I’m going to start this review with a bit of a disclosure: I’ve never finished a Pikmin game before. The original Pikmin frustrated me with its time limits, and I barely played Pikmin 2. Nevertheless, when I finally got a Wii U over the holidays, the one game I had to have (aside from Super Mario 3D World) was Pikmin 3. Why? Because when I played Animal Crossing: New Leaf, I got the Pikmin furniture, and it made me want to play! Yes, that’s really the only reason. It was an impulse buy. And while Pikmin 3 still includes some frustrations in the form of time limits and awkward controls, I’m happy to report that I have now actually finished a Pikmin game, and for the most part, I enjoyed it.
If you’ve played a Pikmin game before, you pretty much know what to expect from Pikmin 3. There will be a space ship and a crash landing and you will have to search for space ship parts while getting to know and utilize a variety of plantlike creatures called Pikmin. This time around, three explorers from the planet Koppai journey to a planet called PNF-404 in search of cultivable food to bring back home to their starving planet. Upon arriving in the surrounding space of PNF-404, the ship predictably crashes, splitting apart and sending Alph, Brittany and Charlie in separate directions. It’s up to the player to reunite the explorers, repair their ship and collect plenty of fruit to bring back to Koppai. It is a task that is only possible thanks to the Pikmin that are native to this planet.
PNF-404 is a planet filled with random objects and natural roadblocks that seem to exist solely for the purpose of getting in the explorers’ way, but with the help of Pikmin, no obstacle is insurmountable. Like in earlier games, the various Pikmin are introduced to the player one at a time, and while they all share some basic abilities, like digging holes, fighting other creatures, and breaking down dirt walls, they each also have unique abilities depending on what type of Pikmin they are. Red Pikmin are the strongest fighters and are resistant to fire; blue Pikmin can swim; and yellow Pikmin can be thrown the farthest (or highest), are resistant to electricity and are great diggers. There are also two new Pikmin in Pikmin 3. Winged Pikmin can fly, and Rock Pikmin can break hard materials like glass, and do heavy damage when thrown. White and Purple Pikmin also return in Pikmin 3, but only in Mission Mode, not in the main campaign.
While a single Pikmin is weak and vulnerable, a group of Pikmin can accomplish amazing feats like… um… pushing boxes to make shortcut ramps? And… carrying large objects like grapes? Okay, so they aren’t quite amazing feats, but they are impressive considering how small the Pikmin are. PNF-404 is a world full of dangers to the Pikmin, like Bulborbs and Bulbears, which consider the Pikmin to be a perfect choice for a tasty snack. But with enough Pikmin working together, these hostile creatures can be defeated.
Even gigantic boss monsters will fall to an army of Pikmin, like the Quaggled Mireclops, which looks like a big plot of earth ripped out of the ground with hooved legs and a massive tongue that it uses to swallow up Pikmin; or the Shaggy Long Legs, a four legged monstrosity with fluffy hair on its joints that loves to crush Pikmin underfoot. These boss encounters really challenge the player to take advantage of the various strengths and weaknesses of the Pikmin, and the only thing that really gets in the way of victory is the control and the time limits.
Nightfall, Curtain Call
The original Pikmin had a fairly strict overall time limit. The player was given 30 days to collect as many of 30 space ship parts as possible before Captain Olimar’s life support systems ran out, and the ending of the game depended on how many parts were collected. This of course put a lot of pressure on the player to work as quickly as possible. Pikmin 2 abandoned the time limit entirely, and the result was a much easier—if less stressful—game. In Pikmin 3, the overall time limit is back, though it is not nearly as strict as in the original Pikmin.
This time around, the game only ends if the explorers run out of juice. Juice is obtained by using Pikmin to collect fruit on PNF-404. Each piece of fruit can produce as many as 3 canisters of juice, and with 66 pieces of fruit in the game, even an unskilled player should have no problem earning enough juice to avoid a game over. In my case, by the time I got to the last area for the final challenge, I had collected all of the 66 fruit in the game and had 64 canisters of juice to spare. With only one canister of juice being consumed per day by the explorers (and the seeds being saved to return to Koppai), I found the overall time limit in Pikmin 3 to be inconsequential.
The day to day time limit was another matter entirely. Daylight on PNF-404 lasts only 13 minutes, and when night falls, the world’s nocturnal and most dangerous creatures immediately begin to hunt for delicious Pikmin. Any Pikmin that have been separated from Alph, Brittany and Charlie that are not safely near the spaceship are abandoned and devoured seconds after the sun sets. This can become frustrating in several ways.
The first annoyance is that basic enemies that have been defeated by the Pikmin will disappear overnight. Normally the player would want to command the Pikmin to carry the enemies back to the Onion—the Pikmin’s nest—so that the fallen creature can be absorbed by the Onion which in turn would produce seeds to grow more Pikmin. But if the Pikmin don’t make it back on time, not only is the prize lost, but the Pikmin get eaten as well. Fortunately, defeated bosses and fruit do remain on the spot where they were left overnight for retrieval the following day, but I see no reason why the developers could not have included the same convenience for basic enemies. It’s also incredibly annoying when your prize is inches away from the base and you have to come back the next day to retrieve it instead of exploring another area.
There are also certain circumstances in the game where Pikmin that were assigned to carry something back to base will then return to the spot where they had found the object. In these cases, it’s easy to overlook them when the sun goes down, and unnecessarily lose a handful of Pikmin.
Then of course there are those inevitable occasions where you are simply really busy doing something when time starts to run out. Maybe you’ll be trying to solve a puzzle or attempting to collect a hard to reach piece of fruit or maybe you’ll be in the middle of a boss encounter when time starts to run out. In those situations, the time limit goes from being a mild annoyance to an absolutely infuriating interruption. Bosses do remain damaged overnight, but trying to organize your Pikmin while in the midst of the chaos of battle so that they are not abandoned is far more difficult than it should be, mainly due to the awkward way the game controls.
No matter which control scheme you choose to use, controlling Pikmin 3 can be a confusing mess. When I first started playing, I used the Wii U Gamepad, and it wasn’t long before I came to terms with why people don’t recommend playing on it. The precise aiming that the game requires in order to tackle an airborne enemy or even to merely take down an unmoving flower is simply not viable on the gamepad. With some effort you can accomplish your goals, but it is never intuitive and it is frequently counterproductive.
Needless to say, I switched over to the Wiimote and Nunchuck. After some acclimating I found that to be a much better control scheme, though it still had its issues. Aiming using the pointer and infrared bar is still not precise due to a lack of calibration options, but it’s still a heck of a lot better than using the Gamepad.
The problem is that the game uses waggle controls in one of the worst ways I’ve ever encountered. Shaking the Nunchuck is used to dismiss all of the Pikmin that are following an explorer while simultaneously organizing them into groups based on their type. This would be useful, except shaking the Nunchuck is also the method of getting all of the Pikmin to charge at a target while locked on. So sometimes when you try to attack an enemy, you accidentally release all of the Pikmin and have to gather them up. This of course leads to some dire consequences, especially when facing aggressive enemies and bosses. It doesn’t help that targeting enemies in and of itself is a hassle.
But the worst thing that happened to me was at the very end of a day. I had carefully gathered up all of my Pikmin and planned on waiting the last second or two for the sun to set. I put the controller down, and of course, the system interpreted that as a waggle. The Pikmin formed their ranks, time ran out before I could order them to follow me again, and I lost the entire army to the sunset and ended up replaying that entire day.
It may sound funny, but stuff like that happened all the time while I was playing Pikmin 3. The controls constantly fought against me. I doubt I’m the only one that has experienced accidentally losing an army to the sunset. But while we’re laughing at my expense, I also accidentally threw a Pikmin that was carrying a bomb that ended up detonating and wiping out my entire army… thrice. I ended up replaying those days too.
The one really good thing about the controls is that using the Gamepad you can move around the minimap and center on a location to issue a move order to your explorer and his or her Pikmin. While they are moving, you can switch to one of your other explorers, and multitasking becomes possible. Of course, juggling three explorers isn’t easy, especially if one of them encounters an enemy while you are focused on another. The best part is you can still use this Gamepad feature even while using a Wiimote and Nunchuck as your primary control method. Still, that is only one notable positive point to an otherwise unfortunate control scheme.
Wonderful Wild World
Despite my issues with time limits and controls, I still enjoyed Pikmin 3 a great deal. Though it might seem like there is little more to the game than watching Pikmin move objects from A to B, there is actually a surprising variety of things to do. You will encounter electric fences and broken power wires that the Yellow Pikmin will have to deal with; you will solve physics puzzles based on weight and light sources; you will fight a large variety of new enemies and a couple of huge new bosses; and you will make bridges out of fragments to cross rivers and valleys (and swear at the top of your lungs when you fail to construct a bridge before nightfall).
And while enjoying everything the game has to offer, it’s easy to appreciate the visuals present throughout the game, especially while exploring PNF-404. The game makes use of the Wii U’s improved horsepower to make Pikmin 3 the best looking game in the series by far. The most obvious improvement is in the textures seen throughout the game, but the world as a whole is bright, colorful and a delight to look at.
It’s also fun to listen to. From the Pikmin themselves to the many other inhabitants of the planet, the aural presentation in Pikmin 3 is great. If you are playing on a surround sound system it is often the audio queues that tell you where something is happening before you notice anything on screen or on the Gamepad map, and it’s usually possible to know exactly what’s around the corner based on the noises—once you have heard them a few times, anyway.
But most importantly, the Pikmin formula still works, and is a rare example of a successful real time strategy game on a console. Despite a lackluster story, for those that appreciate the charm and creativity of the game in addition to the gameplay, there’s no reason not to give Pikmin 3 a try.
It’s not the longest game in the world—the main campaign can be completed in 10-15 hours the first time through (or closer to 20 for completionists)—but there are a couple of additional modes to extend playtime. In Mission Mode, the player is given a time limit to either collect fruit, defeat enemies or battle bosses. And Bingo Battle can be played 1v1 or 2v2, with players or teams competing to collect objects in order to get a Bingo. And if you really love the game, you can always play through the game again while attempting to collect everything in fewer days and reducing the number of Pikmin causalities. The game lets you replay earlier days if you want to try to do a better job of them and start the game from a specific point in the campaign.
In my case, I had my fill by the time I reached the end of the campaign, and was honestly glad it wasn’t any longer. Pikmin 3 is a fun game to be sure, and I recommend it to any Wii U owners interested in the franchise or the genre, but it’s also a game that can overstay its welcome, especially considering the time limits and control issues. Still, the overwhelming charm of the franchise and the successfully proven formula come together to make a worthy sequel that I am glad I played.
Ari completed Pikmin 3 with 17 hours on his save file, though he spent closer to 24 hours on the game when you include replayed days. His copy of the game was purchased at retail.