The lights are on
Nine years is the amount of time it took for Nintendo to revisit one of the Gamecube’s all-time classics, Pikmin, and the wait couldn’t have paid off more. Pikmin 3 is easily the most colorful, smartly made games to reach a Nintendo system in recent memory with its compelling sense of intelligent design and addictive gameplay. Its lovable presentation and immersive world make Pikmin 3 a near-perfect blend of charm and brain-training as the best real-time strategy game you can play this year.
Years after Captain Olimar’s historic expedition to the mysterious planet of his crash-landing in search of treasure with Louie and the President, the planet Koppai’s next-generation of explorers have arrived on the same planet to collect precious fruit for their starving world. Captain Charlie and his assistants, Alph and Brittany, set out on a familiar adventure with an army of Pikmin new and old. Can they make it out alive with the food their planet needs? You decide.
The original Pikmins boasted still impressive graphics for the Gamecube era, and Pikmin 3 exceeds it in all the Wii U’s HD glory. Color bursts out of every corner of Pikmin 3‘s vibrant backdrop, from its almost tangible plant-life to its particularly hideous and lifelike enemy designs. Environmental details shine further in the small scope, from water ripples to its lighting effects to its simply scrumptious looking whole fruit. The game’s four worlds remain divided between the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) of Pikmin 2 and the addition of dynamic weather effects like randomized rain and snow within each adds a deeper flavor to the ambience, even with no real effect on gameplay.
Your progression in Pikmin is as vital as ever and feels just as satisfying. The series’ staple of its day/night cycle is still present at about 20-25 min. of daylight to complete your tasks before sundown and there’s an almost overwhelming amount more to do. Bridges, gates, enemies, and collectibles frequent the scene constantly in the game’s huge size and while it always allows for setting your own pace, it always leaves you wanting to do more than you can. The game is also a short one with the main campaign's boss fights only taking up 6-8 hrs., but completionists will enjoy the enormous replay value of 100%ing all the game has to offer in terms of finding all the fruits and fighting all the enemies.
Like its predecessors, Pikmin 3 still carries an element of story behind the busywork. Your pilots of Charlie, Alph, and Brittany all have their amusing quirks and distinct personalities reminiscent of the previous games’ protagonists and it keeps the otherwise simple plot engaging as you learn about them. Each have their peace to say and their eventual “encounters” with returning characters might just surprise longtime Pikmin fans eager to wax nostalgia over.
Veteran fans of the series will know the gist of Pikmin 3’s gameplay inside and out, but there are a few new additions that still spice up the formula. As tradition dictates, your routine chores will see you defeating enemies, making more Pikmin out of them, and collecting fruit for your ship. The option of a “charge” button to directly have your Pikmin army mob an enemy in full force with either the gamepad or a shake of the Wii-mote makes a fantastic difference in battle and the inclusion of a lock-on button to strafe enemies is equally useful.
Red, blue, and yellow Pikmin return with their immunities to fire, water, and electricity and mutual battle strengths, but the game’s new Pikmin on the block are the real stars. Pink, flying Pikmin can travel over ground hazards and take on airborne enemies with ease while rock Pikmin are heavier hitters in combat and can break various crystal barriers. White and purple don’t return outside of the game’s mission and challenge modes, but your pink and rock Pikmin perform beautifully in tandem with their Pikmin peers and prove to be just as invaluable.
Multitasking, the heart and soul of the series, is expanded even further by Pikmin 3 and the result is an addictive challenge to master. Once they’re unlocked, all three captains are playable in the field and dividing your Pikmin brigades among them is a thrill just to see how much you can get done in a day. Having one captain overseeing a bridge’s construction, another fighting a giant frog, and another breaking d own an electric gate is daunting to keep track of and it’s all the more engaging for it. Even without a day limit, you’ll often find yourself restarting your day just to make it out with that one extra fruit and faster victories.
Despite its Wii U exclusivity, Pikmin 3 surprisingly supports dual play-methods. Rather than solely relying on the gamepad, it also allows for the Wii’s original wii-motion plus remotes and it’s difficult to say which wins out. The gamepad boasts the best camera controls while the Wii-motes handle best for aiming your Pikmin. For the sake of accuracy, I favored the Wii mote over all, but either method is arguably functional enough to get by on.
Pikmin 3‘s boss fights are easily its standout moments and not without their often unforgiving nature. From a terrifying sand slug to a bizarre rock/plant monster, the game’s five diverse bosses all have their strengths and weaknesses to exploit and it’s very satisfying deciphering them to deliver the killing blow. Though most rely on clever gimmicks like bomb rocks or well-time dodged rolls and the game’s final and most terrifying boss of the Plasma Wraith, however, is unfortunately brutal. One could say it goes so far as to provide an unnecessarily chaotic battle just to cheaply raise your Pikmin death total.
Your post-campaign time won’t be wasted as Pikmin 3 hosts a variety of entertaining distractions post-game. The game’s “mission mode” offers a collection of time-trials like treasure collecting and timed boss fights to either hone your skills or enjoy revisiting levels and enemies. “Bingo Battle,” meanwhile, plays like that of a local co-op scavenger hunt to find specific items to beat your rival at finishing the aptly designed bingo list of trinkets. Both are fun and hectic, but players will no doubt be more attracted to the sights of the main campaign.
No matter how tasking or complex, Pikmin 3 is nothing but a better game for it’s challenge and smart design. It’s arguably the smartest made Nintendo game in years and easily the best game so far on the Wii U. I couldn’t recommend a title more to have on your gamepad this year and the closer we are to having a Pikmin 4 within the console’s lifespan, then the happier I’ll be.
Overall Score: 9.25
I've got a love/hate relationship with that Plasm Wraith. I loved the creepy throwback to Pikmin 2's Water Wraiths, but that boss battle... I wanted to love the Gamepad controls, as they're similar to the Gamecube's, but I found the Wii Remote's to be far easier. I'm with ya all the way on wanting a Pikmin 4!