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Pikmin 3 Review

The classic Nintendo franchise returns in hopes of revitalizing the Wii U

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One of the constant arguments against Nintendo is the over-saturation of their most popular titles, including Mario and Zelda, while their lesser-yet-respectable brands are often ignored. It's been years since we've seen a new F-Zero or Star Fox, yet not a year goes by without a new Pokemon title or two... or even three. Don't even dare to bring up the notion about creating brand new IPs, because brand new franchises are even rarer for Nintendo than online multiplayer.

The last time Nintendo tried a new series not based on a Wii accessory was on the Gamecube with Pikmin, the unique plant-raising, plant-sacrificing puzzler that delighted gamers everywhere; just not in droves. While critically acclaimed and fondly remembered, the Pikmin games didn't quite sell gangbusters, even on a console that barely managed to make a dent during a PS2-dominant generation. In fact, the single album containing the bittersweet vocal song ended up selling more copies than the game itself. Still, there was certainly an outspoken demand for another Pikmin game after the second one, and Miyamoto himself had often expressed interest in revisiting the virtual garden inspired by his real garden.

Pikmin 3

At long last, the Pikmin have returned for a third outing, this time on Nintendo's newest console, which incidentally is struggling as much as the Gamecube did, if not more. Nevertheless, Pikmin 3 promises to deliver more of the unique gameplay that has yet to be fully replicated in other games, while using the Wii U gamepad to deliver a new method to playing Pikmin. But is it better than the one they offered before?

Rather than retread the same oversized ground with Olimar, Pikmin 3 focuses on a new species of space-farers from the planet Koppai. Tasked with finding a new planet to harvest food for their starving planet, the trio of explorers crash land on the planet PNF-404. Stranded, separated and starving, the three explorers all find aid in the form of the Pikmin, a mysterious species of plant-like creatures that are eager to assist the space-faring outsiders with all manner of tasks with a simple whistle command. Eventually the three protagonists reunite and work together with the Pikmin in order to retrieve the key to their ship as well as cultivate the planet's fruit in the hopes of restoring the food balance to Koppai. But until then, their biggest priority is finding enough fruit to sustain the three of them during their extended stay at PNF-404.

Just as in the previous two games, the biggest charm with Pikmin's premise is putting the pint-sized space explorers in a gargantuan version of an everyday backyard. Seemingly mundane objects like cell phones, purses and light bulbs function as oversized objects that must be manipulated in order to progress through each area. Likewise, the overgrown lemons, grapes, oranges and other common types of fruit are utter mysteries to the Koppai inhabitants, but delicious nonetheless. Speaking of which, the three playable characters (skittish engineer Alph, fruit-obsessed Brittany and carefree captain Charlie) are all charming in their own way, especially the faux-language they speak that sounds like a cross between Animal Crossing and French.

Pikmin 3

But the real stars of the game (as well as the primary game mechanic) are the titular Pikmin. Unflinching in their loyalty but aimless without direction, these multicolored munchkins will follow in formation behind the player and will perform a variety of contextual actions when directed by the player - usually by being thrown to the target, although a whistle command will also send out the entire horde at once to the designated target. These actions include bringing down walls, digging up items, taking down enemies and hauling important items back to your ship. All the while enemy corpses and color-coded vitamins, also known as "Piktamin" are taken to their ship, which is conveniently parked next to yours.

The concept of managing an entire army in real-time is fairly common these days, especially in MOBA-style games like League of Legends. At the time of the Gamecube, Pikmin was a wholly unique concept never seen before on consoles, and it still remains a unique experience even today. The primary goal to success in the game is the same as its predecessors: using your time wisely. Each area follows a day/night cycle that counts down the moment you touch down on the planet. Once the timer reaches night-time, the three explorers will immediately vacate to their ships to avoid the carnivores creatures that pop up at night, leaving behind whatever tasks they were attempting to perform, as well as leave behind any stray Pikmin along the way.

In hindsight, the Pikmin are an expandable species that can easy be replicated thanks to all the available resources. However, taking your hard-working pals for granted will only mean more time wasted in rebuilding your Pikmin army and less time gathering fruit; for every day spent, one canister of fruit is consumed, and failure to keep the crew-mates nourished will result in a Game Over. This makes steady progression in each area all the more important, as players will be unable to advance in the story without finding the next clue to lead the astray explorers on their way. These clues are usually hidden deep within the twists and turns of each zone as well as a titanic boss that requires a steady supply of Pikmin to bring down. Such tasks can rarely be performed in a single day, making the gathering of fruit imperative.

Pikmin 3

For the Wii U sequel, several new additions have been added to help make the micro-managing easier than before. Players now have three space explorers to swap around, each capable of carrying a finite amount of Pikmin. Not only does this allow for completing multiple tasks at once (one leader can direct Pikmin to bust down a wall, for example, while another uses their Pikmin to build a nearby bridge, while the third can go gather important supplies like fruit or Piktamin), it is also necessary to completing multi-party puzzles (one leader can throw another to reach a previously inaccessible area, Pikmin included).

The Wii U gamepad also has a handy mini-map that has become the common feature for Wii U games. What makes this one extra-handy, however, is that the touch screen can also be used to direct party leaders to automatically move to any specific spot on the map. This becomes invaluable when bouncing around the three explorers, as they can all be directed to different locations at once. One leader can be sent back to the ships to retrieve more Pikmin, or another can gather up stray Pikmin that were left behind, and everyone can be reunited by heading to the same designated spot. The gamepad is also utilized to display important story information, though this is merely an aesthetic choice that isn't actually useful.

The Wii U gamepad isn't the only way to play Pikmin 3. The Wii U Pro Controller can be used, as well as the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. The latter, in fact, is the preferred method of play for creator Shigeru Miyamoto, and anyone with a spare Remote can see why; the targeting reticule is vastly more responsive with the precision of the Wii Remote, allowing for easier targeting of items as well as ensuring that thrown Pikmin will always reach their intended destination (instead of accidentally thrown into a river or some other hazardous area) .

As ironic as it seems to have an older generation of tech becoming a better preferred control method, the use of the Wiimote comes at a steep price: the Wii U gamepad is still the required display for the mini-map and story cutscenes, as there is no way to move that information to the TV screen. There is also no way to use the auto-traveling feature, or even rotate the camera. This ultimately means that players will have to shuffle between controllers in order to reap the total benefits found in both, but it's hard to imagine that the extra precision of the Wiimote is worth the price.

Pikmin 3

Likewise, the game is still lacking in some refinements that keep Pikmin 3 from feeling like a modern evolution of the series. For instance, Pikmin who are tasked to gather certain parts that require moving to and from a spot (such as building blocks for a bridge) will return to the spot they were originally sent to gather, even if there isn't any material left. Likewise, plucking newly-birthed Pikmin from the ground requires only a single press of the A button to automatically pluck all nearby Pickmin sprouts, but tossing multiple Pikmin still requires a frantic mashing of the same button. Most cumbersome of all is the division of Pikmin between the three explorers; while there is a whistle command that will automatically have the Pikmin disperse and line up according to color, there aren't any options for automatically assigning a specified number of Pikmin for each party leader. These may all sound like minor quibbles, but they are also things that could easily be adjusted to allow for a smoother Pikmin-managing experience.

One of the harsher criticisms tossed at the Wii U is the opinion that many of their first-party games look like upscaled Wii games. In the case of Pikmin 3, that distinction isn't quite as outrageous; while the game certainly does have a gorgeous art style and cute little details that is synonymous with Nintendo (as well as some of the most detailed, most desirable looking fruit ever seen on a console), many of the textures do have a bit of a soft look to them. This combined with other rough patches cause one to wonder if Pikmin 3 originally began life as a Wii title before being moved to the Wii U, thus resulting in the mixed visuals.

Pikmin 3

Even if the game fails to take full advantage of the Wii U's hardware, the visual art style and charming characters still prove their worth even as consoles and PCs continue to push their graphical boundaries. Likewise, the gameplay still remains unique and refreshing, despite the full refinement of the controls. Time management and puzzle solving make for an odd combination that works wonderfully in Pikmin, especially with the addition of new types of Pikmin to add further depth to the gameplay. In addition to the standard Red, Blue and Yellow Pikmin who possess their own attributes (Red is fireproof, for example, while Yellow can conduct electricity), there are Rock Pikmin that can deal more damage when thrown at enemies in addition to breaking certain barriers, and Winged Pikmin who can take down airborne foes and carry items across like carrier birds.

Overall, Pikmin's return has proven a joyous reunion. While they could have further refined the controls and visuals for modern standards, the series itself still remains one of the most unique videogame experiences out there, and one of Nintendo's freshest IPs. Hopefully this blooming franchise gets enough love and care to sprout newer seeds in the near future.

Our ratings for Pikmin 3 on Wii U out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
On the surface, the imaginative art style and character animations dazzle in the typical Nintendo way. Look deep within, however, and you may notice the flaws of rough textures and sub-HD elements.
Barring a few micromanagement quibbles, the gameplay is still a breath of fresh air that manages to somehow be both relaxing and frustrating at the same time. Don't admire the sights too long, you're on the clock.
Single Player
A fun, lengthy journey filled with amusing dialog, new things to discover and even multiple endings.
A competitive two-player mode makes for some fun fruit-gathering competition. Stop me if you've heard this one before, though: the multiplayer is local only with no online option of any kind.
Using a Wii Remote allows for more precise aiming but at the cost of cumbersomeness elsewhere. Better to stick to the Wii U gamepad, which works fine on its own.
With just a little more polish, Pikmin 3 could have made a strong case for buying a Wii U over. As it stands, it is still a must-have title from a series still fresh from the soil.
Pikmin 3
Pikmin 3 box art Platform:
Wii U
Our Review of Pikmin 3
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Pikmin 3 is ranked #466 out of 1970 total reviewed games. It is ranked #43 out of 160 games reviewed in 2013.
466. Pikmin 3
467. ZombiU
Wii U
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Pikmin 3
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