Here it is: Nintendo (and the Wii U)’s first proper HD first-party display. Yes, Nintendo Land was fun and innovative, but it overall felt a little lightweight from a single-player standpoint and New Super Mario Bros. U – while a fantastic game – felt just a little too similar to recent New Super Mario Bros. games. Pikmin 3, meanwhile, is a game you can really get your teeth into. Don’t let the adorable Pikmin trick you; this is a deep, strategic, high quality game that is well worth the nine years of waiting.
The first thing that hits you about this game, right from the title screen, is just how beautiful it is. You can clearly see how much effort has been put into the visuals, and whether it is the realistically-styled scenery or the more cartoon-y characters, everything pops out of the screen at you. One of the standouts is the cave areas, where the lighting is used to great effect to transform the tone of the area. The graphics are not perfect by any means – you may occasionally spy a few flat textures on a wall or floor – but in-game it is remarkably hard to spot something that doesn’t look as you would want. The aforementioned lighting is the most impressive aspect of the visuals; watch the S.S. Drake launch into the sky at the end of each in-game day to see this for yourself.
But what is the S.S. Drake? Well, the main game is about the population of the planet of Koppai who have run out of resources (they consume fruit), and have subsequently sent out several teams to find a planet with resources they can use (there is actually quite a profound environmental message being told by this game, that relates to how humans use the Earth’s resources). One team is successful – Brittany, Charlie, and Alph, your main characters and pilots of the S.S. Drake – but they have crash-landed on the found planet, PNF-404. The beginning of the game consists of regrouping the team, as they have all landed in different places.
This is where the Pikmin come in! PNF-404 is covered in the little things, and they are obviously your way of getting through each area. There are two new types at your disposal, namely Rock Pikmin and Flying Pikmin. Rock Pikmin are useful as fighters and can break hard crystals, and Flying Pikmin are great for battling airborne opponents and getting at out of reach items (these Pikmin have other uses too, of course; I won’t spoil everything). As well as these new Pikmin, you also have the classics from previous games – Red, Yellow, and Blue Pikmin – to help you. There is a distinct Metroidvania style to the game, with the 5 main areas having many routes and secrets that can only be unlocked by backtracking later in the game and using new Pikmin types and abilities.
The actual layout of the game is a well-hit balance between the frantic pressure of the first Pikmin’s time limits and the freedom of Pikmin 2. The game is set out in days, and as long as you have some fruit juice for your characters to consume at the end of the day, you can keep playing for another day. At the start of the game, getting enough fruit juice can be a bit hard (and therefore stressful), but soon you start finding A LOT of fruit, and you will find you have more than enough. In each day you can spend approximately 13 minutes in one area until the sun goes down and night falls, forcing you back to your ship. Any Pikmin that are not near the Onion (the Pikmin’s base, if you will) or in a squad will be left to fend for themselves, often seen being eaten by a Bulborb as the Pikmin frantically runs after your launching ship, just missing it.
This is a kid-friendly game, honest.
You may have noticed I said “a squad” rather than “the squad”. Well, this is because with a maximum of 3 players (Brittany, Charlie and Alph, mentioned previously), you can split into three teams to get more done in your day. This is where the GamePad comes in as essential, as while the use of the touchscreen for a map seems generic at first, it is actually very well used in Pikmin 3. My touching and dragging on the GamePads touch screen, you get a paused overhead view of the area (the parts you have explored) on the TV screen. This allows you to see where you want to go and plan your movements in your head, but more importantly you can also select a place on the GamePad map and make your character go there. This allows you to switch to another character and get something done while another character moves around the map, saving valuable time. With 3 possible groups, this allows for some great strategic play; the Wii U feels like it was made for real-time strategy when playing Pikmin 3. This subtle yet effective addition is one of the best uses of the GamePad I have seen thus far on the Wii U.
The next thing I need to touch on is the controls. There are many ways of playing this game, but the main controllers you should be using are the Wii Remote or the Wii U GamePad. Each one has advantages and drawbacks. The Wii Remote gives much more precision with the cursor – which is used for rounding up Pikmin and directing where you throw them – which is something I found lacking with the GamePad (particularly in the intense and very tough final fight). However, the use of the GamePad’s map adds a lot to the strategic element of the game. Luckily, the game also allows you to use the Wii Remote in conjunction with a GamePad in front of you, which allows you to have the best of both control schemes. This is definitely the way to play if you can.
In addition, this game has an affecting score that fits the tranquil, yet troubled underneath, nature of the game. The beginning of each day tends to start with an upbeat and uplifting track, but this usually descends throughout the day, resulting in a sombre tune that accompanies your rocket’s ascent at the conclusion of the day. The main sounds that will stand out at you most of the time, though, are your Pikmin and their actions. The adorable and endearing sound of a Pikmin proudly lifting an object back or completing a task is heartwarming. Of course, this just makes the horrifying, helpless cry when they get killed even more horrible to hear. Every Pikmin is valuable in this game, and you feel terrible if you see a ghost float up and a cry sound.
Finally, then, I come to the longevity of the game. I mentioned earlier that it took me about 33 days to complete the main story (without finding all of the fruit and secret; this would likely take around 50 days), which is approximately a dozen hours. This isn’t short, but neither is it long. The need to play again is apparent though, and trying to get the best final scorecard you can (there is online leaderboards for this to tempt you further) is something that will likely encourage repeat plays. Try and do it without losing a Pikmin, I dare you.
Honestly, that would be something hard to do. The game has a very natural difficulty curve, showing you new skills and Pikmin slowly and letting you get used to them. The game builds to a very natural end, with your learnt skills really being tested. The game teaches you well enough, though, that by the time you get to the hard stuff, you should be well-equipped. This game is accessible, but it is not easy.
Adding to the length of the game are two other options on the main menu. Mission mode contains three different types of mission – treasure collecting, defeating enemies and beating bosses – that award you medals depending on how well you performed. As well as trying to get the best medals you can, a multiplayer aspect and additions such as White and Purple Pikmin (absent from the main game) give this mode a surprising amount of depth. Multiplayer is expanded upon in the third main menu selection, Bingo Battle, which has two players compete against each other in some very well-designed stages where the goal is to connect 4 on your bingo card (or kill or your opponents Pikmin, if you are truly evil). This bingo card has enemies, fruit and more on it, so getting the right times back to your base is the main objective. However, recovered cherries allow you to use power-ups such as meteor strikes and teleportation on your opponent, mixing up the game. The race to complete your card is crazy, fast-paced and genuinely fun. This is Pikmin when it lets itself go, and it is a joy to play with another person by your side. My only gripe is there being no online multiplayer; Pikmin 3’s multiplayer would have fitted online play very well.
Pikmin 3 is the start of Wii U’s software barrage in coming months. But forget about the likes of The Wonderful 101, Rayman Legends and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD for a second; Pikmin 3 is the game of the moment for anyone who owns a Wii U, and you owe it to yourself to play it. 9 years of waiting has resulted in something with great, unique gameplay (just get the controls right), beautiful visuals, plenty to do and a soothing soundtrack to back that all up.
One thing though… don’t let your Pikmin die, if you can. At that point, the game becomes the most horrific thing you’ve played.