Nintendo plucks out another bit of its extensive IP with Pikmin 3, a plant-themed strategy game with a fresh coat of HD visuals. It’s exactly the kind of game that the Wii U needs a whole lot more of.
Pikmin 3: On the plus side
Nintendo’s Pikmin titles have always been a slightly odd inclusion in the company’s arsenal, if only because their forte has tended more towards action games than strategy ones. I was delighted with the original Pikmin and its sequel — indeed, I could reach out and grab my Gamecube copies from where I’m writing this — but Pikmin was much more a niche title than anything Mario or Link’s ever starred in.
Pikmin 3 doesn’t radically reinvent the Pikmin formula, which is still all about landing on a strange planet, making friends with the tiny plant-like Pikmin and then using their varied skills to gather items needed for survival. In Pikmin 3’s case, that’s fruit to feed your hungry planet, and it’s something that you’ll find yourself ever more frantically seeking out as your crew chomp through their fair share each and every day. Pikmin’s strategy has always been one that rested heavily on time management, and in Pikmin 3’s case that’s the passage of time over each and every day.
Unlike the original title’s harsh take-it-or-leave-it 30 day limit, or the mixed time mode of Pikmin 2, where time would freeze when you went underground, Pikmin 3 keeps the clock ticking each and every moment of play. The upshot of this is that if you don’t get your Pikmin armies back to their Onion home every day, you’ll be greeted by the sight of them being chomped upon by the creatures of the night as you scurry back to your home base. For a game that’s as cute as Pikmin 3, this is a genuinely heart-wrenching sight.
The new Pikmin that join the classics are the heavy Rock Pikmin, who can do solid damage in combat and to specific environmental obstacles, and flying pink Pikmin who can defend against flying enemies and carry objects over obstacles. That’s mixed in with three playable and swappable characters that allow for a mostly smooth flow of task sharing. Sure, ultimately all you’re doing is actually shifting numbers around, but you’re doing so in such a cute and endearing way that you just won’t care.
Really, that’s Pikmin 3’s big selling point; it makes strategy accessible even to those who aren’t normally interested in such fare, and it does so in a way that allows new strategies to emerge organically as you play through it. It’s possible to jump back to any previous day — and you’ll need to if you fail too badly — but when you do, you’re armed with a better realisation of the task at hand, and the best way to do it. Pikmin 3’s story mode isn’t massively long, although you’re not limited in the number of days you take to uncover it.
Then there’s the local-only multiplayer, which comprises the Bingo Battle mode where you have to collect a line on a Bingo card’s “worth” of objects, and the challenge mode, which offers up specific challenges to co-operatively overcome for higher and higher scores. Both work exceptionally well, although Pikmin’s generally gentle style lends itself slightly more to the co-operative challenges unless you’ve got players of fairly identical skill playing Bingo Battle.
Pikmin 3: On the minus side
Pikmin 3 makes use of the Wii U’s gamepad for an in-game map and, if you like, as the main game controller. It’s problematic, however, as using a WiiMote to make precise pointing motions is considerably smoother than trying to slide across with the Wii U Gamepad’s thumb stick. I’ve lost a serious number of Pikmin to enemy creatures simply because I couldn’t click them fast enough, or precisely enough while using the Gamepad as primary controller.
The multiplayer aspects work well, but they’re for local multiplayer only. I don’t have a massive problem with that, given that Pikmin’s generally gentle style lends itself well to genuinely social play, but I can see how in this day and age that’s still a strike against the title.
Then there’s the issue that Nintendo does mine its existing IP, mostly refiniing rather than re-inventing each time they go. That’s absolutely true of Pikmin 3, if you’ve played the previous two games.
But there’s the thing; there’s only been two previous games, unlike the nearly countless Mario and Zelda titles. The first two did get Wii U “New Play Control” re-releases, but this isn’t an IP that Nintendo’s exploited to any great extent, so it’s feasible that you might be coming to Pikmin 3 completely fresh. That’s fine if you are, but if you’re not it’ll all feel rather familar, even through its shiny HD visuals.
Pikmin 3: Pricing
A disc copy of Pikmin 3 will cost around $79.95 from Australian games retailers. The pricing for the download version is identical, but at the time of writing Nintendo was running a promotion where they’ll sell the upcoming Wonderful 101 game to you for a 30 per cent discount if you buy the download version. The downside to that (as with all eShop downloads) is that there’s no account portability, so if your Wii U died on you, the entire game ownership goes down the gurgler.
Pikmin 3: Alex’s verdict
I’m a long-term Pikmin addict, and while I can’t deny that at a certain level, Pikmin 3 really is just more of the same, it’s delivered so particularly well that I find I can’t stop playing it. I’ve argued the same point about Mario games previously; that while they’re perhaps not the most innovative of game series, if they’re well realised, isn’t that enough? With Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles quite imminent, the Wii U is very solidly in need of an expanded catalogue of quality titles, and Pikmin 3 is exactly what it needs — and fast.