That Pikmin 3 is a triumph should be of little surprise to anyone charting the game’s development. Nintendo’s protracted, often drawn out release schedules are seldom celebrated, but when they result in a game as comprehensively charming and delightful as this first party game shows they can, once the disk is in your hands, who’s to argue? Indeed, it’s been nine years since Pikmin 2, and whilst the gaming landscape has changed forever, it’s good to see Nintendo’s original titles having the sense to remain stoic.
Not that Pikmin 3 feels dated. It’s more that it’s instantly familiar. Sure, the controls have shifted since the GameCube era (although those that picked up the reissued version on the Wii will appreciate the pointer options) and there’s an attempt to put across a richer, more elaborate plot but the time required to climb up a learning curve was close to nil, and yet the subtle easing in ensures that the player never feels as though they’re walking down an arbitrary tutorial route, or being shepherded through the early levels.
Pikmin has always been a divisive game, though. The time management required remains strict but playful, the thought processes needed to maintain an ever growing series of parallel tasks not always easy to adapt to. But in the face of so-called modern gaming, where success is garnered simply by following a blinking target, actually having the ability to get lost, to fail, to have to retry because of anything other than trial and error or not conforming to a developer’s whim is so refreshing it’s easy to just get soaked up in it all.
But Pikmin 3 isn’t soft. By the third or fourth stage, once the game’s trio of new characters has been introduced, the rapidly expanding asks can seem overwhelming. Thankfully, the oft-derided GamePad (doubling here as an in-game accessory carried by the protagonists) presents a hugely useful map, accompanied by a set of tools and tips that ensure you’re never in the dark for long. The top-down RTS-like approach on the Wii U’s smaller screen means accessing your squad (or squads) is simple and immediate, and their progress never more than a click away.
For the uninitiated, the Pikmin games have traditionally played out as a blend of tactical strategy and real-time exploration. Pikmin 3 is no different, despite the occasional slant, and whilst you’re free to move your player character around at will, it’s the titular Pikmin that are the real central mechanic, and it’s with these bud-like creatures that most of the game’s puzzles and challenges lay. Throw them, send them into battle, use them to carry objects, build bridges, complete weight-based puzzles.
The controls map with confidence to the GamePad. Within minutes you’ll have mastered the whistle (to attract them) and the aim tool (to throw them) – the rest filters down as required. The initially separated, ill-fated crew under your control soon meet up, too, adding an extra layer of complexity to the gameplay and the puzzles – your buddies (the crew consists of the alphabetically listed quirky Alph, cautious Brittany and captain Charlie) can be tossed and carried in a similar way to the eponymous heroes.
There are new Pikmin, too – the rock-type ones useful for breaking down particularly stubborn walls, and there are those with wings, which appear a little later. Naturally, the three types we’ve seen before – Red, Blue and Yellow are present and correct.
And the sense of danger persists as before. During the day you’re free to explore, scavenge (you’re tasked with finding fruit to save your own planet as the game’s central plot-line) and battle, but come sunset your characters and any Pikmin under your control need to be safely stashed away. It’s a finite, sudden end to each of the game’s levels, and whilst it’s tempting to head back to a previously beaten level to perfect it, there’s a prevalent sense of deja vu that persists over the game’s numerous (but ultimately samey) campaign.
This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s clear that this is a game that serves to connect with previous players, to wrap up a few new (and notably neat) ideas into a package that would most suit those with the two previous games under their belt, given the slightness of scope and the way it makes you feel instantly at home. It’s iterative, in a sense, and whilst endlessly endearing and joyfully bouyant as an adventure (and certainly one worth taking for all but the most adverse individuals) it struggles for genuinely fresh concepts as the plot progresses.
It is, regardless, technically proficient. It looks great, seriously great, with slick, rich visuals that are (the ground aside) capable of producing detailed and tangible surfaces and objects. The characters are expertly designed and animated, the Pikmin an evergreen thrill and the menu system throughout screams Nintendo, in all the best ways. The music, too, deserves special mention, Asuka Hayazaki’s presence clear and appreciated, the central themes orchestral and memorable.
- Beautiful visuals
- Wonderful score and soundtrack
- Perfect controls
- Slightly repetitive storyline
- Mildly frustrating lack of challenge
Pikmin 3 is unlikely to change the fate of the Wii U and the current direction the platform holder is taking, despite being a hugely enjoyable game. It’s deep enough to keep you hooked, although there’s not quite enough meat on the bones to warrant a second look. For fans of the earlier two games this can be considered an essential continuation of the series and one that definitely deserves a place on your shelf; for anyone new to the series, they might – wrongly – leave wondering what the fuss was all about.