Planet Koppai has found itself in a spot of trouble. An ever-expanding population has seen its people munch their food resources dry due to poor planning, soon prompting them to launch unmanned ‘Sparrow’ exploration vessels to scour the universe in search of a new edible matter.
After each vessel returns unsuccessful, one soon reports the discovery of a planet labelled PNF-404, and a three-man exploration team is sent on a 279,000 light year voyage to investigate. Crash landing on the planet you must befriend the plant-like Pikmin as you first seek to reunite your team and recover your stolen cosmic drive key from a mysterious local inhabitant called Olimar…
Those that have played the Wii U exclusive’s predecessors on GameCube – or “New Play Control!” upgrades on Wii – will feel discover that much remains familiar in this latest instalment. Hazardous knee-deep environments see you negotiating treacherous waters by leaping onto passing lily pads, dodging fiery plumes, and charging your loyal troops headlong at enemies whose sole purpose is to eagerly devour them.
Unlike Hocotate-born Captain Olimar, Pikmin 3‘s band of protagonists – Alph, Charlie and Brittany – avert his penchant for gathering rare treasures. For whilst previous adventures to the planet have seen you gathering ship parts or obscure souvenirs to pay off the Hocotate Freight president’s debt, Pikmin 3 simply tasks you with gathering an intergalactic fruit bowl.
There is a total of 66 hidden and closely-guarded fruit pieces (each with humorous names ranging from Face Wrinkler, Dapper Blob, Disguised Delicacy to Astringent Clump) to cart back to your ship, although not all are required to conquer the game’s Story Mode. They are, however, necessary sustenance for your crew’s continued exploration, with gathered fruit being processed to make juice for the crew’s evening meal, whilst the seeds are sent back to Koppai.
Pikmin’s day-to-night cycle returns, meaning that you will often find yourself tackling puzzles and breaking down sand barriers to open new routes, only to run out of time as you scramble to gather your troops before they get nibbled after sunset – making a mental note of what needs to be done when you return the next morning.
As you gather more Pikmin types otherwise inaccessible areas will soon become available to you, expanding the broad confines of the game’s luscious environments. Story Mode sports five differentiations: Red, which are resistant to fire and stronger in combat; Blue, which can survive in water; Yellow, that can conduct electricity whilst being resistant to it, and can be thrown higher; Rock, which can smash Crystal; and Pink, which can fly, carry items over terrain, and lift specific gates that you encounter.
Seasoned Pikmin players will note the absence of Purple (stronger than normal Pikmin) and White (poison resistant) types at this point, and whilst these aren’t within Story Mode they may still be discovered within the game’s other content.
Pikmin management has been massively streamlined, all now housed within a single Onion ship from which the player procures their combined army of a 100-strong Pikmin squad. Combat has equally become far more effective with the player able to choose which specific Pikmin type to throw at their enemies by tapping the L button on the Wii U GamePad (or C on the Nunchuk). Otherwise, controls are an otherwise whistle-based affair that sees you ordering your gathered troops at whim.
In the absence of batteries, my first playthrough was completed through using the Wii U GamePad, which emulates an in-game equivalent called the KopPad to display a detailed map, with access to exploration notes, Pikmin details, a fruit file, and a camera that lets you take snaps to share on Miiverse. For the added benefit that this all provides, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk option will prove more suitable for many in tackling the game’s increased level of challenge.
A strategy is further extended through the introduction of a three-strong crew, an aspect experimented with in Pikmin 2 where you were able to control both Olimar and Louie. Adapting to divide your troops between the three will allow you to get more completed during the day, whilst also becoming much more integrated within the course of the game where you’re forced to separate your team by throwing crew members across tree stumps and chasms, to then throw Pikmin between them.
Such tactical play enters its own during the fierce boss battles that are scattered throughout your exploration. If the rest of game feels like a gentle challenge to tackle, these immediately switch pace and can see your Pikmin horde brutally killed off if you aren’t attentive in responding to incoming threats.
Bosses can easily take longer than a given day, although whatever damage you deal will still be applied the next time you arrive to bring them to their knees. The swathes of Pikmin sacrificed in the process being readily replenished by escorting the conquered corpse back to your ship, whereas fruit coughed up by the beasts adds to your juice stocks.
Pikmin 3‘s visuals are astounding, something that I appreciated far more having since returned to Pikmin 2 for comparison’s sake. Whilst Nintendo underestimated their shift to high-definition development, delays to Pikmin 3‘s release have proven well worth it with awe-inspiring seasonal environments that once again place the company’s attention to detail on a pedestal their competitors continue to grasp at. If their output continues to look this glorious, then the Wii U’s first-party future will be increasingly anticipated with each release.
Whilst I covered Mission and Bingo Battle modes fairly extensively in my Pikmin 3 preview, these have had far more impact through playing the full retail version.
Mission mode sees you chasing high scores within set time limits in either alone or in co-op, gathering treasure, neutralising enemies, or tackling monstrous bosses once again. Repeat plays are necessary to gain more familiarity with level structure, improving your odds of securing those elusive Gold medals and scoring ever higher on the online leaderboards.
Bingo Battle takes away the strain of chasing high scores and replaces it with pitting you head-to-head against a local opponent. Each given your own bingo card, you must gather items to form a complete line to score a victory.
Retrieving a Cupid’s Grenade (Cherry) to your ship provides you with the spin of a roulette wheel that provides a range of rewards – extra Pikmin, lightning that strikes your opponent, mines to scatter across the map, or Ultra-Spicy Spray to make your squad super strong. It’s frantic, tactical, and provides Pikmin 3‘s most shining moments despite the game being a further instance where Nintendo have failed to provide an option to take the multiplayer mode into the online arena.
Though for all of Pikmin 3‘s charm, the AI can become somewhat of an annoyance in places seeing Pikmin with an aversion to water moronically wading in rather than nervously teetering on the edge. Elsewhere they still become caught on the surrounding environment whilst loyally attempting to follow you, stop-starting you in your quest as you waste time turning to nudge them from their trapped corner.
That Pikmin 3‘s Story Mode can be completed in under eight hours was also somewhat concerning when the credits started rolling, although having then delved into the game’s accompanying modes this soon became of no consequence.
Miyamoto has said that his vision has finally been realised in Pikmin 3, and there’s much that can be found to support that claim. As the Wii U firmly sets its sights on a resurgence, Pikmin 3 delivers an action-strategy experience like no other. And at a time where many complain that Nintendo isn’t investing in new IP, it serves as a reminder to the fresh breeze of creativity that can be achieved when they do.