Pikmin 3 Review

A spaceman came travelling

Pikmin 3 Review
2nd August, 2013 By Ian Morris
Game Info // Pikmin 3
Pikmin 3 Boxart
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Players (same console): 1 - 2
Subtitles: Full
Available On: Wii U
Genre: Strategy (Real time)

Galactic Date: 20XX. On the distant planet of Koppai, an entire population lies on the brink of extinction. Due to a rising population (and as the game's intro adds: plenty of growing appetites, too), the people of Koppai have managed to exhaust their food supply - and time's running out to find more. Sending out unmanned vessels to scout the galaxy, the craft eventually send back word of the discovery of a planet that's practically overflowing with food, and just in the nick of time. With their potential salvation in sight, the folks on Koppai put together a team of intrepid adventurers to go on the adventure on a lifetime - the handily alphabetically named Alph, Brittany, and Charlie. The only problem? They're only a few centimetres tall.

Crash landing on the recently discovered planet codenamed PNF-404, our intrepid adventurers soon find themselves in a dilly of a pickle, as they realise quite how tiny they are in comparison to everything around them. With blades of grass towering like skyscrapers around them, and even the much needed fruit being the same size (comparatively) as a small house, there's no way they'll be able to get it back home by themselves. Luckily, though, they're not alone. Native to planet PNF-404 are the Pikmin, a race of strange, plant-like creatures that grow in the ground, and appear to obey your every whim without so much as a second thought. With a veritable army of helpful followers in tow, it's up to you to take control of a team of up to 100 Pikmin, and explore their planet, as you gather as much fruit as you can, take on gigantic bosses, and try to repair your ship in order to get back home.

Pikmin 3 Screenshot

Find some fruit, and chuck your Pikmin at it, and they'll take it back to your ship for you.

Although it's perhaps closest to a strategy game in terms of gameplay, Pikmin 3 isn't exactly a strategy game in the traditional sense. The basic idea here revolves around giving orders to your Pikmin, and helping to keep them alive. Press the right trigger, and you'll blow a whistle, which calls any Pikmin within a certain radius to your side. Press A, and you can toss them at an object, whether it's a fruit, an obstacle, or an enemy, and they'll automatically do whatever they think's appropriate - either struggling to pick the fruit up or move the obstacle, or whacking the enemy with their head (their only weapon). With five types of Pikmin on offer, each having their own special abilities, it's how you use the Pikmin that will determine your success. As they're a bit on the slow side, they take a lot of looking after - and much like a computer, they'll do exactly as you tell them, whether it's good or bad.

Red Pikmin happen to be resistant to fire, as their colouring may suggest, while Blue Pikmin can survive underwater. Yellow Pikmin are resistant to electricity, and can join hands between two sections of wire to carry a current across (great for lighting abandoned caves). Winged Pikmin, meanwhile, are capable of flight, and are particularly handy for duffing up any flying enemies you come across, while Rock Pikmin, are particularly tough in battle, and won't die should they get trodden on. And being sturdy is a handy ability to have, because in the course of your adventure, you'll tend to find your Pikmin will die. A lot.

In many ways, the Pikmin are like a needy child, or a pet - they cling to your side, and rely on you for their survival as much as you rely on them for yours. And while they'll happily team up to carry some fruit back to your base, or bash a wall down, they also tend to be quite fragile. The Pikmin planet isn't the friendliest of places, and you'll come across plenty of enemies during your trip, each of whom seems to be particularly peckish for Pikmin. And they'll rely on you to keep them alive. Throw them from the wrong angle, and some enemies will simply open their mouths and gobble the Pikmin as they land - chuck a Pikmin at their back, however, and your enemy will be pretty much helpless. Other enemies on the planet have developed all sorts of ways for killing your precious Pikmin, from giant spikes that pierce them, to a frog that jumps and squashes them, and another with a built in (seemingly naturally occurring) flamethrower. Unfortunately for us, one of the things Nintendo seem to have done particularly well is to make you feel like an absolutely terrible human being whenever you lose a Pikmin. Whether it's the horrible cry they let out as they wither away, the little soul that flies up out of them when they become someone else's fodder, or the fact the game keeps a running total of how many Pikmin you've lost, it never fails to make you feel terrible.

Pikmin 3 Screenshot

The thing with the flower on top is where the Pikmin live - and it can gobble up the flower at the back to give you more.

Thankfully, there's an easy way to replace the Pikmin you've lost, as Pikmin are at least part plant. Taking the handily labelled flowers back to their mothership, the onion, and chucking them inside will create a number of new Pikmin seeds, while the bodies of your enemies can also be recycled into a new generation of Pikmin, which at least goes some way to helping you feel a little less bitter after that twat decided to take poor old Percy the Pikmin for his lunch.

But perhaps the most unusual part of Pikmin is how the game's organised into days. Each day last 15 minutes in real world time, and each follows a fairly similar pattern - call as many Pikmin out of their onion house as you like (up to the limit of 100), explore the area you've landed in as much as you can, smacking up any enemies you find while trying to figure out how to reach the more distant areas, before hurriedly rushing back to the ship before nightfall, as any Pikmin you leave out will be gobbled up by the passing enemies (and they've even made a cutscene so you can watch it happening). So long as the Pikmin are in your squad, buried in the ground, or within a certain radius of their onion, they'll be alright - but that's little sympathy when you sneeze and accidentally drop the controller, deselecting your Pikmin with a second to go. Thanks, Nintendo.

Often though, Pikmin is a game that's about experimentation, and remaining mindful of your Pikmin's abilities as you explore the planet. Thanks to the handy map that's built into the GamePad, and the ability to move the camera anywhere (and automatically pause the game) at the flick of a finger, you'll often be able to see places you can't quite reach, and it's figuring out how to get there that's the most fun. Whether you're getting your Pikmin to dig a hole through a wall, or scouting out some extra bombs, you'll often end up simply chucking your Pikmin at anything looks interesting, just in case something happens.

Pikmin 3 Screenshot

Although it may not seem it, you can chuck your Pikmin at the rock in the middle of this Snowman face, which sends it rolling down the hill, and crashing through a wall, opening up a new area.

With three characters in your team (as well as your Pikmin), you'll often find yourself having to split up into squads in order to progress, chucking two of your crew to higher ground before sending a few Pikmin with them to help on their way. The fact you have three crew members on offer also lets you split your Pikmin up by type, letting Alph, say, be your combat Pikmin commander, with a load of rock Pikmin, while Brittany looks after the more vulnerable ones. However, there's a really big problem here, and one that's an even more glaring issue when you realise it's a feature in other parts of the game - you can't play the story in co-op. Although you have three characters, although several of the puzzles require you to use those three characters independently, and although the game's multiplayer mode lets you play in split-screen, so it's certainly technically possible, you can't play the story in co-op. Quite why is likely to go down in history as one of the great unanswered questions, because it's not like Nintendo to squander such a great opportunity to make the game that much more accessible. Having an extra player with you would certainly bring the difficulty level down - and, as always, make things a whole lot more fun. But sadly, for reasons unknown, it's not meant to be.

The more you think about it, the more annoying it gets, because the co-op mode would have made Pikmin 3 that much simpler. While you can be as careful as you'd like to avoid losing any Pikmin unnecessarily, you can't always plan for what's around the next corner, with every new enemy having a different weakness you need to find in order to exploit. Wonder round the corner only to find a giant boulder rolling down it, having been chucked by an enemy at the top of the hill, and you may well do your best Indiana Jones impression, but it'll still take out half of your Pikmin (provided their not made out of rock). Going from a full 100 to 30 in the space of a second is slightly more common than we'd like, even being as cautious as we can to avoid any unnecessary deaths.

And the truth is, there's a lot of ways for Pikmin to die, at least partially because they're more than a little bit thick. Take a corner too tight, and they'll get themselves stuck on a wall, causing them to eventually give up and sit there pondering their existence rather than following nicely. Tell them to ferry some chunks of pottery to build a bridge, and they won't come back to you afterwards - they'll all go and huddle where the pieces used to be before they picked them up to build their bridge! Standing around with a blank expression on their face while a boss is stomping around behind them isn't the most helpful thing they could do, and a little tweak to their AI, just to make them that little bit more intelligent would have gone a long way.

Pikmin 3 Screenshot

Don't get too close - unless you want to lose all of your Pikmin in one go.

That said, Pikmin 3 is also a lot more forgiving than the games that came behind it. While there are still plenty of ways for you to accidentally wipe out your entire team (try accidentally chucking a Pikmin carrying a bomb when you're frantically spamming them at an enemy, only for it to explode and throw half of your Pikmin into the water), you now have the ability to go back in time, and replay any days you think have gone particularly poorly. As your Pikmin carry over from one day to the next, the total number you can keep alive will make a big difference to your progression later in the game, especially as you have to keep up the numbers of five different types - so the ability to replay levels is pretty much a God send.

For a strategy-esque game, though, it would be nice if you had more control over your Pikmin. While you have two main control schemes on offer - either the GamePad's dual analogue sticks, or the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, which lets you simply point and click where you want your Pikmin to go, there's at least an attempt at offering a variety of control schemes, but neither one feels fully fledged. On earlier games, you could control your Pikmin horde independently with the right analogue stick, forcing them to squish up tight against a wall to avoid something, or dodge out of the way quickly - but on Pikmin 3, you can't. On the GamePad, the right analogue stick simply controls the camera, while on the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, you don't even have that. All you can do is focus the camera behind you, which makes it far too easy to lose track of bosses during boss fights. And every other enemy for that matter.

But while it may certainly have its problems, Pikmin 3 is still a good game, although perhaps frustratingly, not as good as it easily could have been. New players may still find the difficulty a bit on the unforgiving side at times, although the ability to replay days should help, while the lack of split-screen co-op is a massive misstep that would have helped newer players find their footing. That said, if you're after a game that rewards experimentation and thinking, set in a world that's packed full of secrets to be discovered - or simply want something new to play on your Wii U - Pikmin 3 is still well worth a look.

Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii U

StarStarStarStarEmpty star
One small step.
  • +
    Great sense of adventure.
  • +
    Ability to replay days helps erase past mistakes
  • +
    Puzzles are much better than combat.
  • -
    Need more control over Pikmin
  • -
    No co-op mode is a huge oversight.
  • -
    That feeling of guilt when your Pikmin die.
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