Any Wii U owner can tell you that there's been a significant drought of games on the system. Only a handful of titles have been released, and of those, only a few are exclusive to the console. New Super Mario Bros. U and its expansion pack have been Nintendo's strongest offerings to date, aside from the pack-in, Nintendo Land. With the Wii U's sales numbers growing increasingly dire, Pikmin 3 represents what should be the opening volley of a new batch of games to draw attention to the system. In that regard, Pikmin 3 is charming, fun and stylish, but at the same time, it's difficult to imagine anyone purchasing a Wii U to play it.
Pikmin 3 is a direct follow-up to the previous Pikmin games, although it also functions as a good introduction for new players. The star of the previous games, Captain Olimar, has been replaced by a trio of explorers. Alph, Brittany and Charlie are from Koppai, a planet not far from Olimar's homeland of Hocotate. Koppai is suffering from a food shortage, as its inhabitants can only eat fruit and are running low. They've sent explorers to find new sources of food, and our unlucky trio's ship, the SS Drake, ejects the voyagers over planet PNF-404 and crash-lands, losing its valuable drive key in the process. The three must find the lost key and enough fruit to solve Koppai's food shortage before they fall victim to the planet's deadly (but adorable) wildlife.
Pikmin 3's plot is simultaneously bright, cheerful, bizarre and grim. The brightly colored cheerful creatures run around lovely, leafy environments collecting fruit and making wacky jokes. At the same time, the ever-present threat of death and starvation is around the corner. The wacky characters could starve or be eaten by giant bugs. There's nothing that is inappropriate for children, but the game has a strange atmosphere that is unlike anything else from Nintendo. The plot isn't deep or complex, but the character interactions are fun enough that you'll like the trio and enjoy its banter.
Pikmin 3 is somewhere between an RTS and puzzle game. Players control of one of the three explorers and must guide an army of AI-controlled Pikmin using simple commands. For those who haven't played the previous games, Pikmin are adorable plant creatures of various shapes and sizes. Yellow Pikmin are the lightest, can be thrown further, dig the fastest, and are immune to electricity. Blue Pikmin can traverse water areas. Red Pikmin are immune to fire and are the best fighters. New to the Pikmin universe are the Rock and Winged Pikmin. Rock Pikmin are durable, can shatter breakable objects and do massive damage when thrown, but they can't grapple an enemy to continue dealing damage over time. Winged Pikmin can fly over obstacles and carry objects more easily but are the smallest and weakest. You can have up to 100 Pikmin in your group at any given time, although there's no limitation on what kind of Pikmin you have.
A limited number of commands are available so you can guide the creatures. Blow your whistle to get them to follow you, and blow it again to make them disperse. You can make them dodge attacks, but this can be a little finicky. Otherwise, Pikmin contextually act on their environment. When you target something, whether it's an enemy or an object, you lock onto it and can tell the Pikmin to interact with it. You can order the Pikmin to swarm en masse or individually throw Pikmin to be more precise. You can send a handful of Pikmin to break down a wall, carry an object back to base, or fight an enemy. They'll follow their orders until they've completed them, and more Pikmin can complete a task faster. As you advance in the game and rescue your fellow explorers, you can divide your Pikmin groups further. Each of the explorers can command a section of your Pikmin army, so you can split up to complete different objectives on different places on the map. You can throw your explorers, allowing them to travel to new places. Some of the more complex puzzles involve switching between the three explorers to get your Pikmin to their goal.
Pikmin can die easily. The planet is filled with deadly predators who want to snack on Pikmin. Left to their own devices, they're quickly torn apart, and that's where your commands come in. Picking the proper Pikmin for a job allows them to use their numbers to overwhelm opponents. Pikmin 3 adds further complexity by introducing body-sensitive weak points to the enemies. Some foes are vulnerable when attacked from behind, or if you exploit their weaknesses. The boss enemies often involve managing multiple Pikmin types at once to strike the enemy's weaknesses as quickly as possible.
Managing Pikmin is important because you have a time limit. Your time is measured in days, with each trip to the planet taking one day. Once you've landed, you have limited time to complete as much as possible before the sun goes down. Once the sun goes down, nocturnal predators emerge and devour anything left on the planet. Your explorers wisely escape when given the chance, but any Pikmin left behind are permanently lost. Every day, your explorers need at least a jug of juice to stay alive and healthy. The Koppai survive on fruit, so you have to find it for them.
Pikmin 3 is a game of managing resources very quickly. The better you are at micromanaging, the more things you can get done, and each day gives you multiple objectives to complete. You may want to advance the story, replenish your Pikmin supplies, find fruit, unlock new areas to explore, or defeat a boss. Things aren't reset at the end of a day, so every time you do something, you advance a little further. You can spend some time weakening a boss and then come back the next day to defeat it. You can gather your Pikmin and knock down walls and open up shortcuts to make it easier to reach those places the next day. Time is your most vital resource. The clock keeps ticking, and while it's relatively easy to build up a backlog of fruit juice, you don't want to waste a day without something to show for it.
None of the puzzles in Pikmin 3 are particularly difficult, but they're fun to solve. Figuring out how to get your Pikmin from Point A to Point B in the most efficient way possible is a challenge. You can force your way through certain areas by throwing numerous Pikmin at an enemy until it falls, but it feels far more satisfying to do so with the minimal use of time. The game does a good job of making you want to do this with minimal loss of life. It's relatively easy to replenish a Pikmin. Killing an enemy and dragging its body to the main ship gives you two or three new Pikmin. You can also pick flowers to get new Pikmin. Despite this, you don't want to leave the poor little guys to die. They're cute and helpful, and there's a heartbreaking cut scene when you're forced to abandon a Pikmin at the end of the day.
Pikmin 3 doesn't really take advantage of the Wii U's GamePad. The game is perfectly playable using the GamePad controls, which there are quite good, but they're barely distinguishable from the GameCube controls for the earlier games. The touchpad is underutilized, which is a shame because the few features it has are pretty cool. It's great to order your units around with the screen, although it would be better if it were more naturally implemented. The Wiimote and Nunchuk controls are better in almost every way, since you can accurately point and click at enemy weak points to make battles easier. Basic movement and interactions are also much less of a hassle. The game tries to encourage you to switch between the two, but this amounts to using the Wiimote 90 percent of the time and occasionally looking down at the Wii U GamePad in your lap. It doesn't interfere with the gameplay, but it feels like a poor use of the Wii U's defining feature.
You can finish Pikmin 3's story mode in about 12 hours, depending on how long you spend exploring. In addition to the story, there are several other bonus modes. Pikmin 3 is missing the dungeon segments from Pikmin 2, but it makes up for that with the new Mission mode, an optional mode where you're given a challenge and must complete it with a pre-defined loadout of Pikmin. These missions are significantly harder than the challenges in the main game because they expect you to make better use of your resources. At the end of a mission, you're graded on how quickly and effectively you finished the task, whether it's collecting fruit or destroying enemies. There's also a competitive mode called Bingo Battle, where two players can control Alph and Pikmin 1's Captain Olimar in a race to collect items before the other player can. It's a fun, if unexceptional, multiplayer mode that adds some extra value to the game. The Purple and White Pikmin from Pikmin 2 make an appearance in these modes.
Pikmin 3 is a fantastic-looking title. It's Nintendo's first attempt at making something more complex in HD than a Mario game, but it shows. The art style is simplistic, but it has a lot of charm. The environments are bright and detailed, and everything just pops. The game does a remarkably job of taking cute and colorful things and making them look completely terrifying. If I had one complaint about the presentation, it's the use of yet another fake language in place of actual voice acting. To the game's credit, it does a slightly better job than usual with this. You hear snippets of recognizable words (usually names) amidst the gibberish, but it still feels out of place.
Pikmin 3 is a solid sequel. It improves on the mechanics of the previous games and includes a good amount of enjoyable content. It's a very easy game to pick up and play for players of any age group, and it strikes a good balance between easy to play and difficult to master. It's exactly the kind of sequel you'd expect from the Pikmin franchise. Perhaps its biggest flaw is that it isn't a system seller. Unless you're a die-hard Pikmin fan, it's tough to justify jumping onto the system if Super Mario Bros. hasn't already sold you. On the other hand, it's a good game that all Wii U owners should try.
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