I’ve finally gotten a chance to sit down and really dig into Pikmin 3, and it’s every bit of fun I hoped it would be. It’s the perfect evolution of the series, harkening back to the first game mixed with more of the approachability of the second. At first, I thought I’d be hesitant to embrace the new trio of explorers after coming to associate the game with Captain Olimar for so long. After getting to know Alph, Brittany, and Captain Charlie, I’m quickly changing my tune. Nintendo even did a brilliant bit of fan service by incorporating Captain Olimar in a clever way, but I won’t spoil how.
Graphically, Pikmin 3 pushes the power of Wii U in subtle ways. The sense of scale is the first thing that struck me. Everyday items like cans, pieces of fruit, and small streams of water appear gigantic from the perspective of Alph and his companions. Gigantic, not to mention vivid and glorious. The fidelity is incredible. The original GameCube Pikmin impressed with its realistic renderings of the natural environment, and this Wii U iteration is maintaining that tradition of “wow”. Several enemy types sprinkled throughout the game are more fantastical in appearance, allowing Pikmin 3 to spread its wings and show off a bit. If you ever wondered if a game could make looking at a piece of fruit captivating, the short answer is to play Pikmin 3 and find out (psst, the answer is yes).
Graphics are nothing without solid gameplay, of course, but luckily it’s a category that Pikmin 3 excels at. The traditional squad and strategy elements of the first two games have been polished nearly to perfection this time out, though there are a few kinks. While there is the option to use the Pro Controller and the Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination, it’s clear that the game intends for you to use the GamePad as your primary means of input. I’ll preface this by saying the GamePad and Pro Controller are not broken. It’s genuinely fun using the dual-analogue stick setup, and the GamePad’s touch screen is excellent for inputting orders, communicating with teammates, and handling all sorts of messages and pieces of data. It’s also nice seeing the members of Captain Charlie’s team using their KopPads, which are basically colorful GamePads!
Where things slightly start to fall apart is aiming the Pikmin for battle. Character movement and the targeting line for the Pikmin are both simultaneously handled by the left analogue stick. If it sounds odd to be handling both actions at once, it is, at times. Meandering about the map gathering fruit and resources isn’t bad, but in the heat of battle, it can be cumbersome to swing the targeting line where you want to without moving unintentionally. The Wii Remote/Nunchuk combination is the obvious alternative, and it’s a good one. The setup, as demonstrated by the Wii version of both Pikmin games, is a natural fit for the series. Unfortunately, it comes with the tradeoff of all the benefits (aside from control) that the GamePad offers. Regardless, Pikmin 3 controls solid 90% of the time no matter what setup you prefer, just be prepared for a little bit of a learning curve with the GamePad.
The crew’s plight, stranded on an alien planet and harvesting indigenous food to take back home, isn’t all that unfamiliar from previous Pikmin games, but it does nothing to hamper the experience. In fact, I’ve found the story and cutscenes in Pikmin 3 incredibly charming and well done up to this point in my play through. Between the graphics and story, I keep getting the sensation I’m playing an interactive Pixar movie. Nintendo’s reputation for storytelling is often downplayed, but there are times that they hit it out of the park, and Pikmin 3 is one of them.
Above all else, Pikmin 3 plays like a game from the past. Many modern games have made strides in blurring the line between reality and videogame, particularly when it comes to cinematics. A title like Assassin’s Creed is a good examples of this, and though certainly fun, can feel slightly pretentious. What I appreciate about Pikmin 3 is that it’s not afraid to have fun. The game guides where it needs to, but also leaves the player to their own devices, able to explore and figure things out for themselves if they choose. While the graphics are certainly impressive, everything has a sense of purpose as opposed to simple grandeur. Each piece of Pikmin 3 feels like it was very carefully and precisely placed, like a digital haiku. Pikmin 3 refuses to conform, and it’s that rebellious nature that makes the game great. Do yourself a favor and play Pikmin 3; it’s truly reason enough to own a Wii U.