Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto told us a while ago that Pikmin 3 is a game about cooking. Fortunately for the squeamish, it’s not in the literal sense; you won’t be julienning the titular creatures and tossing them in a stew. But just as simultaneously preparing several dishes in a kitchen requires deft multitasking skills, players must juggle three new pilots and their unusual friends. It’s a busy, tense, and occasionally frustrating process, but as with a good meal, the results are deeply satisfying.
Pikmin 3’s crew is on a mission to find food for their home planet, Koppai. Their search leads them to planet PNF-404, a dead ringer for Earth that happens to be filled with delicious fruit. The team of explorers prepares to land, but their ship crashes in the process. The team is separated, and it’s up to the players to reunite them, fill their ship’s pantry with food, and help them make their way home. It’s a tall order, but they have a few hundred helping hands.
Pikmin 3’s core is familiar enough. You move your tiny astronaut around, commanding the pikmin – helpful little plant creatures – to pick up items, move obstacles around, and battle less-welcoming residents. The game introduces a pair of new pikmin types, but the chief change to the game comes when Alph, Brittany, and Charlie are reunited.
The game does a good job of easing players into the transition, first teaching them how to gather pikmin with the tweet of a whistle and issue commands. The tiny creatures dutifully respond to the best of their ability. Direct them onto a pile of ceramic fragments, and they’ll move in formation to assemble a bridge, holding the outsized chunks overhead like adorable leaf-cutter ants. Throw them on top of a marauding beetle, and they’ll cling to its carapace, pounding on the creature until it shudders and dies. In past installments, players had to manage the troops with a single general. Now there are three.
Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to spread out on the map and explore a larger area, players can throw their buddies to otherwise inaccessible ledges. The world is dotted with fruit, and since the crew can’t directly interact with anything in the environments, players need to learn how to prioritize and manage their tiny armies. All pikmin aren’t created equally, which complicates matters. Red pikmin are fireproof and aggressive, for example, while the yellow types are immune to electrocution. New flying and rock types can soar over hazards and break glass panels, respectively. The game has a nice puzzle aspect to it, as well as a tantalizing sense of desire at seeing a huge melon or apple just out of reach. You may not have the required pikmin type when you first spy it, which makes going back to retrieve it later all the more satisfying.
When pikmin carry fruit back to your ship, it’s converted into precious juice. Your crew consumes one tank of juice each night, so you need to make sure you have a good amount stockpiled. Pikmin 3 is more forgiving than its predecessors, though. A typical in-game day is over in about 15 minutes, which is more than enough time to locate and retrieve a good amount of fruit. In a particularly helpful move, you can select waypoints on the GamePad and automate your crew. After all, what’s the point of having three playable characters if you have to micromanage each one?
The biggest challenge I faced was dealing with the default controls. The GamePad lacks the precision you need to interact with some of the enemies. Everything’s fine when you’re moving treats around and building bridges, but a battle against even some of the low-grade foes is unnecessarily frustrating. Flying bugs and quick-moving enemies are difficult to track with the analog stick. I found the delightfully grotesque boss battles more difficult because I couldn’t draw a consistent bead on their obvious weak points. Plug in a Wii remote and nunchuk, and those issues go away, at the expense of refined camera controls. That’s a compromise well worth making. Another annoyance came with the pikmin themselves. Their pathing AI is good, until it isn’t. One moment I’d marvel at a complex circuit of lily-pad hopping pikmin, the next I’d watch helplessly as they needlessly drowned attempting to cut a corner.
While the campaign doesn’t offer co-op, you can play a few special missions locally with a partner. These are based on either collecting as much fruit or defeating as many enemies as possible within a time limit. I had a blast with these, and consistently found myself shouting things like, “I’m on the apple, you take the underwater sand wall!” Two players can face off in a split-screen bingo battle mode, which is a clever riff on the game. Players are given cards with icons of different items on them. You then have to complete a line first by bringing the necessary loot back to your home base. I also found myself shouting a lot during this mode, but I can’t repeat what I was yelling here. I will say that it’s a great deal of fun.
Pikmin 3’s control issues are buoyed by solid improvements to the series and easily accessible alternative inputs. It’s adorable, and if you’re a Wii U owner, consider this an essential game.
Juggling three crew members is a busy, tense, and occasionally frustrating process, but the results are ultimately satisfying.