Pikmin 3 has been a very long time coming. For years it was mentioned by Miyamoto at E3, but it was never to appear on the Wii. It was even late on the Wii U, with most of us expecting it shortly after the launch games. But now that it is here, lets rather focus on what is important – how much fun it is. In movies a long gestation period often indicates a troubled film that underperforms; for Pikmin 3 the long development time means the opposite: it is a wonderful blend of strategy, cuteness, beauty and polish.
The story and setting are kept simple – three voyagers have been sent by their home planet, Koppai, to get new types of food and are about to arrive on a planet named PNF404 when their ship has problems and its three inhabitants, Charlie, Brittany and Alph, end up in different parts of the planet. It seems the cosmic drive key, an essential part for light-speed travel is also missing. So the intrepid explorers set about finding each other and the missing key. But this planet is inhabited with all sorts of strange, aggressive creatures along with its abundance of fruit.
Fortunately it is also inhabited with the plant-like Pikmin, who seem more than happy to follow you around and do what you tell them to. Collecting fruit, finding your fellow astronauts and getting home will still be a challenge, but with the various abilities of the Pikmin it just might be possible.
The Pikmin series is so unique that it’s hard to describe in terms you might know. It is part real-time-strategy, part puzzle, part adventure. You control the explorers directly with the analog stick, but you can also control the Pikmin you have by either whistling to call them to you or throwing them at objects in the world. Depending on the Pikmin and the object they will engage in different ways – Red Pikmin will attack enemies with consistent force, while Rock Pikmin will do big damage when they first hit but less after that.
Send Pikmin at objects like fruit or enemy carcasses and they will pick them up and take them back to base to be consumed – the fruit for food for your team and the carcasses for spawning more Pikmin. Send the right type of Pikmin against the right type of wall and they will bash it down, or send any type to a pile of stone and they will carry them off to build up a bridge. Just watching them do it all is entertaining in itself because of the silky-smooth animation of 100 little creatures, but a lot of the fun is in exploring this world that is both intriguing and dangerous.
The story mode is perfectly paced. You can focus on the story itself and do what the characters are directing you to do and explore a particular area, or you can take your time and try to find all the fruit scattered through the areas. I find myself just wanting to explore an area until I feel I have uncovered every bit I can for now before I move on to further fields. Sometimes it’s clear that you will need to come back once you have more abilities or more types of Pikmin because you can see fruit in impossible-to-reach spots. The story goals are what unlock these new abilities and mechanics at regular intervals so the gameplay remains fresh all the way through.
Exploration is given a bit of urgency by the way the game is divided into days – each day being about 15 minutes of game time. You have to think a bit about what you want to do as you start the day because you can’t accomplish much more than exploring a certain area – sometimes you have to leave off a boss fight to come back another day because the Pikmin can’t survive the night outside their Onion home. Even this mechanic is perfectly balanced – there is enough time to accomplish things in the day but not long enough that you have time to spend frivolously.
Pikmin 3 is not difficult but always feels like a challenge because of the way you’re always looking in new places trying to find the way through, figuring out how to effectively fight each enemy or simply trying to get all your Pikmin home again safely before the scary night creatures come.
Pikmin 3 is best controlled with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk along with the GamePad for a map and extra information. The Wii Remote is used to point at things in the game world so you can accurately throw the Pikmin at things. You can alternately use the GamePad only, but I found it much harder to target what I wanted to, so I reverted to keeping the GamePad on my lap and using the pointer to target.
I love the way the GamePad is referred to in-game as the KopPad and the characters even have a very similar looking contraction that they use to view messages. The KopPad can be used to view a map of the area and to tell your characters where to go – a great way of controlling multiple groups to get more done in a day.
A game of the style of Pikmin 3 is such a rarity – there is so much character and colour but also an inordinate amount of polish. I generally comment on the polish of Nintendo games, but this one is truly exceptional – that extra time it spent in the oven just finished it off so well. The graphics, the art, the music, the writing, the mechanics, the controls, the level design and the pacing is all so solid that it’s really hard to fault Pikmin 3.
Some might say the story is short, but at about 12 hours it seems right to me and most importantly doesn’t overstay its welcome. You can still go on to collect all fruit and data entries (mysteriously left behind by someone) as well as do the mission mode which has many challenges to complete, or you can try the multiplayer mode. I think the 12 hours of the story is enough – a sweet, juicy, exotic fruit of a game that satisfies a thirst you didn’t know you had but leaves you free to move on to other, more ordinary gaming experiences.