Pikmin has quite often been described as one of Nintendo’s forgotten franchises. The series made its debut on the Nintendo GameCube in 2001, but saw a port to the Wii seven years later. The sequel, Pikmin 2, also debuted on the GameCube; it was released in 2004 and then ported to the Wii in 2009. Despite both Pikmin games’ warm critical receptions, the series never had the kind of mass appeal that other Miyamoto titles have experienced. Still, the franchise has a vocal fanbase and one that was ready to spend years begging for a Pikmin 3.
Considering the present dearth of Wii U games, Pikmin 3 couldn’t have come at a better time. Well, technically it could have come at a better time; it was supposed to be one of the Wii U launch window titles, and during my time with the game I couldn’t help but feel that the cheerful little title would have helped the initial Wii U push. Sadly, the Nintendo faithfuls clamouring for another Pikmin game were left to wait a little longer. Now that the game is finally out, was the wait worth it?
Pikmin 3 follows a similar setup to the previous two games: space-faring beings land on a planet and wind up making use of the local fauna-flora-hybrid thingies (the Pikmin) to get a job done. In Pikmin 3 you take control of three inhabitants from the planet of Koppai: Charlie, Alph and Brittany. They’re on a mission to find planets with viable food sources for their starving home world. The three end up crash-landing on the planet PNF-404, which also happens to have an abundance of fruit. Sadly, the fruit is far too big for the travellers to collect themselves, and to make matters worse, a vital part of their ship is missing, which means getting back home to Koppai is impossible until the piece is found.
As luck would have it, PNF-404 is also home to Pikmin, which means the trio from Koppai aren’t alone in their search for food and missing ship components – they get a helping hand from the native population. I’m pretty sure there’s some weird metaphor for the benefits of colonialism/slavery in there somewhere, but considering this is a Nintendo game, the whole package is about fun. And fun it most definitely is.
You’re able to switch between all three of the Koppai spacemen whenever you wish; this means you can have three separate teams of Pikmin doing three different tasks simultaneously. It’s a lesson in multitasking no doubt, but if you manage to ensure that all three teams are always busy, you’ll be able to get a lot done before the sun goes down. The limited daylight mechanic from previous Pikmin titles returns in Pikmin 3. This means you have 13 minutes in which to perform as many of the following tasks as possible: exploring, collecting fruit, bashing down barriers, building bridges and fending off the slavering wildlife that seems hell-bent on thinning your ranks of Pikmin. Once the day is over, you need to round up any errant Pikmin and head into the safety of space, otherwise large and nasty predators come out of the shadows to devour your friendly helpers.
You can return to the same area as often as you like, and the progress you made in previous days will remain; some enemies will respawn, however. Similarly, any boss battles that you’re forced to leave unfinished due to sunset can be continued and you’ll find that any damage you did the day before, remains. With this in mind, I battled to find any justifiable reason for limiting playtime to 13-minute chunks. Other than forcing you not to dawdle, and perhaps because this style of game progression has been a Pikmin staple, I can’t think why this mechanic is necessary. What exacerbates my discomfort with the setup is the fact that you’re forced to sit through unskippable sequences, like watching fruit juice bottles fill up and seeing your space ship soar into the stratosphere. It took me 48 in-game days to complete the game’s story mode, which means I had to watch this same sequence 48 times, with the same irritating music.
You have five Pikmin types at your disposal, three of which will be familiar to anyone who played the previous games. Red, yellow and blue Pikmin return, but this time you get rock Pikmin and flying Pikmin to help you with your tasks. The rock Pikmin are great when thrown directly onto enemies, but they don’t grab hold and attack like the red, yellow and blue Pikmin do. Therefore, while the rock Pikmin pack an initial punch, they need to retreat a few steps before running and jumping at the enemy again. Flying Pikmin are weak in combat, unless they’re attacking the swarms of small flying enemies that you encounter on the odd occasion. The flying Pikmin come into their own when it comes to transporting objects over long distances, as they avoid obstacles like rivers and ledges.
Those new to the franchise (like I was) might find Pikmin 3 quite an odd beast to get the hang of. Once you do, however, you’ll find that the primary game mechanic becomes quite compelling. Controlling your Pikmin hordes, exploring each map, figuring out the various puzzles and collecting all of that delicious looking and wonderfully rendered fruit, begins to turn into something you can become quite obsessive about. Because each Pikmin has its own unique quality, you’re constantly forced to utilise each type so as to progress. Gameplay intricacy progresses seamlessly and by the time you reach the final map, you’ll be putting everything you’ve learnt throughout the game into practice. It’s almost as if the whole game is one big tutorial for the final map; it’s masterful game design and franchise creator Miyamoto’s DNA can be felt all over it.
My playthrough took me just less than 14 hours to complete, but I have no doubt in my mind that Pikmin veterans will be able to do it in half that time. Still, there are two other game modes to sink extra hours into: Missions and Bingo Battles. The Missions add three sets of standalone challenges for you to complete: the first sees you collecting treasure across five different maps each with their own time limit; the second sees you battling selections of enemies across five maps that also have time limits; and the third Mission set allows you to take on the single-player campaign’s six boss battles with set Pikmin hordes. All three Mission sets can be played co-operatively with two players on the same TV.
If you’re the couch-based multiplayer type, then Bingo Battles will appeal. Designed for two players, each gets a 4×4 bingo card with random enemies and fruit types on it. The first person to collect an entire row or column from the card and bring the items back to their space ship, wins.
Pikmin 3 is a great game. Its mix of cartoon-like characters with almost photo-realistic environments is a delight to behold. Add to that some really impressive lighting and neat use of depth of field, and you’ve got one of the more beautiful games available at the moment. For returning fans, this is the much sought after next-gen Pikmin title that everyone was hoping for. For newcomers, while the mix of strategy and puzzle and some finicky control schemes might be a little daunting, this is one of those games that’s definitely worth looking at. Who knows, you might find yourself joining the throngs of rabid Pikmin fans as they spend the next nine years begging for yet another Pikmin game.