Battle” that can be devilishly fun with another, as you pit your Pikmin strategies against one another to compete in a connect-four style grid.
Waiting for the high-definition of the Wii U was a wise choice as the vivid environments, filled with lush colour are strikingly beautiful. Artistic choices with floral appearance, locale tone and creature design are wonderful and combine with the bright and stylised Pikmin to create a simply sublime visual feast. There’s never a hint of technical difficulties, either graphically or audio wise, which suggests the additional development time was put to good use. A charming soundtrack is the ideal accompaniment to the ocular delight though it’s disappointing that there’s no voice work at all, relying on text and gibberish speak.
Selecting Pikmin types and volume during missions is challenging despite an attempt to alleviate any difficulty, and seemed an ideal scenario for the Wii U’s GamePad – a feature that is far too underused. The direct follow paths of Pikmin can cause massive headaches as well with clusters of them caught behind rocks or round corners. More often than not it was too late for me to realise before time was up, losing some of my dear friends.
And friends they are. There a cuteness and fondness to the Pikmin that sees you create a bond with each and every one of them. Granted you may not mourn for any particular individual but the loss of any Pikmin is both sad and regrettable; it’s one of the things that encompasses what is so special about Pikmin 3. Yes, there are annoyances and sometimes the campaign can feel a little lacking or repetitive, but these are occasional not frequent. What is constant is the satisfaction of the gameplay and the enjoyment of the world you’re in.
Any real and interesting narrative component is left by the wayside in favour of gameplay and, for the most part, it executes it brilliantly. Pikmin 3 manages to deliver real-time strategy and creature management without it ever really feel as though you’re micromanaging; it’s about diving into a wonderful, vibrant world of childish delight as you set out to find your way home, making several hundreds of friends on route.