Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
We’ve waited for it for many years.
In these nine long years, skipping an entire console generation, the follow up to Pikmin 2 has become sort of a myth over the near decade – Wii re-releases aside. This aching wait has been ever more painful with the starving library of Wii U titles thus far. But our stomachs needn’t growl any more. Pikmin 3 is finally here, and it’s a well-served entrée that satiates our appetite both for the long dormant franchise and Nintendo’s struggling platform.
It’s a return to form in an expected way, one that we should have gotten many years ago. New Pikmin equals new types of challenges, and though the three leader system isn’t a revolutionary game changer for the Pikmin franchise, it’s a welcomed addition that makes multitasking more dynamic.
Pikmin 3 feels like the first Nintendo title to take full advantage of the Wii U's HD capabilities. There's a stark difference between the cutesy Pikmin and the explorers, and the heavily detailed vacant backyard environments along with some terrifyingly bizarre and often fascinating beings. It all manages to create this enrapturing, cohesive visual taste despite its clash of different art styles. Lush textured plant life with a smearing rainbow of beaded Pikmin marching afoot on top rain saturated dirt while passing truly perplexing looking creatures is endearing, curious, and even frightening at times. Nintendo's first full HD push looks better than anything the system has released, and arguably anything in the near future.
The backyard we wish we had.
While Pikmin 3 represents what the system is capable of graphically, it sets zero standards when it comes to ergonomics. The pinnacle of Pikmin controls is a thing of the past, remaining in what we’ve seen in the Wii remakes. Pikmin 3 offers two different control methods (three if you want to count the utterly dismissible Pro Controller configuration), none of which are perfect.
The Wiimote works as it should, bringing that immediacy of control Pikmin should have. However when plotting out more complex strategies, you must have the Wii U Gamepad in handy, reaching over to draw a path for companions. I’ve never been a fan of letting go of my controller while I’m playing a game, and this sort of juggling is exactly what the rising trend of “second screen” functionality shouldn’t be.
Moving over to the Gamepad, while your entire range of control remains in your hands, it’s frankly an embarrassment to the Wii U as a console and even to Pikmin 3 itself. It in no way shape or form legitimizes nor evangelizes the near 10 year wait to this platform. The use of a touch screen should be a bedrock of control for a strategy game; however the Gamepad only serves as a convenience so that you don’t have to reach for it. Ideas such as selecting points of interests or enemy targets, and seamlessly picking which Pikmin type or leader you would like to use from the touch screen is nonexistent here; and I can’t imagine this succumbed to the limitations of the antiquated touch surface.
Aiming your reticule is serviceable with the left analog stick, however there will be instances where you’ll fight with the cursor and your leader since aiming and movement are both mapped to the left analog stick. Your choice becomes based on personal preference. Do I sacrifice some control from having to reach over and pick up my Gamepad every few minutes, or do it deal with the limitations and play with an analog stick handicap?
Does Pikmin play like utter shit? No. Not even close. As a matter of fact, within minutes, you’ll get over and forget much of the awkwardness of control (well, maybe not so much when you’re reaching for the Pad using the Wiimote option). But if this is what we’re left with, then this game would have been better served last generation.
The idea of Pikmin, regardless of controls, has hardly changed. You and your intrepid lot of minions and explorers embark on quests of discovery in foreign lands, reaching key items of interest whist gathering and maintaining your Pikmin count and resources along the way.
Pikmin, the titular budded little life forms, hold different attributes and characteristics; Red Pikmin are fierce combatants and are resistant to fire, yellow Pikmin are expert diggers and can utilize their immunity to channel electricity, and blue Pikmin can fully function under uncharted waters. Pikmin 3 adds two new types, Rock Pikmin and Flying Pikmin, whose names leave little mystery to their smashing and airborne specialties.
Your devout subjects.
The key here is to increase, sustain, and manage your Pikmin count, ensuring that you have the right type and quantity for the job, whether that might be holding the right amount of Rock Pikmin to smash an enemy’s crystalized exterior, leading a group of Yellow Pikmin to deactivate an electrically charge gate, or sending off a cluster of Blue Pikmin to wither down an underwater blockage.
This right-tool-for-the-right-job design facilitates Pikmin 3 three leader divide and conquer system. The level design is a bit overbearing for just one captain. And though Olimar is mostly referenced, yet never controlled, you’ll become responsible for three leaders. Tasks become dense in quantity the further you go and depending on how much you want to do which encourages you to divide your party and have each take different responsibilities across the map (this is the deciding factor of which control scheme you’d rather use).
You can have one leader monitoring Pikmin while they chip away at a dirt wall, another standing by as Pikmin pluck and transport special berries that fuel their Spicy Spray energizer, and have the last act as a sweep, hanging by the ship where your Pikmin wait after gathering fruit and creature corpses. The trio can also be used for certain puzzles that require having more than one active leader at a time.
Just as Pikmin's past, the creatures are equally interesting to look at as they are to fight. They're often fusions are real world animals and insects amalgamated with parts and behaviors of others to create interesting encounters. Roaming enemies often call for a specific Pikmin type, whether that may be the Fiery Blowhog or the electrically charged Bearded Amprat. Boss fights – which get a special mention of boasting the most awe inspiring creature designs in the game -- require multiple methods of attack with various stages demanding a quick change in strategy.
All of your tasks and casual ventures would be so much more fluid of Pikmin weren’t so damn stupid however.
The Pikmin AI isn't the best. They require close supervision as they’ll likely get caught in tight corners and are in need of explicit direction -- leading them around water instead of assuming they would and risk them gleefully gallivanting through it -- to ensure their safety. They’re also quite impulsive. Abandoning Pikmin from your command and leaving them to their own devices gives them free reign to interact with anything within proximity. You'll have to ensure to dismiss them away from objects of interest or they'll act independently which potentially puts them in danger.
It becomes an unnecessary chore to have to always check on your Pikmin count, stop constantly just prior to a sharp turn for peace of mind that they'll follow, and whistle herding Pikimin several times just to literally keep them in line. It's an ever existing concern that shouldn't be; and really distracts you from the fun you should be having.
Get away from there! I only ordered RED Pikmin.
Your daytime venture isn’t only governed by the need to make it back to your ship with Pikmin in tow before sunset, but also your awareness of food supplies which is sustained by the planet’s fruit – the best and most delicious looking fruit you’ll see in any video game. You’ll chip away at your reservoir of blended fruit juices daily. So it's important to prioritize fruit collecting as you'll find yourself making every trip count by finding goodies to sustain your food supply in orbit.
Pikmin 3's biggest draw is its flexible pacing thanks to its excellent sense of discovery. You will always feel like you're accomplishing something given proper planning. Whether it’s collecting fruit just to justify your trip, revealing new areas of the map, the game even allows you to escape a boss fight before sunset and return to finish the job. You're always working towards an objective no matter what pace you're playing at. And the work you put in towards that objective never bores with discoveries that await in each region which require all of your Pikmin's assets.
The final region is a well-designed culmination of all of your strategic pools -- though admittedly Flying Pikmin take a backseat -- that pushes Pikmin's philosophy of multitasking under pressure to its limits. It takes multiple trips to complete this single objective which is exactly what Pikmin 3 is all about. Albeit it's very traditional final boss fight, it's a satisfying payoff to satisfying adventure.
The Bottom Line
Was the wait worth it? Absolutely. The satisfaction of Pikmin 3 doesn’t only exist in the fact that the Wii U’s library is skeleton-thin. It delivers a sense of quality and creativity only seen in Nintendo titles, even as the franchise is so different from anything else Nintendo has ever done. And though it doesn’t always feel like a justification for being on the Wii U platform itself thanks to its cumbersome control options, it justifies the system’s ownership nearly 10 months after launch. But regardless whether this game was to be released during a software drought or a packed holiday season, Pikmin 3 is a beautiful and delightful adventure.
+ Beautifully realized world
+ Uniquely strategic
+ Addicting sense of discovery
- Imperfect control options
- Silly (stupid) Pikmin