Genre: Real-time Strategy/Time Management Simulator
Release Date: August 4th, 2013 (US)
Rating: ESRB E10+
Platform: Wii U
Pikmin 3 is the most recent installment of Miyamoto’s simultaneously ridiculous and amazing series of plant-based RTS games. First announced in 2008 with Nintendo confirming nothing more than the fact that they were working on it, the game has been a long time coming since the release of the original in 2001 and the sequel in 2004. Now, nine years after the previous and months after the original projected launch with the Wii U, does the Wii U finally have an exclusive that makes the console worth picking up?
Unlike the previous games in the series, Pikmin 3 puts the player in control of Alph, Brittany and Captain Charlie of the planet Koppai instead of the previous Olimar and Louie of Hocotate. Similar to Olimar’s initial adventure, the trio crashes on the Pikmin’s planet (dubbed PNF-404) in the beginning of the game. Unlike the Hocotatian, their mission was a hunt for fruit to save the dwindling food supply on their home planet of Koppai rather than the recovery of the broken pieces of their craft (aside from a couple of plot relevant parts, such as the final one to return home). While the primary goal of the game is collecting the different varieties of fruit (given hilarious names by the crew, e.g. “Slapstick Crescent” for a Banana), the plot develops around some interesting references to the previous games. Collecting all 60 fruit for the 100% ending is very interesting, and makes me excited for the future of the series.
As is the case for most Nintendo games, especially Miyamoto’s IPs, the story is mostly just a catalyst for progression with the gameplay being the truly shining feature. Like the earlier games in the series, Pikmin 3 is an excellent example of how to make a great RTS on a console. For those unfamiliar with the series, here are the basics: the player controls a character in a third person view directly via the control stick. As Pikmin 3 has three characters capable of commanding the Pikmin, each one can be controlled in turn allowing the player to do multiple tasks around the map simultaneously. Through the selected commander, the player is able to command an army of Pikmin that follow the player and can be assigned to tasks such as fighting or collecting by throwing the Pikmin at the intended objects. Certain destinations on the map, which might contain essential items or enemies, may often only become accessible after solving puzzles using certain Pikmin. Each mission is limited to one day of in-game time (about 13 minutes) and any tasks left incomplete after that day can be returned to on the following day, including boss fights.
While the first game imposed a 30 day limit due to the toxicity in the atmosphere, Pikmin 3 allows the player as many days as they want, assuming they can keep up a fruit supply to feed the crew each day. Each fruit collected counts towards the ending amount (with a max of 60 as previously mentioned), as well as supplies to allow the player to continue for another day.
Pikmin themselves live within and are born from a plant-based ship known as an Onion, and it is where the player can call or return Pikmin throughout the day. More Pikmin can be summoned from the Onion by bringing the corpses of defeated enemies to it by the requested color of Pikmin, where the corpse is then converted into an equivalent number of seeds that can then be plucked to obtain more Pikmin. Pikmin left away from the Onion at sunset will be left to the mercy of the native wildlife, and will not survive the night.
Each variety of Pikmin is specialized in what they can do, and as such, only certain types can be used to complete certain tasks. While all Pikmin are able to fight, climb, and carry, some do it better than others do. Red Pikmin are the strongest fighters and are immune to fire. Yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity, can be thrown the farthest, and are the fastest diggers. Blue Pikmin are the only kind that can breathe underwater. Rock Pikmin do the most damage when thrown, cannot be crushed, and are the only ones that can break crystal or glass. Pink Pikmin are the weakest, but can fly above obstacles and carry items almost anywhere.
With such a wide variety of Pikmin, it isn’t uncommon to see a puzzle like this: a fruit is buried in the ground, behind a wooden gate, guarded by a Fiery Blowhog. Since the enemy blows fire, Red Pikmin would work perfectly here as the Blowhog wouldn’t be able to hurt them, and they can do a lot of damage very quickly. However, the only way to lift a wooden gate is with ten Pink Pikmin, so the player would need to make sure to have at least that many with them. Finally, a buried fruit can be dug up and carried by any Pikmin type, however, Yellow Pikmin dig the fastest, and as such, it would behoove the player to bring a squadron of them along as well. A player with good time management skills would also leave one commander at the fruit location with the group of Pink and Yellow Pikmin in order to retrieve the fruit faster once it has been dug up by removing the Yellow Pikmin from it and assigning the Pink Pikmin to do the actual return. The primary commander is then free to roam around the map completing other tasks in the meanwhile.
This kind of puzzle solving, time and resource management experience is what Pikmin 3 is all about, and creates a constantly varied and interesting type of gameplay that never becomes tedious or rote when played as intended. Possibly the strongest aspect of the gameplay is its accessibility by players of nearly any skill level. Truly skilled players can maximize their efficiency and complete many tasks per day, while even the weakest of players would be able to collect the minimum one fruit per day and complete the game. This is the ideal type of difficulty, where skill falls onto the player to decide how hard the game is instead of selecting Easy, Normal or Hard in the menu.
Another prominent, praiseworthy feature of Pikmin 3 is the control options. Pikmin 3 can be played with nearly any control option available on the Wii U: GamePad, Pro Controller, Wii Remote + Nunchuk, or off-screen play available entirely on the GamePad. What I’ve found to be the best option is the Wii Remote + Nunchuk for the primary control, with the Gamepad nearby to reference the map and set paths for the other commanders to follow to aid in multi-tasking. The reason I prefer that control scheme is that while it is more convenient to only use the one controller, the Wii Remote allows for much easier and more precise aiming over the Gamepad, and having access to the map on the Gamepad is extremely helpful especially when multitasking or generally planning a day. However, all controllers work very well and everyone should be able to find something they are comfortable using.
So far, Pikmin 3 has a functional story, fun, frantic, and challenging gameplay, and wonderful controls. So where does that leave the graphics? Some people still believe the Wii U is just an HD Wii. I’d like to invite them to see Pikmin 3 and keep that option, because the game just looks beautiful. From photo-realistic fruit to a great use of lighting and depth-of-field effects, Pikmin 3 is simply a gorgeous game to look at and play. There were many times when I could easily imagine exploring the locale in real life, not only due to the excellent graphics, but also from the amount of life Nintendo put into each detail. The game isn’t a $2000 PC running a next-gen game on Ultra, but there were times when it could fool me. The only elements of slowdown I noticed were when overcrowding the screen in multiplayer, but even those lasted no more than a few seconds.
I don’t want to ignore the music because it was always fitting and enjoyable, but it’s mostly background sounds and ambience, not something I’d actively listen to. There are the standard series melodies and the like which are great as always, but again, it was never a part of the game I focused on.
While the main campaign clocks in at anywhere from 7-20 hours depending on the player’s skill level and determination in collecting all the fruit, the game does offer a significantly more difficult Mission Mode and the competitive local multiplayer known as Bingo Battle. In Mission Mode, players can go solo or with a friend cooperatively and try to accrue as many points as possible within a set time limit occasionally with a set amount of Pikmin. Each stage is only a fraction of the size of the campaign maps, but trying to get above a silver medal in any of them is a true test of skill. After completing the game, a Boss Battle mode is unlocked allowing players the chance to rematch any of the games’ bosses, all of which are incredibly fun to fight. Bingo Battle pits players head-to-head in an attempt to collect items or enemies on the field in such a way as to clear a line on the bingo board. The main issue with this mode is that if one player is at all more skilled than the other, the game does not offer many options for balance, even considering the incredibly overpowered items the players can use against each other, one of which can wipe an entire army of Pikmin in seconds.
Pikmin 3 is the first-party heavy-hitter Wii U owners and skeptics have been waiting for, and something that even the detractors should stop and take notice of. From the hours spent executing carefully planned missions to the equivalent hours spent saving my armies from those failed ventures, Pikmin 3 was constantly fun and every completed task felt like a true accomplishment. It’s rare to find games that make the player feel accomplished for completing a task that doesn’t return an Achievement or unlockable, but Pikmin 3 creates than feeling at least once a mission. I can’t say for certain if this is the game that will move units, but until the even bigger titles start coming out this winter and next spring Pikmin 3 is a title that all Wii U owners should have.