Game Review: Pikmin 3

As of today I’ve had this game for a month, so I think it’s about time I posted this review. To be honest, I wish I could spend some more time with it, but hey, there are actually more Wii U games to play now! I finished the story mode this morning.

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Platform:
Wii U
Developer:
Nintendo
Rating: G
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What adorable little murderers.

What adorable little murderers.

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Finally!
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Here, dear readers, is the first brand new, single player Wii U game that might actually have a case to justify a purchase of Nintendo’s newest home console by itself. It’s taken almost nine months to appear, but Pikmin 3 is a reminder of why Nintendo fans love the quirky Japanese company so much. It’s beautiful, it’s charming, it’s an absolute blast to play and, over a decade after the first game in the series debuted on the GameCube, there is still nothing else quite like it.

THE SET-UP

Pikmin 3 follows the misadventures of a trio of tiny alien people as they search deperately for a source of fruit juice for their soon-to-be-starving planet. They find it on the planet PNF-404, a world heavily implied to be a post-apocalyptic Earth. Unfortunately, they also find themselves separated from one another and without their ship’s equivalent of a Star Wars hyperdrive. So it’s a pretty happy coincidence that they run into the species of adorable yet fiercely loyal and scarily single-minded creatures we know as Pikmin.

'Straya mate.

‘Straya mate.

WHAT YOU DO

It’s really quite difficult to describe the concept of the Pikmin games to a newcomer, as there isn’t an awful lot to compare them to. One way of putting it is to say that Pikmin is the closest Nintendo has ever come to a real-time strategy series, because the aim of the game is to give orders to a number of squads of creatures that fight and work for you to help you achieve your goals. You actually control the movements of the “general” of the army, so to speak, so it’s a little bit like Overlord or Supreme Commander, but that sells it a bit short. Controlling an army of Pikmin is a simpler and yet uniquely nuanced affair, and though combat and resource harvesting in the name of larger forces are a prevalant part of gameplay, the name of the game is the exploration of a foreign and yet oddly familiar world.

Doin' work.

Doin’ work.

As in the first two Pikmin titles, your success as a hunter of trinkets is dependent on how well you make use of each different type of Pikmin to reach your goals. In Pikmin 3 you will make use of, in no particular order: Red Pikmin, who fight better than any of the others, smash dirt walls to bits in seconds and are immune to fire; Yellow Pikmin, who fly higher and farther than any other type, can conduct electricity and dig extremely fast; Blue Pikmin, who can both swim and walk underwater and are immune to water-based attacks; Winged (pink) Pikmin, who ignore most obstacles that would stop any other type in their tracks on account of being airborne, but are pitifully weak in combat; and Rock (dark grey) Pikmin, who cannot be crushed and can be thrown against crystal walls and structures to reduce them to mere shards in no time. Those wondering where Pikmin 2‘s Purple (super strong) and White (fast and poisonous) Pikmin have disappeared to will be glad to see that they return in the game’s mission mode, but more on that later.

Pikmin 3, like a lot of Wii U games, offers a banquet of control options, including complete off-TV play on the gamepad. The best control option by far in my opinion is the Wii remote and nunchuck configuration, as it affords maximum accuracy, speed and flexibility while ordering Pikmin around. The setup goes hand-in-hand with the deepest combat options the series has yet seen, as you are now able to target individual body parts of large monsters for strategic benefit and lock on to pesky foes or obstacles Zelda-style. In addition, this option turns the gamepad into a standalone map device, which can be placed on a table in front of you or something to that effect and touched at any time during normal gameplay to pause the action and survey surroundings in detail. From there you can also give direct orders to each of the three space travellers in the name of breezy multitasking. It’s yet another unique control experience on the Wii U and I found it to work incredibly well.

Splitting into groups can get the job done faster.

Splitting into groups can get the job done faster.

Exploration of PNF-404 is divided into a number of short in-game days, much like the first and second games in the series. Yet while the first title gave you only 30 to mess around in and the second placed no lid on the experience, Pikmin 3 finds the happy medium of allowing you to play for as many days as you have juice rations left. Collecting fruit is therefore always on your mind, even when your top priority may be harvesting more Pikmin to grow your army, searching for any of the game’s collectible hidden memos or chasing a plot-centric device. This is only as stressful as it sounds in the first few days, after which a bountiful supply of delicious-looking juice starts to build up and you become a little freer to spend your time as you wish. You also have the ability to replay any day you feel you’ve messed up, which is handy whenever a wrong step results in a quick 30-Pikmin hole in your squad, and therefore your soul.

I'm a horrible, horrible person.

Do not, ever, walk your land-based Pikmin into water this deep. Do not.

The game is constantly providing you with new challenges, although they are never really all that intimidating. I never got truly stuck on any non-optional section of the game, and though there are spacial puzzles aplenty and some clever use of mechanics on hand they never get in the way of making Pikmin 3 the gaming equivalent of the most enjoyable bushwalk ever. At least until the very last self-contained level, when a noticeable difficulty spike throws the pleasant curve of the rest of the game out the window and forces you to change the way you play quickly. But even that is far from the controller-throwing level of irritating.

WHAT YOU SEE

JJ Abrams would be proud.

JJ Abrams would be proud.

The art direction in Pikmin 3 is generally very pleasing to look at and at times approaches astounding levels of beauty. Make no mistake, the game is based on a heavily modified Wii engine and so it suffers from flat texture issues, a blemish that is particularly apparent in the game’s uncommon snow-covered areas. However, in any environment where there is abundant plant life (which is most of them, truth be told), dynamic lighting or water effects, the environments can look simply stunning. Enemies too look fantastic, particularly the bosses and minibosses. Even returning foes have noticeably more detailed appearances and movements, which makes them all the more menacing. The disproportionately intense rendering of the pieces of fruit you pick up here and there is also a sight to behold, and when paired with the delicious juicing animations the game throws at you after every successful day it becomes a given that you will be thirsty while playing Pikmin 3.

I want to drink all of it right now.

I want to drink all of it right now.

The visual highlight of any Nintendo-made game is almost always the quality of the animation and Pikmin 3 certainly follows that trend. There is a much wider variation of animations on hand here than there was in either of the first two Pikmin games, and Pikmin move much less uniformly when following you or taking orders. When they swarm enemies they resemble a pack of terrifyingly efficient ants and unlike previous games will usually land exactly where you point the throwing reticule, which leads to another set of animations. When idle the Pikmin will take on different poses almost like they’re setting up for a photo shoot, and in a rather cool addition you can oblige them at any time by tapping an icon to turn the gamepad into a first person camera. I have already seen quite a few creative shots on Miiverse.

Then again, those close-up shots are pretty terrifying.

Then again, those close-up shots are pretty terrifying.

WHAT YOU HEAR

The music of Pikmin 3 is, as one might expect looking at screenshots, rather peaceful and idyllic to match the gorgeous surroundings. The only time it becomes outright noticeable is during encounters with bosses and minibosses, when the percussion and intensity ratchet up a few notches to match the stakes of the situation. This means that for the most part, the real audio highlights are the ambient sound effects. Flowing water, grazing bugs, humming electrical conduits  and beating dragonfly wings are just some of the sounds you’ll hear on a standard outing with your personal army. They add layers of immersion and believability to the wonderfully explorable world.

The tropical level has some particularly nice music.

The tropical level has some particularly nice music.

For the first time in a Pikmin game, each type of Pikmin has its own unique voice, which in addition to the new colour coded aiming reticule makes it easier than ever to tell Pikmin types apart in the heat of battle. Their rhythmic object-carrying cries are infused with even more character as a result, as are their earnest battle yelps, bored and occasionally frustrated idle vocalisations and disturbing, guilt-inducing death wails. Though they aren’t voice acted in the traditional sense, the three playable characters do spout audible alien nonsense to go along with their English subtitled dialogue and this gobbledegook is indeed charming, Alph’s exaggerated rolled “r” sounds and hinted romantic interests in particular.

The rubber duck is never explained.

That is negligent rubber duck care right there.

WILL YOU GO BACK?

Pikmin 3 can be finished in as little as four to five hours, if I am to believe reviews and internet forums. As each in-game day goes for around 13 minutes this means that, if you know what you’re doing, 20 or so days is an achievable goal. However, the game took me no less than 15 hours to complete, taking 46 in-game days in all. This is probably because I paid special attention to making sure I had cultivated a massive army for the inevitably difficult final boss, and to put it lightly, my decision was vindicated. I also collected a fair amount of optional fruit, 43 to be exact, although from a total of 66 that isn’t particularly impressive by any means. If you manage to collect them all, the game will throw a graph in your face showing you just how quickly you achieved the task in comparison to the rest of the world, daring you to be more efficient next time.

There are quite a few to find, that's for sure.

There are quite a few to find, that’s for sure.

Even beyond the replayability of the main story in the quest to acquire more fruit, however, Pikmin 3 has quite a bit of content to offer. A multiplayer-only mode called Bingo Battle pits you and a friend (split screen only, unfortunately) against one another in a race to collect the right types of fruit to create a line on a giant bingo card, with power-ups aplenty on hand to help and hinder you. It’s insultingly addictive fun, as is the score-chasing mission mode, which lets you focus your multitasking skills on completing fiendish individual challenges that revolve around collecting and/or combat. These can be played entirely in local co-op as well, which adds extra value to that high score of yours. It’s the first Wii U game since Nintendo Land to make me want to come back after the main story is done and just strive to do that little bit more.

Mission Mode packs plenty of depth.

Mission Mode packs plenty of depth.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Breathtaking art direction, refined puzzle gameplay, inherent replay value, excellent control
Bad:
Difficulty spikes at the end
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4.5 VsI N C R E D I B L E

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