The Pikmin series has done what all games should strive to do: it has continually improved with each instalment. The first game was a great new idea, but it had strict time limits that made it feel more like a race to breed minions than a puzzle/exploration game. The second game came along and lengthened the time limit for each day (by adding zones where time doesn’t pass), added more Pikmin types to shake up the puzzles and polished off the AI and controls.
I was worried when I heard Pikmin 3 was coming that the series had already peaked and that it would just be a carbon copy of its predecessor, but the series has continued to learn and grow. Rather than sticking to the same Pikmin types as in earlier games, the third installation added two new types for more puzzle potential, and two members to the space crew, so that the team could split into groups.
Even better, after its release, Nintendo took Pikmin 3’s criticisms on board and released an update that overhauled the touch-screen controls, making our squads of flowery followers – and the game – easier to control.
Pikmin 3 has Nintendo’s usual style plastered all over it, and the developers have simultaneously managed to retain the distinct Nintendo image while blending it with cohesive design. The visuals in Pikmin are colourful, cute, and reminiscent of a plasticine playground. As levels shift in design (say, from a field to a cavern), the music adjusts accordingly, and retains a smooth flow which matches the action on-screen.
The new Pikmin designs in particular fit in seamlessly with the world’s design and serve as a cuter, more interesting addition to the standard coloured types we have seen until now. Winged Pikmin take away from the sometimes tedious trip with items back to the Onion (the Pikmin spaceship, not the satirical news website), while rock Pikmin add new dynamics to fighting, exploration and even give the game a chance to show off its great visuals, with breakable, glass obstacles.
With both the increased variety in Pikmin and the ability to split into groups, the puzzles in Pikmin 3 are much more involved than in previous games. And because your team of Pikmin are so small compared to the obstacles they must overcome, completing puzzles feels like a triumph.
Once completed, puzzles usually open up an entirely new path or create a faster route to the level’s starting point, reducing backtracking and preventing precious daylight from being wasted: a show of both excellent game and level design. The developers clearly have a strong understanding of how to reward a player’s accomplishments, continually pushing them forward and encouraging them not to stay in one place for long periods of time.
The problem with this push for progress is that, with Pikmin containing both puzzle and exploration elements, a lot of time can be wasted on difficult puzzles, or in getting lost. The time limit can feel overly restrictive at times, leading to bosses surviving a day-long onslaught, or a day being restarted to avoid wasting food supplies on a day of fruitless endeavours.
However, the time limit does encourage the player to scrutinise their approach to each area. After wasting a day searching for an item, or struggling on a puzzle, the player is given the chance to analyse their actions and decide what was necessary in each day, and what was additional. It streamlines the process until the player is playing as efficiently as possible and making the most of their limited food supply, restarting any day they believe wasn’t up to a good standard.
My other problem with Pikmin 3 was that the AI of your squad was virtually non-existent. If you lead a horse to water, it will drink; if you tiptoe past some with Pikmin, they will jump in and drown. Walking around corners too tightly, or whistling your team back from a bad angle could result in Pikmin becoming stuck behind ledges and falling behind. Worse, they don’t know their own limitations (like drowning) and will walk straight into their deaths, giving you only a moment to react after taking a wrong step or whistling at the wrong moment.
There are some nice details that help avoid problems like this, such as the dismiss button automatically sorting Pikmin into their colour-types. In the heat of the moment, though, these features can slip out of mind, resulting in massacres which could have been avoided.
Pikmin 3 is one of the best games on the Wii U. As with all games, it has its kinks and you might blame its occasional blip for when a day ends unsuccessfully, but on the whole it’s a well crafted, uplifting little game.
If you missed out on the Mario Kart 8 promotion back in June/July, or if you picked up something else instead, I’d say it’s still worth coming back to, especially with the updated gamepad controls.