Mystery and wonder come together in this long awaited sequel. Read our full review of the Japanese version of Pikmin 3.
When the Nintendo GameCube first came onto the scene in Europe, I wasn't paying as close attention to the industry as I am today. While I enjoyed a late launch with enjoyable titles like Luigi's Mansion and Super Monkey Ball, I was already looking for the next big thing. In June 2002, I got into something that would hold great significance for the years to come: strategy games. Pikmin marked the start of expanding my interests in games, and who better to do it than those adorable little critters. While I have a stronger recollection of its sequel, Pikmin 2, both games are certainly near and dear to my heart. Now nine years after the last entry, we head back into the unknown and meet some new friends along the way.
The main focus of this new entry in the Pikmin series is on three new characters that come from a planet called Koppai. The explorers Alph, Brittany, and Charlie are trying to find food for their planet, which is at the brink of extinction. Due to a growing population and some poor planning, they decide to send unmanned scout vehicles into space and hope for the best. While most of the planets come out negative, they find one that could help them out. The planet, which they dub PNF-404, is, unknown to them, home to the Pikmin, and they set off on a journey to the furthest reaches of space. After a long voyage, their ship crashes to the newly discovered planet and the three are ultimately split up.
The game then opens with Charlie, who ends up in a snow-filled environment and tries to make contact with the others. With no luck, the trusty captain decides to look around and stumbles on a nearby horde of Yellow Pikmin. We get introduced to some of the mechanics, like removing obstacles and attacking enemies, but he is soon attacked by a bigger unknown creature and his opening sequence ends. After all that, we move on to Alph, who lands in a much more tropical area than his colleague. He comes across Red Pikmin and together they build a bridge to get onto the right path. After some more tutorials and the destruction of some obstacles, Alph finds the spaceship (known as the S.S. Drake) and tries to contact Brittany. She seems to be in trouble and Alph's first task is to bring her to safety.
During this first regular mission, Alph comes across the Rock Pikmin, who are extremely helpful for breaking obstacles along the way. These and the Winged Pikmin are new to the series and take the place of some removed Pikmin types from the previous game. You will also come across a lot of crystals, in which some needed items are buried. These gameplay introductions seem friendlier than the earlier tutorials and help to engage the player. With the help of the Rock Pikmin, you are able to save Brittany and start working on bigger projects. The first one is to collect some fruit, which is scattered everywhere across the landscape and needs to be collected. The reason why is that the fruit juices are needed to stay alive to push forward with your mission. Next to fruits, you also need to continue expand your Pikmin population, which is achieved by bringing enemies and colored pallets back to base. More Pikmin will simply help to accomplish more tasks in a day.
Completing many tasks in a day is important. Every day in Pikmin 3 is roughly 20 minutes long from start to end. You can't just do whatever you like at any given moment like in Pikmin 2. With no time to spare and such heavy focus on survival, you would think that there is almost no room for error in Pikmin 3. This isn't exactly the case, as you can redo days at any given moment and start from the point where you think it went all downhill. This gives the space to experiment here and there, which made Pikmin 2 such a more enjoyable venture than the first. These elements make Pikmin 3 a blend of the first two games, which makes it fresh. While time is a big part of the title, there is naturally plenty of exploring to do on the world of PNF-404.
Walking about with three captains and 100 Pikmin may seem a bit unusual, but it is another part of what makes the experience special. While Pikmin 2 introduced the use of two characters, Pikmin 3 has refined the use of multiple characters in some interesting ways. By splitting up tasks between players, it creates the feeling of cooking a complex meal. Solving different challenges and puzzles in an area and letting the Pikmin perform various tasks at once tests your reflexes and keeps you on your toes throughout the game. Pikmin 3 eases into this complexity by first letting you throw captains and Pikmin to higher places and make them complete bridges or break up walls. The other group can then raise more creatures and prep them for the next battle. The Pikmin can be still a bit unresponsive at times or get stuck in the environment, but the little moments of panic do keep you on your toes. This game features some fun, giant bosses and they are always waiting in the corners of the most devious places. The bosses are tricky, but the good thing is that the damage done carries through to the next day.
While it seems that you are mostly alone with the big task that lies ahead of you, that isn't exactly true. You have handy companion: the Wii U GamePad. The device is known as the KopPad in the game and is used to display various important details. You can pause the action at any time and look on the map to find the correct passage toward your goals. Next to this, there are also various data entries scattered in the world, left by our former friend Captain Olimar. He gives you details on using the Pikmin, how to successfully beat opponents, and how to use the game's slew of mechanics. There is also relevant information on the current status of the Pikmin and the fruits, which makes organizing a snap. Talking about snaps, the last option lets you go in the perspective of the captain and allows you to take screenshots, which you can then post to Miiverse.
You can also use the Wii U GamePad to control the game and for off-TV play. Down on the D-Pad is then used to bring up the KopPad. It is not the ideal way for me to play the game, as I enjoy playing the game with a Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuck. The GamePad and Wii U Pro Controller control similarly to the GameCube versions, where you will have to stop to throw the Pikmin, making management a bit more chaotic. It must be said, though, that you have better control over the camera with these options, which will be attractive to some. You can also use the regular Wii Remote (with a Nunchuk) and play the game how it was in the New Play Control versions of Pikmin. This certainly works, but it doesn't have the reach of the Wii Remote Plus. With the upgraded controller, you can point with much more accuracy and don't have to worry about not pointing at the sensor bar. The point-and-click controls also simply make the experience more enjoyable.
The regular story mode will take you roughly 10 hours to complete, but you still have plenty of food to collect and puzzles to solve. It took me about 18 hours to see everything the game has to offer, and this includes the couple of times that I had to replay a level. This isn't where the game ends, really, because there are still some fun activities left. First off, there are two mission modes called Gather the Fruit and Battle Enemies. In Gather the Fruit, you will have to collect as much fruit and enemies as humanly possible. These will be converted into currency that will decide the score. With Battle Enemies, you will have to defeat a whole lot of them and these will translate into spirit points. Every enemy type has its own amount of points and you have to figure them out as you go along. Both options can be played alone or with a buddy in co-op, and the results can be sent off to on-line leaderboards. While there are only five of each mission type, they are fun to play again and again and it is cool to see how your skills improve over time.
Just like Pikmin 2 before it, the game features local multiplayer, which lets two players duke it out against one another. In this dedicated option called Bingo Battle, players will take control of their own squad of Pikmin and can perform tasks with one or two captains. One side will have the option of Alph and Brittany, while the other side has to depend on Captain Olimar and Louie. The mode features 12 different stages to choose from and can be played with any control option you like. In Bingo Battle, you will have to fill up a 4x4 card, with the squares featuring various enemies and fruits. Your goal is collect a row of them and this can be done horizontally, diagonally, or vertically. You can also win the game by wiping the opponents entire squad away, which can be done with the help of cherries. Cherries will grant you the ability to shoot some nasty effects at your opponent, which is a lot of fun.
The game is well presented with a beautiful style to boot, but there are a few niggles here and there that make me grumpy. Some of the ground textures are not as sharp as I would have liked, and that is a bit of bummer. A few other smaller objects suffer with the same issue, but the ground texture problems are more frequent. Otherwise, the game is quite breathtaking with nice looking environments and the character designs are as strong as ever. The soundtrack and small audio touches also add to this experience and will make you smile inside.
Pikmin 3 is absolutely the sequel that everybody has been waiting for and is well worth exploring, whether you are a veteran or newcomer to the series. The gameplay mechanics have been greatly improved and the great ideas of the previous games have been married with new elements that keep you on your toes. Pikmin are still often unresponsive and behave somewhat unpredictably and there is some texture work that could have been improved, but the overall experience stands strong and mighty. And again, the best moments were with a Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuk. It must be said that playing the game any other way didn't have the same impact or smoothness in the micro-management. If you are Wii U owner really in search of the next big thing, then you have found it.