Wii U review: Pikmin 3

After one console generation of absence, the Pikmin series returns with its third entry. Following closely in the footsteps of its two predecessors, Pikmin 3’s gameplay mechanics, squad management, and adventurous alien designs are all alive and well, with a few tweaks here and there to help define this as something separate from the other Pikmin games. This time around, players will be in control of three captains, all of whom hail from the planet Koppai, and distant world suffering from starvation. After exhausting their supply of search probes, the people of Koppai have learned that planet PNF-404, the same planet visited by Olimar and Louie, is host to many large fruits that are rich in a vitamin essential to the people of Koppai’s diet.

Much like in the original Pikmin, the crew’s landing on planet PNF-404 is not particularly smooth. While their ship the S.S. Drake is still intact, the crew must locate an item known as the Cosmic Drive Key in order to make the lightspeed jump home once their work is completed. With the three captains separated, they must rely on the Pikmin who curiosly stumble across them, as well as the notes they find left by Captain Olimar detailing the various creatures of the planet and abilities of the Pikmin.

The first Pikmin has long been considered a more challenging entry than Pikmin 2, due to the thirty day time limit. Pikmin 3 sees a return of a greater challenge factor in the form of the juice collected from fruits. Some fruits, like oranges and watermelons, are large and can fill more than one bottle, beefing up the stock the crew has. Smaller fruits like grapes require multiple picks to fill just one bottle. The effort put into retrieving fruit and the amount of juice rewarded plays out as a bit of a gamble, though boss fights reward some of the largest fruits in game. At the end of each day, the crew will consume a single bottle of juice, so there is a constant need to have juice stocked aboard the Drake. That said, the more juice that is stocked, the more freedom in exploration the game allots you.

Also of notable challenge are the boss encounters, which are impressive not only in scope, but also the specific strategies required to fell beasts like the centipede-lobster hybrid Armored Mawdad or behemoth living plant known as the Quaggled Mireclops. These are some of the toughest boss fights the series has ever delivered, and learning the patterns early on is the key to success. Fights from the latter half of the game can take up the better portion of a day if you enter the arena ill-prepared. As for the rest of the mutant creatures native to PNF-404, there are plenty of familiar foes, from classic Bulborbs to Fiery Blowhogs and Swooping Snitchbugs. The newer enemies are fewer in number, but fit in with the others better than the likes of mechanical and elemental variants encountered in Pikmin 2. The spider-like Arachnodes spin webs that Winged Pikmin can get caught in, the aquatic Sputtlefish expunges ink lethal to Blue Pikmin, and the Bearded Amprat carries an electric charge that will zap any Pikmin type except for Yellow ones.

With regards to the Pikmin themselves, the three primary colors remain almost entirely unaltered – Red are resistant to fire and are the most aggressive of fighters, Blue can breathe underwater, and Yellow are capable of being tossed higher into the air as well as allow electricity to pass through their body without being harmed. The new Rock Pikmin are effectively stand-ins for the Purple Pikmin introduced in Pikmin 2. They are the bruisers, as their heavy rock bodies can both stun enemies and shatter crystal barriers. They are also immune to being trampled by any foe, and will simply be reburied if they take a heavy beating. However, they are still susceptible to fire, water, electricity, and being swallowed up by Bulborbs. The pink Winged Pikmin are arguably more useful and interesting, and act as the big game-changer for Pikmin 3. Winged Pikmin are not particularly strong fighters due to their small frames, but they can fly over water and carry items back to the ship or Onion without having to worry about most ground-based enemies or obstacles. Whereas every other type of Pikmin would need a continuous path in order to ferry their finds back to the landing site, Winged Pikmin can hoist fallen foes or seed pellets into the air and take the shortest path possible, over a river or what have you.

Friendly A.I. has been improved, as any Pikmin trailing behind the captains will squeeze together in as tight a line as possible, and are generally quite smart about ducking around corners or inclines. Every once in a while you will discover a lone Pikmin has gotten itself stuck somewhere, but thanks to the use of the gamepad as a mini-map, pausing the action and pinpointing their location is a cinch. Even more convenient is the ability to split up your troops between the three captains, and then instruct them to automatically head to three different locations. This saves a great deal of time in completing puzzles and retrieving Pikmin from the ship/Onion once their most recent task has been completed. When building bridges, Pikmin will return to the location where they procured the construction pieces, meaning that you will never have to travel too far in order to round them back up.

Visually, Pikmin 3 is an incredible feat. As the three captains and their loyal Pikmin are miniscule against the backdrop of a wild and untamed world, there is a need for plenty of detail in the plantlife, weather, and environment as a whole, all of which Nintendo delivers on (and then some). The puzzles range from quick to decipher to a few real head-scratchers. Puzzles late in the game add a degree of intensity, due to impending foes and multiple environmental hazards. The soundtrack performs a number of throwbacks to the previous titles, while adding its own subtle flavor. The sounds heard are steadily balanced between soft music and ambience of the wildlife, crunching of snow, flowing creeks, and so on.

The different sections of the world the three captains and their Pikmin troops will explore are not significantly larger than those found in the previous two entries, but Pikmin 3 does well to manage space with open areas to square off against larger foes and intelligent camera angles when tackling some of the game’s more thought-provoking puzzles. Occasionally, the camera will shift to a cinematic angle, going just a small step further to immerse players in this wondrous and bizarre alien world.

Mission mode is similar to Pikmin 2’s multiplayer mode, albeit trimmed down to a single, time-sensitive scenario. The series of floors in the Pikmin 2 caves have been swapped out in favor of a single area with a limited number of Pikmin at your disposal. About half of the challenges focus on gathering treasure, the rest emphasize battles against enemies and spawning new Pikmin. There is also a time-trial boss mode, where you can face off once more against the game’s major bosses. Each new boss time-trial challenge is unlocked once that respective boss is defeated in the main game, so there is no need to wait until the post-game to attempt a better time or higher retention of your Pikmin troops. Mission mode is also the only portion of Pikmin 3 where you have any access to the White or Purple Pikmin from the second game, though they only add so much, as nearly all puzzles and enemies are designed with the other five Pikmin types in mind. Another multiplayer mode, named Battle Bingo, pits players against each other in a race to gather specific fruit and make a straight line vertical, diagonal, or horizontal across a board in order to win – the design of which is fast-paced, simple, and fun.

Pikmin 3 misses the mark of perfection by a slight margin, due in large part to the fact that its successes are primarily a result of everything its predecessors got right the first two times around. Still, it’s a great follow-up, and a title that every Wii U owner should have in their library. The combination of adventure and squad-based strategy elements culminate in a beautiful, albeit strange experience that is truly one-of-a-kind. It may have been a long time coming, but the wait for Pikmin 3 was well worth it.

My rating: 9 (out of 10)

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