Nine years. That's how long it has been since a new Pikmin game has graced a Nintendo system. With the exception of two motion control-enhanced re-releases which proved how suited the franchise was to the Wii, a new entry in the series was conspicuously absent from the system's line-up. Nevertheless, Pikmin 3 is finally here — for Wii U no less — and hungry fans will be happy to know that this latest instalment has been well worth the wait. Taking advantage of all the unique features the Wii U has to offer and featuring some stunning visuals, Pikmin 3 is above all an enthralling and highly entertaining experience that all Wii U owners should try.
For the first time in the series, Pikmin 3's story shifts the focus from Captain Olimar and instead follows the adventures of three intrepid explorers from the planet Koppai: Alph, Brittany and Charlie. Their home planet is in the midst of a food crisis, and it won't be long until everyone starves to death. In order to set things straight, the daring crew sets off on an interstellar journey to find new food sources and bring them back to a rather hungry Koppai. Unfortunately, things go a bit wrong, with the team crash-landing at their destination and getting separated; at this point, the mission becomes less about saving their home and more about saving themselves. Thankfully, the indigenous Pikmin are on-hand to help out when it comes to sourcing food and fending off some rather nasty critters.
At its core Pikmin 3 is a game of survival and management, in which you must build up an army of Pikmin and use it for all your resource-gathering and combat needs. In the first Pikmin game on GameCube, the player had to finish the game within 30 in-game days or they'd fail, whereas the second game had no limits whatsoever. Pikmin 3's own system is something of a mixture of the two. In essence, you can take as much time as you like, so long as you have enough rations for your crew to survive; you acquire these through the collection of fruit, which you also need if you want to have any hope of saving Koppai. This gameplay mechanic strikes a good balance and if anything it focuses the experience; there's always enough time to take in the fantastic scenery, but dilly-dally around too much and Alph, Brittany and Charlie could end up going very hungry.
Pikmin 3’s narrative progresses at quite a considerable pace, but this is deliberately the case so that you're able to acquire every different type of Pikmin, some of which only appear in the later levels. This is important, because you’ll need certain variations for certain tasks, and it’s impossible to fully complete any of the levels without them all. This sort of gameplay structure lends itself well to Pikmin 3, as through different types of Pikmin you're able to open up previously inaccessible parts of a level and attempt newer challenges; it makes back-tracking a more entertaining experience and one which feels worthwhile.
In order to make the most of your time, you'll need to get into the habit of multi-tasking. Perhaps in keeping with the number in its title, Pikmin 3's single-player mode allows you to control up to three leaders — and three different squads of Pikmin — at the same time. Controlling more than one main character is by no means a new addition to the series – the second game allowed you to control up to two characters — however, what's different this time around is that you have the Wii U GamePad at your disposal.
The GamePad is put to good use, as the touch screen acts as a very useful secondary control method. The screen itself provides a map overview of the level, various other informational menus and a neat camera option where you can take pictures of the game environments from the viewpoint of your character and post them to Miiverse. Through the new "Go here" feature you can also send each of your characters and their Pikmin to different areas; even better, this can still be accessed when playing off-screen, too. You do have to be careful though, as Pikmin still have a tendency for getting stuck round corners every now and again. It's an issue that has been with the series since the very beginning, and it's frustrating that it's still present, but thankfully it doesn't happen too often.
If all this multi-tasking sounds like it might give you a headache, don't worry, as Pikmin 3's story mode is well-structured and gradually eases you into the experience. Moreover, because you're not constantly racing against the clock, you can play at something of a relaxed pace. For example, when you first land in a new area, you might want to take your entire group out in case you run into trouble, or alternatively you may want to leave a character with a small detachment of Pikmin near your ship so you can still secure resources in the local area. Or maybe all you want to do is take a couple of in-game photos while the rest of your squad are hard at work. Whatever you choose, the GamePad enables you to approach the game in a number of ways that would simply be too cumbersome without it.
With that said, there are other control methods aside from the GamePad, and players can choose to use a Wii U Pro Controller or the Wii Remote and Nunchuk combo. Should you choose to use one of these alternatives, you don't have to worry about losing the GamePad's touch-screen benefits as these are still fully supported; just prop it up on a stand and away you go. The Remote and Nunchuk setup is arguably the best choice, as the pointer controls allow for almost instant, precise control of your Pikmin; this is especially useful for airborne units which are tricky to pinpoint when using a stick to aim. The downside, however, is that you lose the freedom of camera control afforded by the second stick found on the GamePad and Pro Controller. Moreover, the GamePad and Remote configurations incorporate a motion-control element; a quick shake will disband your Pikmin and order them by type. This seems to be a little on the sensitive side, and can prove incredibly frustrating when you accidentally activate it in the midst of fleeing enemies and hazards.
In addition to the iconic red, yellow and blue Pikmin types, meanwhile, there are two new variants to help you in your quest for food. Winged Pikmin change the mechanics of the game quite drastically, as they enable you to fly fruit back to your ship over chasms and water (although you’ll still need your trusty blue Pikmin if you want to fish out fruit from underneath the water) and can open certain types of gate. They’re also excellent at combating flying enemies, making them very much a worthwhile addition to the line-up. Otherwise, you’ve got Rock Pikmin, who are heavy little fellows that you need in order to break down glass walls and crystal formations. Much like the infamous purple Pikmin found in the second game, they also pack quite a wallop when used in combat.
In case you’re wondering, White and Purple Pikmin are only found in the game’s multiplayer modes. Having played through the story mode, it makes sense that they aren’t present: nearly every stage requires you to use a mixture of each Pikmin type to deal with hazards such as water, fire and electricity, and when you take into account that you’re then probably going to be dividing these Pikmin up into three separate squads, the need for additional and less useful types is reduced quite drastically. With that said, having the odd purple Pikmin around to single-handedly carry back a piece of fruit would have been very handy at times.
Combat is certain a key component, and one which you have to approach with a strategic mindset, and aimlessly throwing your legions at any old enemy simply isn't going to cut it. Similar to the Pokémon series, you need to use the right type of Pikmin against a certain enemy; doing so can often mean the difference between losing your little creatures or saving them all. If you want to catch creatures off-guard, you can use a charge attack, which makes your Pikmin madly dash towards the enemy in a Charge of the Light Brigade fashion; again, the moment has to be right. There are a number of boss battles, too; while these are impressive in scale and present a solid challenge, it's fair to say that they're also incredibly long-winded at times. Something as simple as the bosses changing their attacks and attack patterns over the duration of a fight would make them feel a lot less tiresome. This small gripe aside, there's a wide range of different enemies to do battle with, all of which bring their own challenges to the table.
Exploring the vast and diverse geographies, meanwhile, is made all the more exciting thanks to the beautiful visuals and evocative soundtrack. It's certainly not perfect, but for an early — albeit delayed — effort on Wii U, it’s definitely very easy on the senses. The scenery is impressively detailed, featuring an abundance of plant life and water that look remarkably realistic; all of this — combined with some high-quality lighting and weather effects — results in the best-looking Wii U title to date. The soundtrack provides a gentle, serene sound akin to Animal Crossing during the more relaxed exploration segments, but shoots up in tempo and grandeur when something big is going down. Despite this some of the textures appear to be a bit muddy and lacking in detail; this is especially true of the ground which mostly uses 2D, low-resolution grass textures. Otherwise, your sense of immersion suffers slightly from the lack of collision detection between your character and some of the in-game objects; for example, some of the vines and leaves don't rustle when you walk through them.
Pikmin 3 also offers two multiplayer modes: Mission (cooperative) and Bingo Battle (versus). The former is divided into three sub-categories, in which players can focus on a single objective, such as treasure-collecting, combat and boss battles. Each sub-mode, except for boss battles (which are taken directly from the single-player), is unique and separate from the campaign and provides a series of timed challenges. They’re surprisingly difficult, mainly as a result of the grueling time limits, and if you want to achieve the highest score possible you and your partner must work together flawlessly. For example, if cut off from one another with access to different types of Pikmin, it soon becomes apparent that if you don’t work with the aim of meeting up and combining forces, you’re simply not going to win. Although there are only a handful of levels for each sub-mode, there’s a great deal of replay value in each one, as part of the fun is working out the best approach to the level and frantically coordinating multiple groups of Pikmin. Given how well this mode works, you can’t help but wonder why the story mode can’t be enjoyed cooperatively; the multi-tasking elements are perfectly suited for play with another person, and this really does feel like a missed opportunity.
Bingo Battle is a fun take on your traditional versus multiplayer mode. Each player has a bingo card of fruit and objects at the bottom of their half of the screen, and must successfully complete a full horizontal, vertical or diagonal line by collecting these things as you would normally. It’s kind of like Pikmin's take on Connect 4 in the sense that you are able to deviously halt your opponent’s progress by nabbing an item they need to complete a line. This strategic element makes it much more entertaining than a typical versus mode would, and there are a good number of different arenas in which to battle it out.
With the single-player mode taking you anywhere between eight to sixteen hours to complete (depending on how much fruit you want to collect), as well as a reasonably fleshed-out multiplayer mode, Pikmin 3 should keep you entertained for a good while. In fact, once you’re familiar with the game’s mechanics and environments, there’s a good chance you’ll want to play through it again and top your previous effort.
Beautifully crafted and filled to the brim with exciting gameplay features, Pikmin 3 is a worthy new instalment in Nintendo's quirky strategy series. The core gameplay mechanics remain true to the GameCube originals, but are further enhanced by the unique features of the Wii U GamePad; controlling your Pikmin is a much smoother experience as a result, and allows for a relatively advanced level of play. There are a few minor issues here and there, but overall Pikmin 3 proves Nintendo still has the magic to make games that get the most out of its bespoke hardware.