Pikmin 3 starts off with a quick narrative to set the…well, setting of the story. After that, the game gives you a few control pointers and then leaves you to your own devices with the occasional helpful hint. Since this is my first Pikmin game, it made for an interesting experience because I had to teach myself how to properly control and manage the Pikmin.
You play as three space explorers – Captain Charlie, Alph the Engineer and Brittany the Botanist – as they search for food on the planet PNF-404 to save their homeworld Koppai. Unfortunately, the ship crash lands and the crew gets scattered. Charlie befriends some Yellow Pikmin but is quickly swallowed whole by a mysterious enemy. Players then control Alph and later Brittany once they reunite. The two explorers must collect fruits to survive while they search for their missing captain and locate a missing ship piece in order to leave planet PNF-404. There are also some alarming exploration notes from Captain Olimar (the protagonist of Pikmin 1 and 2) scattered around the world. I wonder what they could mean…
Pikmin 3 has a multitude of paths that one could explore over the course of the game. The best part is that is feels like actual exploration because the game doesn’t hold your hand. There is no red arrow. There is no support giving advice or barking orders. It’s just your characters and your Pikmin. You can choose to spend your days however you want, as long as there’s enough juice for the characters to live off of. However, the game does limit how long you can wander around from day to day – your Pikmin must either be in a squad with one of the explorers or in the vicinity of the Onion, the cute little ship that houses the cute little guys (or girls!), by nightfall or else they get left behind and eaten by nocturnal predators.
Another cool game mechanic allows you to access new areas in previously visited locations by acquiring new types of Pikmin, which adds tremendously to both its longevity and replayability. For example, the second locale “Garden of Hope” has an electric fence blocking off an extra path. However, once you gain the Yellow Pikmin, you can go back and unlock that area. Keep in mind that once you choose a location to visit, you cannot leave until the day is over, so choose wisely. Also, if you make a mistake and want to redo a section, you must restart the entire day at the very least. While a bit annoying, it serves as a punishment for errors and forces you to assess the problem you had and fix it the next time around.
Each of the six boss fights are diverse, uniquely designed and brutal. Remember back when bosses required near inhuman skill and constant trial and error in order to win? That’s what it feels like every boss battle. My palms sweat and my heart races as I walk the razor thin line between victory. Anger can’t describe the feeling when I lose but when I finally defeat the boss, it feels phenomenal and truly rewarding. Also, bosses retain any inflicted damage, meaning that these fights can go on for (Pikmin) days, depending on when you started them.
The first thing you may notice while playing is the incredible graphical improvements. Each area features lovely, detailed graphics that burst with vibrancy and colors; from the fruit and plants to the water to even the glass texture of the armor plating covering the first boss. Another great edition is the inclusion of rain, which can happen randomly. The rain naturally looks great and I love the change in music when it does.
At first I started the game using just the GamePad, which was a great way to introduce me to its features. The GamePad allows you to view the map (and pause the game) which is important for finding fruit and planning out your route. There’s this other really nifty feature called “Go Here” that let’s you automatically send a squad to a certain area on the map. This ends up being an incredibly efficient way to multitask, especially on puzzles that require more than one squadron. As a side note, you can play the game using the GamePad as the main screen, which works surprisingly well and is handy if you want to leave the room and play or if someone needs the TV. The controls are still the same in this case.
It’s completely possible to use just the GamePad for the game, since the left analog stick is more than adequate enough to aim both the Pikmin and the whistle. The best combination, however, is the Wii Remote and Nunchuk attachment along with the GamePad. The Wii Remote+Nunchuk is the dream team combination for the controls, as it’s far more accurate and seamless to use, while allowing you to take advantage of the GamePad’s new features.
Mission Mode is a timed challenge mode with missions lasting 7-10 minutes each. They are mainly used to help fine-tune your skills in Pikmin 3 and support both single player and co-op. There are three types of sub-modes to take on: Gather the Fruit Mode, Battle Enemies and Defeat Bosses.
In Gather the Fruit each piece of fruit you collect is worth a certain amount of points called Pokos. When you defeat enemies, it adds more Pokos to your score and causes more fruit to appear in the area. At the end of the mission, the number of Pokos you gathered will be tallied and if high enough, you’ll receive either a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum medal.
The objective of Battle Enemies is to collect enemies’ spirits for points (how morbid). Each enemy is worth a certain amount of spirits and when time is up, all the spirits you collected will be tallied up for your final score. Defeat Bosses pits you against the bosses of the game with a certain amount of Pikmin. Scores are based off the damage inflicted and amount of Pikmin left. For an extra challenge you can set a time limit on the fight as well. If you are completing a boss rush, the number of Pikmin in your possession will carry over from fight to fight.
Bingo Mode is a splitscreen player vs player mode that pits you against another player. You can choose from a 1 vs 1 match or a 2 vs 2, the difference being how many characters you control at once. Each player gets a 4×4 bingo card with random fruits and enemies displayed on it. Like bingo, you have to collect four objects in a row in order to win.
I really enjoyed Mission Mode and all of its fun and addicting challenges (Gather the Fruit was my favorite since it was the most relaxing). Co-op was pretty fun too and allowed me to net a higher score with my younger brother, once we learn how to cooperate properly. However, the stand-out for me was Bingo Mode. I played it with my brother and we really enjoy the fun and competitive battles. Since your opponent is beside you, you can make up additional guidelines to suit your style of play. For instance, me and my brother established a rule that barred us from having our Pikmin attack each other. If any Pikmin strayed, one of us would warn the other and the latter would collect the little one(s). I felt like a kid again, working together and against each other, trash talking and having a good time with my sibling.
Pikmin 3 has a lot of positives. The bosses are challenging and unique, the graphics are beautiful, there’s a ton of fruits to collect and paths to discover and even the music is soothing and pleasant. Of course the coup de grace is the gameplay, which feels polished, smooth and nearly perfect in execution. The controls are intuitive in the beginning but takes time to truly master and all the types of Pikmin, including the new Rock and Flying ones, fit together very well. The extra modes are a fun and welcome change of pace, allowing you to enjoy the game in a more relaxed setting.
One of the negatives of this game is how easily the Pikmin scatter, especially during boss battles. This means that if you don’t carefully keep an eye out for every single one of them, you could stand to lose a good amount of the little lemmings. This extends to the field as well and it’s a pain to have to look for randomly lost Pikmin before nightfall.
Another issue that goes hand and hand with the previous is how slowly newly formed Pikmin run. This is especially visible in the first boss fight, since it’s difficult to keep them out of danger when they can’t even keep up with you. Luckily, Pikmin naturally grow stronger and their “level” is indicated by the little flower on their heads. If it’s in full bloom, the Pikmin will be stronger and capable of keeping pace with the player character. But if you lose the fully evolved ones, you’ll have to retrain a whole new batch, which means more Pikmin lagging behind.
Overall, this is an excellent game that shows its incredible polish at every turn. The few problems I noted had little impact on my enjoyment and actually pushed me to think creatively around them. Pikmin 3 is accessible to new players but has many improvements that should appeal to old fans as well. This is definitely a game that you’ll want in your collection.