It’s been nine years since our last voyage to PNF-404, and nearly 12 since our inaugural visit.
To put that in perspective, I am now 25 years old. I graduated from college two-and-a-half years ago. When Pikmin came out, I was 13 years old and in the eighth grade. Pikmin 2 was released in 2004, just as I was beginning my junior year of high school.
In the time since, nearly a whole console generation has come and gone. The Nintendo Wii, a platform centered around the use of a precision-based controller, and perfectly suited for a series like Pikmin, never saw an original title in the series.
Sure, Nintendo reworked the first two games to make use of the Wiimote. And I suppose that was enough to hold us over, at least for a while. But after a number of excruciating delays, we finally have Shigeru Miyamoto’s latest labor of love, Pikmin 3.
The first thing that stands out upon starting up Pikmin 3 is that we don’t control the Hocotatians (from the planet Hocotate) we’ve grown to love (or despise). Instead, we’re introduced to a new group of adventurers from the planet Koppai. They are: Alph, the engineer; Brittany, the botanist; and Charlie, the captain.
Koppai — a planet on the verge of collapse, and whose inhabitants have depleted every last edible resource — has sent its finest astronauts into the cosmos in an effort to search for enough food to keep its citizens alive, and for seeds to cultivate new food on Koppai.
These endeavors have proved fruitless to this point, as all but one ship have returned, none bearing any type of sustenance. It’s now up to the last crew still in space — the team aboard the S.S. Drake — to return with nourishment.
Just like with Olimar, and then Olimar again with Louie in Pikmin 2, you’ll start Pikmin 3 having crash landed on PNF-404. What is it about this planet and crash landings? At one point, Alph even states that it felt as if something was pulling down on the spacecraft. I won’t divulge any more than that, but once you’ve completed the game, you may find it tempting to look up fan theories on YouTube. Miyamoto has mentioned the existence of a “secret code” within Pikmin 3, which seems to have already been revealed by a handful of dedicated gamers online.
If you’re unfamiliar with the franchise, the Pikmin games are basically RTS games for people who don’t like real-time strategy. In other words, they aren’t overly complicated. You control a character who tells the little Pikmin what to do. You order them around, completing tasks, battling enemies, and collecting fruit and items. Different Pikmin have different abilities, skills, and weaknesses, and you’ll encounter obstacles along the way that require the use of each and every one. These games do require a tactical approach, so you can’t just run around without taking each situation into careful consideration. They’re challenging games, but not overwhelming.
Because the Wii U is compatible with Wiimotes and Nunchuks, Pikmin 3 allows for the exact same control scheme as the ports of Pikmin and Pikmin 2 for Wii. While this certainly gives the player maximum precision, I spent most of my time using the Wii U GamePad.
This is mostly due to the fact the in-game map is so easy to navigate with the GamePad’s touchscreen. You simply use use your finger to scroll around map, and the game pauses while you scan over the environment. Sure, if you’re using the Wiimote and Nunchuk, you can always just place the GamePad in its cradle in front of you and let it charge, but then you have to empty your hands and pick it up when you want to survey the area. For this reason, I feel it’s just easier to continue using the GamePad. Plus, I ended up using the map a lot, so that would’ve gotten old, fast.
In fact, after completing Pikmin 3, I went back and began playing the original Pikmin on GameCube. It took me all of 60 seconds to realize how much I’d come to rely on the map’s placement on the GamePad. It was just so much more functional. There’s also a cool feature where you view everything from your character’s perspective, and you hold the GamePad like a camera. You can move it around like you would a real camera and take the shot you want.
The only real complaint I have with using the GamePad is that it can sometimes make it difficult to lock on to flying targets. It’s not a game-breaking hiccup by any means, but just be aware you’ll need to be a bit more tenacious in your efforts to take down flying enemies.
Speaking of things that fly, one of the two new Pikmin introduced in Pikmin 3 is the Winged Pikmin — a pink, fairy-looking seed-creature, who makes up for its lack of attacking prowess with expanded range. With this friendly new Pikmin, certain types of gates can be lifted rather than destroyed. It can also fly over water and take routes other Pikmin can’t.
Also new to the team is the Rock Pikmin, who can really pummel enemies and clobber destructible barriers. It’s not the quickest unit available, as it usually takes a few seconds to recover from its head-first flop into a target, but it definitely packs a punch, and it looks like a chunk of chiseled graphite.
Red, Yellow, and Blue Pikmin, mainstays of the series, all return for this third installment. Purple and White Pikmin, who you may remember from Pikmin 2, do not make an appearance in the game’s Story Mode, however, they are available to use in Mission Mode.
The Story Mode in Pikmin 3 is the most satisfying of any in the series. You no longer feel the pressure to complete your mission within a set amount of time, because in Pikmin 3, there is no set amount of time. So long as you continue collecting enough fruit to keep you alive, you may soldier on. That’s a welcome departure from the previous two games, as it really allows you to take your time and explore every nook and cranny of each stage, which is rewarding, because the level design in Pikmin 3 is much more creative than in games past. It’s dynamic, full of variety, and far less flat.
Similar to the way Pikmin 2 allowed for splitting duties between two people, Olimar and Louie, Pikmin 3 lets you split the workload between all three characters: Alph, Brittany, and Charlie. There are certain instances when you definitely need to take advantage of this trio to progress, but my ineptitude and inability to multitask rarely afforded me the opportunity to take advantage of the third crew member. Most folks should have no trouble splitting duties.
Once you tire of Story Mode, you may want to try your hand at Mission Mode, which actually does pit you against the clock. You can grab as much treasure as possible, taking out the baddies who stand in your way. Or, you can simply choose to fight your way through an area, slaying every enemy you come across. The more the merrier! Another option lets you hone your skills facing off against any of the bosses you encountered earlier in the game.
The final game mode, which allows for split-screen multiplayer, is called Bingo Battle. Here, you’re given a bingo card, but instead of just having random numbers in each square, you have various fruits and enemies. The first to track down and defeat the monsters, then retrieve the items to complete a row on the bingo card wins. These battles are actually pretty quick and make for great fun with friends.
Pikmin 3 is easily the Wii U’s best looking game, but I have to think it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The Pikmin series is one that takes place almost exclusively in natural environments, which are depicted in a stylized form of attempted photorealism. Basically, the world in which Pikmin takes place is a slightly artsy spin on the real world. Our characters, Pikmin, and other living things, however, are much more cartoonish. And that’s exactly what we’ve come to know, love and expect from Nintendo — nothing that completely attempts to rid itself of fantasy.
The music in Pikmin 3 is as endearing as ever. You’ll certainly hear some familiar tunes from previous games in the series, but there are plenty of new ones, too. Much of it is worthy of tracking down on YouTube and setting to repeat for hours as ambient, background music while you work. And beyond the music, I always love hearing the characters “speak” in Pikmin games, because they always use some form of cutesy gibberish.
It’s been a long time coming, but this is the Pikmin game we’ve waited for. And let me tell you, it was worth the wait. Pikmin 3 is a brilliant game from start to finish, and in a series that can already boast of its high quality, this game shines the brightest. If you own a Wii U, or if you’re looking for a reason to, Pikmin 3 is undoubtedly the best incentive right now. This game will easily eat up hours, just like Koppaite eat up fruit.