Pikmin 3 is an emotional rollercoaster. The cuteness charms you, the colours make you smile; the darkness will scare you, and the sadness will defeat you. Miyamoto is a designer rightly lauded by everyone (with intelligence) as one of the very best there is, and whilst Pikmin 3 not only matches his previous work, if there’s any justice done by his team’s wonderful experience, it will pull the Wii U up by its bootstraps and finally offer people the software that Nintendo is so clearly capable of producing.
It’s become a cliché now, but clichés are such because they hold universal truths: Pikmin 3 is exactly the kind of magic that you rarely see outside of Nintendo’s platforms. The confidence in the idea is staggering. We, as gamers, have come to expect certain things, but conventions are discarded right from the beginning, as there is no “press start to begin” option the first time you load up Pikmin 3 . No, instead you are immediately plunged into the story: our intrepid trio of adventurers (Alph, Captain Charlie, and Brittany) from the distant world of Koppai are on a mission to save their planet – they need fruit, and they need it fast.
When they crash land on a planet believed to hold the answers to their fruit-based problems, you take control and are immediately thrown into the driver’s seat (metaphorically speaking, that is – there are no horrible, tacked-on mechanics here) and given an introduction to the world. And that’s where the aforementioned confidence comes in. Such is the exceedingly high quality of video game design, not once do you feel disorientated, lost, or frustrated during these exploratory experiences. Within minutes of feeling like you’ve cleared an area, or discovered all there is, you’ll just happen across something that changes everything. In that way, it feels as though the distinctly mapped-out locations (there aren’t that many, more on that later) are evolving before your eyes, and that’s a wonderful feeling.
In fact, Pikmin 3 feels very much like an evolved form of itself. Returning from the previous games in the series are the red, yellow and blue Pikmin (Red can withstand fire, and are the strong-guys; Yellow can conduct electricity and dig; Blue can swim), but there are now rock-type Pikmin, who can be thrown at glass or other strong barriers. Also new are the pink Pikmin, who can fly and will give you an early chance to explore certain water-based locations. Each type is doled out slowly, and it’s the variety of the Pikmin themselves that hold the key to the maps.
You can only have 100 Pikmin in your party at any given time, so you’ll have to plan your routes carefully, avoiding enemies that are too strong for your current party, or perhaps risking loss because you know that if you successfully vanquish your foe, you can take it back to the Pikmin’s home (an onion, delightfully) and create more Pikmin. Whichever Pikmin carry the corpse of the enemy home will decide the colour spawned at your base, which you can then pluck and add to your party. If you already have 100 Pikmin in your group, the newborn will spawn inside the onion.
This is just one of many genius design decisions. Pikmin 3 feels like every single possibility has been accounted for – any and all things that might hinder you, the player, have been removed, even the simple things that could have made for an irritating experience.For example, upon discovering a new Pikmin-type, you only need spend one day-cycle with their new onion separate from your base onion – after this the two will merge and you’ll never have to needlessly go back and forth unless you want to, purely for exploration purposes. Talking of the day-cycle, this is yet more development magic as although, yes, you are timed over each day you spend on the planet (Pikmin are vulnerable at night, so get out of Dodge before then), it never feels too short, or too long; it always feels just right. It’s a good thing, too, as the mission is to find fruit, and if you don’t have any fruit to turn into juice, you can’t survive. Thankfully, you’ll end up with a large buffer pretty quickly, so you can explore for days on end without needing to bring in fruit to survive.
Off-screen gameplay is fully supported, too. A simple press of the minus button will immediately switch everything to the Wii U’s Gamepad, and while you’ll lose that second screen map, you only need press down on the D-Pad and you’ll have it back, allowing for planning and tactical analysis. One of the truly brilliant functions in Pikmin 3 is that having three Koppai characters means that you can control all of them at once. Just as you’d throw your Pikmin at an enemy or location, you can do so with two of the three playable characters – in fact, some of the more fiendish puzzles require you to do so.
This means you can have three groups of playable characters and Pikmin scattered across the map, all doing different things. Perhaps you’d like Alph to look after the Rock-type and the red Pikmin, thus making him your tank, if you will. Alph is out smashing up the tougher enemies, then you send Brittany through with her group of yellow Pikmin, who have just been building a bridge so everyone can access yet another new area, to take the corpse back, because you’re low on yellow Pikmin. Meanwhile, Charlie is off with his gaggle of blue and pink cuties, exploring water-based locations in an area you discovered the previous day. A simple use of the “go here” option means you can set a whole group off toward one location while you focus on a battle in your current locale. It’s simple, but it’s brilliant.
Most players will probably get most out of this feature with the Gamepad (and you can watch a full replay of every day spent afterwards on the Gamepad), but it’s worth noting that where Pikmin 3 falls down ever so slightly is with the aiming controls. Using the left stick to move both the active character and the aiming reticule is a little cumbersome, especially during the larger-scale boss fights (in fact, one or two of them are rather frustrating when using the Gamepad, especially when, overall, the game’s campaign isn’t very difficult), but thankfully these issues are almost completely removed if you switch to the Wii’s Nunchuck and Wiimote combo. Now, whether this is a solution for you is fully dependant on what hardware you have about your person. It’s worth noting that the full 15 hour campaign – spread across few areas, here’s hoping for more locations as DLC – is easily completed using the Gamepad, but that the experience is a little more comfortable with the older Wii controllers. Fantastically, you can still use the Gamepad for off-screen “go here” instructions, even when using the Wiimote and Nunchuck.
There are numerous small touches that make nice use of the Gamepad, too, such as the messaging system, using the Kop-pad (the Gamepad, basically) to have conversations with faraway people. You can also use it to check out the multitude of collected fruit, with its charmingly silly descriptions and names, or the little help files you can find hidden about the environments. The Gamepad also acts as a camera, allowing for photography fun that can be posted directly to Miiverse, which is a nice touch.
A very minor issue is that the superb multiplayer options don’t allow true second screen play. Split-screen is the order of the day, and whomever has the Gamepad will simply have the map on their second screen. Thankfully, the co-operative mission-based multiplayer is absolutely brilliant. A simple timed fruit hunt, enemy attack, or boss battle encounter is so much better with friends, and tasking the player with getting the highest possible medal is a master-stroke, as the high-end challenges are brutally hard. Of course, you can also play these challenges in single player, too.
The other multiplayer offering is the Bingo Battle mode, which has two players facing one another and trying to get fruit and enemies, so as to get “bingo!” on their card (four in a row), whilst using various power-ups. This is also a great distraction, but it’s worth noting that (like the mission mode) this is entirely offline, bar Miiverse interactions. Being a proponent of couch-based multiplayer, it’d be hypocritical to complain about the lack of online modes, and the co-operative nature of the missions is really well suited to local play anyway.
VERDICT: Considering the lengthy campaign, Pikmin 3 is great value for money. Offering multiple ways to play, it is so incredibly well-designed that it’s hard not to feel impressed with the confidence – and that’s without considering how beautiful it looks in HD, or how wonderful it sounds (the soundtrack is luscious). We’ve waited long enough, but Pikmin 3 is everything we were promised it would be: a gorgeous, fun, exciting experience that absolutely everyone should try. Never leave a Pikmin behind, though, as it scars you for life.
SUPERB. This is the mark of greatness, only awarded to games that engage us from start to finish. Titles that score 9/10 will have very few problems or negative issues, and will deliver high quality and value for money across all aspects of their design.