First Impressions: Pikmin 3

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For years Nintendo has been tending to a new entry in the Pikmin series, experimenting with different control methods and systems both handheld and home console. After starting life on Wii, Pikmin 3 was eventually transferred to Wii U due to the benefits of high definition and the GamePad's touch screen. The little plant-alien-bug things have never looked better.

Several new elements were shown or alluded to at E3, such as GamePad-only controls and the chance to command four leaders simultaneously, but in this demo we were only able to test out the Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuk control scheme. We did get to meet another adorable new addition, though: the shiny Rock Pikmin, who are more than happy to use their dense forms to crash through anything and everything with ease.

If you've played the New Play Control variants of either previous Pikmin games, you'll have no problem with Pikmin 3 as the controls are practically identical. However, this is the first game in the series to be designed from the ground-up with the Wii Remote in mind, so there is a key difference: a boost in accuracy. With the Wii Remote scheme at least, Nintendo has nailed the controls: using MotionPlus, it's now possible to pinpoint exactly where you want to hurl your garden army with the pointer rather than just the general area.

This came in particularly handy when facing the demo's fantastic boss: a large caterpillar/beetle hybrid with a vicious set of pincers and a mouthful of teeth to match. With a hard shell guarding his fleshy bits, the beast stomped around the arena until you gathered up some Rock Pikmin and used them to shatter his carapace, segment by segment. Each section had to be targeted individually with the pointer, and only once it was shattered could you set swarms of angry Red Pikmin on its exposed and tender back.

The creature moved about quickly and made regular retreats up the walls before charging back onto the field, attempting to chomp your little helpers in between its pincers, so the best way to defeat it was to keep circling, sending a couple of Pikmin at each section and regrouping any fallen troops regularly with a blast of the whistle. It wasn't hugely difficult, but it required a little patience and extra care to make each hit count so that it didn't get the chance to snatch up any Pikmin-shaped snacks.

The other demo level was more akin to a regular Pikmin level, all about exploration and gathering as much fruit as possible. The series' standard Bulborb enemies patrolled the area but posed little threat, which meant there was ample opportunity to play around with the bridge building skills of your followers – crazy paving-style over streams to create a shortcut back to their Onion home – and collect up golden nuggets for greater rewards. Some areas were also locked away behind glassy barriers that could be smashed to bits swiftly with Rock Pikmin.

Understandably given its development history, Pikmin 3 resembles a HD, upscaled version of a Wii game — but that's no slight, as thanks to its style and Nintendo's art wizards it looks pretty great. It was among the best looking Wii U games shown off, with the water and detailed textures of the enemies especially well done. Some impressive depth of field was also on display, characters and areas outside of the central focus area subjected to a pleasing blur that really adds something to the look. With some extra polish before launch – the ground visuals may need some work, for example – this should end up being quite the visual delight.

Based on this short demo, Pikmin 3 controls superbly, promises several new elements and looks quite lovely already. We've waited a ridiculously long time for this sequel to sprout, but early indications are that it'll be among the pick of the bunch come Wii U launch.