When considering Nintendo's most treasured franchises it can be humbling to consider how many began in the 8-bit NES era or even, in more primitive forms, in Arcade cabinets before then. It can be argued as a wonderful strength or as an area of concern, depending on an individual's opinion or whichever way Nintendo's pendulum of success is swinging. Nintendo has produced new franchises in more recent times, of course, either as spin-offs with existing characters or in occasional download-only games such as Pullblox / Pushmo; the Mii characters first introduced with the Wii also populate a range of fitness and mini-game experiences. When talking about top-tier new IPs that experienced Nintendo fans enjoy the list is rather small — Pikmin is likely to get a mention when picking over those limited options.
Nintendo certainly can't be accused of saturating its systems with the franchise — its début on the GameCube in late 2001 (summer 2002 in Europe) was followed up with Pikmin 2 in late 2004; from then onwards it became a series better known for teases, re-releases, delays and confusion. There were nearly nine years before the next full entry arrived, with potential fans having to take satisfaction from Wii iterations of the originals that introduced pointer controls, while rumours of a new entry on Wii swirled and faded with almost every passing E3 presentation. It later emerged that there had also been experiments with a 3DS game in the series, though we suspect that idea was dropped fairly promptly.
The delays to the latest game could have been due to multiple factors. One is that it's not the biggest money-spinner for Nintendo, perhaps on account of being a new IP on the struggling GameCube, with Pikmin 2 not hitting the same sales as the original. The Wii, meanwhile, attracted a substantial audience of those new to home console gaming, and Nintendo dedicated resources to those Mii-related projects highlighted previously. Perhaps the biggest factor, however, was Shigeru Miyamoto's personal investment in the series and the latest project. An IP apparently devised from Miyamoto-san's passion for gardening, as a game so closely overseen by the legendary designer it was no doubt impacted by stringent quality assessment.
After its full E3 2012 reveal, we had to endure one more delay as Pikmin 3 slipped from the Wii U's launch window to an eventual July / August arrival this year. It's been critically acclaimed, with the only consistent complaint being that it can seem to be over too soon; a reflection of its compulsive playability rather than the game being excessively short, perhaps. Its legacy of no doubt undergoing Wii pre-production and early development is highlighted by the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls being the easiest, most enjoyable option, though the GamePad still serves as a useful addition to have on the side — in this control scheme it essentially functions as a useful tablet.
The game itself is full of charm, introducing three new characters to rescue and control, with the second-screen map encouraging multi-tasking with each explorer leading small teams of the delightful little Pikmin. With new types of the little creatures and variety in the environments and challenges, this entry provides a time-limit of sorts by pressuring players to maintain a stock of fruit juice to feed the crew. Memorable 'boss' encounters and a sub-plot to satisfy veteran fans also contribute, while challenges and local multiplayer — competitive and co-op — flesh out the package.
It's also a title that highlights the benefits of the Wii U hardware to Nintendo's development teams. Of the first-year of software to grace the system this is one of the best looking games, with attractive locales joined by carefully animated legions of the loyal minions. There are online leaderboards, but more importantly paid-DLC, showing a continuation of Nintendo's limited approach to the model. There have been three packs to date — the first two consist of specific challenges to tackle, but the most recent set is the most expensive and significant in terms of content. There are eight new challenges in all-new stages, while those that upgrade the game's software can also claim a free level — expanding content with DLC is an industry-standard, though will likely lead to as many critics as supporters. The value of the day one retail game is vital in this debate, and each individual will have their own view.
Ultimately, however, Pikmin 3 was one of the best games on Wii U this year, with Nintendo no doubt hoping it'll have long-term appeal and accumulate sales throughout the system's lifespan. It stands out as an epitome of why some gamers just have to own Nintendo systems; it's a game perhaps unlike those found elsewhere.
Shigeru Miyamoto's passion for the series gives it a good chance of continuing, though we'd hope it won't be another nine years before another title arrives. If you're yet to try Pikmin 3 on the Wii U, meanwhile, then it should be high up on your wishlist.
To learn more about the Pikmin series, check out our brief history of the franchise.