Pikmin 3 Review
The classic Nintendo franchise returns in hopes of revitalizing the Wii U
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.
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.
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.
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.