Nintendo is home to a whole mix of varied and much-loved franchises that go far beyond the often-centre-staged moustached plumber and Hylian in a green tunic. Unfortunately, not every one of Nintendo’s creations sees the same frequency of new additions to its library, some dormant for ten years and over *cough* F-Zero *cough*.
The Pikmin series is an interesting one at nearly 20 years old that’s not necessarily seen as one of the big boys but at the same time still trundles along with the odd new release here and there. It’s arguably one of Nintendo’s most overlooked franchises despite its consistent level of quality (if you ignore spinoff Hey! Pikmin that is) and solid sales. Thankfully the multicoloured critters have made their way to Switch in Pikmin 3 Deluxe, an updated version of the Wii U original that promises improvements and new content.
You play as three space explorers (Alph, Brittany and Charlie) as they search for seeds to cultivate back on their home of Koppai, a planet on the brink of doom largely thanks to “a general lack of planning” when it comes to its food supply. Their search leads them to the familiar planet PNF-404 where after a problematic landing, damages the ship and scatters our trio about its numerous dangerous regions. Regrouping with your team, gathering the supplies you came for and generally dealing with a whole host of nasty beasties that inhabit this planet will require help and luckily the Pikmin are more than happy to oblige.
Alph, Brittany and Charlie (whom you’re able to switch between at will) essentially act as ringleaders to an army of up to 100 Pikmin tossing them around, charging them at enemies, using them to carry giant fruit back to your ship and generally putting them in harm’s way. Each in-game day is an expedition out into one of the planet’s five regions with newly collected fruit providing precious juice for your crew to survive through the night. No juice and it’s game over. The limited time you have in each day is something you’re always very mindful of as you try to juggle tasks and get as much done as possible. Often times what you set out to complete in a day won’t always go according to plan and with fruit essential to your survival it can be tense scrambling your Pikmin together to carry back your spoils before nightfall hits. It’s stressful but the good kind.
As for the Pikmin themselves, they come in five colours, each one offering its own unique skillset ideal (and oftentimes essential) for certain situations. Blue Pikmin for example are the only type that can travel through water the others drowning if left to flap around for too long. Yellow meanwhile are not only lighter – meaning they can be thrown to reach higher places – but also immune to electricity handy for taking on enemies that attack with a nasty shock and taking out electrified walls. The game introduces its five Pikmin at a good clip, offering enough time to get used to each new addition and their abilities without dragging things out too long. Furthermore, as your cast of Pikmin grow, so too will the regions themselves as you use their skills to pass previously unsurmountable obstacles in an almost Metroid-like manner.
In the same way Splatoon was seen as a Nintendo approach to the saturated shooting genre, Pikmin 3 Deluxe could be seen as their take on strategy. Sure, at its core you’re organising your team of Pikmin and strategizing how best to make use of your limited time but the game is about more than simply micromanagement. Whether that’s down to the beautifully organic look and feel of the game and the sheer excitement to be had simply exploring the mysterious world created or even something as seemingly minor as the KopPad, a device able to take pictures. Pikmin 3 Deluxe is another great example of Nintendo taking a genre but leading it in new and unexpected directions.
Outside the main story you’ll find plenty more to enjoy all playable on your own or in split-screen co-op. Mission mode is perfect for those who love chasing and besting their high scores, players given a time limit in which to gather fruit and treasure, defeat creatures or take on bosses from the story. Finding or defeating absolutely everything within the time restraint in a mission – and thus receiving a platinum medal – will require near perfect execution and building your way up to that flawless multitasking plan is very satisfying indeed. Once you’ve reached the end credits of the story mode, mission mode is a perfect way to take the skills you’ve learned and tackle some tougher challenges.
Bingo battle offers players the chance to take a break from working together as a team and instead face off against each other one-on-one. Each player will have a four by four bingo board filled with a random assortment of fruits and enemies. These are marked off one by one when said enemy or fruit is brought back to the player’s onion. The aim – just like in bingo – is to create a line before your opponent. Of course, while trying to accomplish this, you’ll also likely have to deal with your rival and their army of Pikmin directly in the field too as well as a range of Mario Kart-style items that add yet another element of chaos to the mix. All in all, bingo battle is an exciting competitive alternative and one we kept returning to. It’s just a shame Pikmin 3 Deluxe doesn’t add any new maps to the roster (but maybe I’m just being greedy).
One area of intrigue when the game was first announced was how the controls would translate over to the Switch. Surprisingly, I found myself particularly fond of the button-based setup, the refinement of the handy lock-on function in particular excellent for reacting quickly and accurately. In fact, there have been a bunch of small improvements made over the Wii U version. Screws found in the ground between gaps make throwing Pikmin across much easier thanks to the fact you can lock onto them. Being able to send out your Pikmin by colour (as opposed to all together) also allows for better management mid-battle say for example if you only want to send the fire-resistant red Pikmin out to attack a fiery enemy.
All these little tweaks make the action feel far more fluid and allows you to be more efficient with your time. The gyro controls unfortunately let me down and felt a little too twitchy for my liking, the cursor swinging wildly around and needing recentring often that even after hours of practice I still found myself trying to tame. After the excellent pointer-based controls of the original, this feels like a step backward. While perfectly playable it ended up being something I would switch off.
Of course, for those no stranger to Pikmin 3, the big question centres on what’s been added to this deluxe version. For starters, the entire story mode can now be played in two-player co-op, a brilliant addition that not only places an interesting emphasis on teamwork but one that made for a great way to introduce my newcomer wife to the series. Another welcome inclusion are the two extra difficulty options, ‘Ultra Spicy’ in particular making things especially tough by shortening the day cycle, strengthening enemies and limiting your active Pikmin in the field to just 60 (instead of the usual 100). It truly does change the way you approach battles and is sure to be a hit with players returning to the game.
The Piklopedia also makes a return with each character offering their own entertaining analysis on the creatures in the game. Unfortunately, you’re not able to interact with the monsters – like you could in the second game – since each record contains a looping video as opposed to a zoo-like experience where you’re able to feed and watch them react. Achievement-style badges have also been added to the game, awarded for accomplishing certain tasks such as collecting all the fruit in story mode or battling against a friend on every multiplayer stage. Again, a small but neat addition.
Perhaps the biggest additions though are the prologue and epilogue side-stories both of which focus on the duo of Olimar and Louie. What I’d initially hoped would end up being a unique and continuous experience turned out to be another series of individual missions similar to the game’s mission mode. While playing through these fifteen missions was still an enjoyable enough time, it’s massively disappointing to find little actually new here. No new creatures nor obstacles and stages are merely sections taken from the story mode. Rather than surprising the player (who by this point will have seen plenty if not all of the main story by now) instead we’re simply given more of the same just slightly remixed. How great would it have been to come across returning creatures or revisit areas from the previous games?
Pikmin 3 unsurprisingly is still fantastic and Pikmin 3 Deluxe is arguably the best version of the game out there. While some of the new content can feel uninspired and motion controls a tad clunky, that doesn’t hurt what is otherwise an outstanding real-time strategy game and a great second chance for players to experience the best Pikmin game to date.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo