Release Date: July 26, 2013
Platform: Wii U
As anyone who owns a Wii U will testify, 2013 was a dark time. The console wasn’t in a good way, the games were few and far between, and we were being taunted mercilessly by PlayStation and Xbox owners (not that much of this has changed in 2014, mind you, but as a collective I feel that we’re getting better at ignoring it). I’d never played any of the Pikmin games before, but the reviews were decent and the console was gathering dust so I decided I’d give it a bash, and I’m really glad that I did.
There really isn’t anything else out there that I can quite compare Pikmin 3 to. Part real-time strategy, part adventure, part puzzle solving (and all blinding colour and cuteness), it’s an easy game to play but one that requires quick thinking and problem solving skills if you want to master the tasks it places before you. In addition, it also takes the sheer horror of Mother Nature at her most base levels and presents it in a beautiful way, to the point that you almost forget that your little legion of Pikmin are turning their vanquished foes into compost to breed even more Pikmin which will go out and repeat the cycle.
The planet Koppai is in the midst of a food crisis, and unless something is done quickly the entire planet’s inhabitants will starve. After a series of drones return with no useful information, one indicates that it has found edible matter on the planet PNF-404. Three adventurers, Alph, Charlie and Brittany, are sent to PNF-404 to retrieve as much edible matter as they can find so that it can be cultivated back on Koppai and relieve the food crisis.
But PNF-404 (which bares a striking resemblance to Earth according to the Pangea Ultima hypothesis) is inhabited by hostile (and rather enormous) indigenous lifeforms, which doesn’t help any of the explorers when their spaceship, the SS Drake, crashes into the planet, ejecting all three of them in different directions. On the surface they each encounter the Pikmin – small plant/animal hybrids that are willing to follow any command you give them. The Pikmin live in a kind of organic spaceship known as an Onion, which will take off with the explorers whenever the Drake leaves the planet’s surface.
With the help of the Pikmin the explorers need to gather as much fruit as they can, find their missing cosmic drive key (which will allow them to get back home), and save one another when Charlie gets eaten, Brittany falls out of the spaceship and gets trapped (twice), the food supplies are stolen, and Charlie’s rubber duck gets held hostage. And whilst these are utterly ridiculous plot points, somehow they all make perfect sense in the game’s lush environments while you run around throwing tiny little Pikmin at far larger enemies in the hopes of bringing them down.
As with any game the first thing that matters are the controls, and Pikmin 3 has quite a few options to play with – Wiimote + nunchuck, Wii U GamePad with button controls, or touch-screen controls on the Wii U GamePad. I haven’t played with the touch-screen controls but the other two work equally well, whilst the Wiimote + nuncuck combination was my personal preference as it allows for greater accuracy on the TV and leaves the GamePad free as a map. The GamePad screen, when playing on TV, will provide an overview of the area and where your Pikmin squads are. This is useful for picking up any strays at nightfall (any Pikmin not by the Onion or with one of the explorers when the sun sets will be eaten) and for telling different leaders to go in different directions without manually having to take them there yourself.
Throughout the course of the game there are a number of things that players will have to learn to do, but the learning curve is gradual enough that there should be no problem mastering any of them:
- The Pikmin themselves, who come in five different varieties: Red, Blue, Yellow, Rock, and Winged. Each one has its own abilities (Red Pikmin are immune to fire, Rock Pikmin can’t be crushed or impaled, for example) which you will need to learn in order to apply the right group of Pikmin to individual tasks. You are introduced to one Pikmin type at a time, allowing plenty of time to get used to each one’s particular uses.
- When the game starts you will only have Alph to control, which allows you to learn basic commands (signalling to Pikmin, throwing Pikmin, taking on enemies, etc.) but, as the game progresses, you will also gain control of Charlie and Brittany, and learning to divide your squad of Pikmin (of which there can be 100 on the field at any time) between the three leaders and assigning specific tasks will make each mission that much easier.
- Time management is very important. Night time on PNF-404 is hazardous so you can only complete tasks during the daytime, with each day lasting approximately 10 minutes. During this time you need to collect fruit which will be turned into fruit juice. At the end of each day one container of fruit juice is consumed by the explorers as part of their rations. Failure to collect enough fruit will result in the explorers dying of hunger, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of the mission.
These are all factors that need to be considered at the start of each day. Additionally, each area is littered with enemies that you will need to clear before setting Pikmin to any tasks – Pikmin will automatically take the shortest route back to the Drake and the Onion, irrespective of enemies in the way. Failure to clear their path of enemies will result in the Pikmin being eaten, trampled, impaled, speared, crunched, squashed, and a variety of similar awful deaths that you just don’t want to wish on them.
Overall the game plays fantastically, with only a few minor niggles here and there that you need to learn to work around. Firstly, never turn a corner too tightly or your Pikmin will become stuck and unable to follow you, at which point you’ll have to backtrack to pick them up. This also applies near ledges and other minor obstacles. Secondly, allocating Pikmin to tasks is very important. For example, if you have defeated an enemy and want it taken back to the Onion, it is always best to assign a single group of Pikmin to do the work. I once assigned mostly blue Pikmin (who can go through water) to carrying back a vanquished foe, along with one or two others; the blue Pikmin, recognising the water route to be the shortest, went that way. This resulted in their non-blue companions drowning and them standing in the water heaving (which, admittedly, is a very cute sound) because now there aren’t enough of them to carry the thing back. Things like this don’t, however, detract from a game that has otherwise been masterfully crafted.
Outside of the main campaign there are also a variety of missions for you to take part in (both single- and two-player) which involve either collecting fruit or defeating bosses or enemies. Some of these are pre-loaded with the game and the others are very reasonably priced on the Wii U eShop. These carry over the same style of gameplay from the campaign but have a time limit and also include White (poisonous and very fast) and Purple (slow but good for lifting) Pikmin from Pikmin 2. Whilst not a selling point on their own, the missions do add replayability outside of the campaign as you seek to increase your high score in some very challenging situations.
After a rough day or when I just want to relax, this is the game I put in to clear my head. The great thing about it is that, so long as you don’t let Alph, Charlie, and Brittany starve, the game is only as stressful or challenging as you want it to be. Do you want to complete the game in 10 in-game days? Go ahead! Want to take time exploring the impressive flora and fauna in the Garden of Hope? That’s also cool. In this way Pikmin 3 is suitable for gamers of any skill level, because there’s very little you can do that will result in a complete failure, and even if one day was to bring about the demise of hundreds of Pikmin (which happened to me when I took the completely wrong batch into a boss fight), just replay the day and it’ll be like it never happened.
The way I knew that the game was successful was that, despite having hundreds of Pikmin of all colours in the Onion, you actually become filled with indignant rage when something comes along and kills one of them. You wouldn’t imagine that a game filled with tiny humanoid characters and even tinier little plant creatures would result in battle cries being sent out across the lounge as you tear into battle against a crab to avenge your fallen Pikmin comrades, but these things happen, and quite often (if you’re anything like me).
All in all the game is fantastic, and the only sad thing is the fact that the Wii U’s low sales, combined with the niche genre of this game, means that it’ll be quite a while before we’re likely to see another installment in the franchise.
My Final Rating: 9/10
Buy Pikmin 3 at Amazon.com