By Leo Stevenson
A lot of people have been waiting a long time for Pikmin 3. Those people won't be disappointed. People who bought the Wii U at launch and have suffered through eight long months of almost complete gamelessness have cause to celebrate with the release of Pikmin 3. Not just because it's actually a game for the console, but because it's a game for the console that's also very, very good.
Pikmin 3 is finally a reason to own a Wii U.
Despite starting life as a game for the Wii, Pikmin 3 is a very pretty game. For their first real 3D HD game, Nintendo have excelled. An incredible amount of effort has been spent to ensure that Pikmin 3 looks every bit as good as it can on the Wii U hardware. It's a veritable smorgasbord for the eyes. There was a point while I was playing though when I did begin to wonder if the game was "pretty for Wii U," and not just pretty in its own right. It's a bit of both. While the characters, enemies and most environments are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, there are quite a few bland, low-res and downright ugly textures in the mix. It's a shame that it's largely pretty in comparison to what else has been on the Wii U.
While the Pikmin and new heroes -- Alph, Brittany and Captain Charlie -- are fairly simplistic in their design, the animators have truly brought them to life. It's difficult, no, nigh impossible not to fall in love with the characters on your screen(s). The Pikmin move fluidly and each different type has a certain waddle and particular style that is easily distinguishable from one another. The same goes for the three heroes.
Alph is the youngest and most reckless, but at the same time out to prove himself. Brittany is a no nonsense type of gal and Captain Charlie is world weary and kind. They have each been imbued with a distinct personality from the way the move, the way the interact with the Pikmin and each other and their voice acting. Pikmin 3 is simply, adorably charming. Say what you will about Nintendo, but they know how to craft a game and fill it up with that old Nintendo magic.
Nintendo like to describe the Pikmin series as a real time strategy and I suppose they're technically correct. Though it's really more of an adventure game with strategy elements. In Pikmin, Captain Olimar was alone in his quest to return to Hocotate. Pikmin 2 introduced Louie, the idea of multi-tasking and the purple and white Pikmin (now sadly absent from the story mode). Pikmin 3 introduces a third playable character, rock and flying Pikmin and the potential to be 300% more efficient.
I was never any good at strategy games, so I kept all three heroes and all my Pikmin in one group at all times. I just couldn't trust them to be out of my sight for even a second. It is entirely possible to split into three groups and carry out tasks individually, but a combination of my fear of losing Pikmin, a limit of 100 Pikmin on the field at once and my refusal to use the GamePad made it quite difficult.
Now, I didn't refuse to use the GamePad because I dislike the thing. Far from it. I think the GamePad is the Wii U's greatest strength and where it's best potential lays. Just not for Pikmin 3. Playing with the GamePad -- for me -- was an absolutely abhorrent experience. The controls are just terrible. The left stick moves your chosen character as well as aiming your reticule for throwing Pikmin. By holding down the R button you're able to ground your character and move only the reticule, but this is about as convenient and quick as a mother duck leading her ducklings across seven lanes of traffic.
With the added pressure of the daily time limit, wrestling with the GamePad controls became too much for me to bear and I switched to the Wiimote and Nunchuck. In doing so, I gave up camera control. A small price to pay for control fidelity and the ability to aim independently of movement. If you've played New Play Control: Pikmin or New Play Control: Pikmin 2 for Wii you'll be familiar with the Wiimote controls. The analogue stick on the Nunchuck controls movement, the Wiimote pointer aims the reticule while the various other buttons control character switching, the whistle to gather your Pikmin up and throwing the little guys.
While the Wiimote was leaps and bounds ahead of the GamePad, having the disband command tied to the Nunchuck's accelerometer was frustrating. Many times I would move my left hand slightly and suddenly have my entire battalion of Pikmin cancel what they were doing and stand idly by. Using the Wiimote also means missing out on the opportunity to take full advantage of the map displayed on the GamePad and the multitasking mentioned before.
It's not impossible and I used the map on the GamePad often. It's just a little clumsy trying to the use the touch screen while holding the Wiimote and Nunchuck. It's also possible to multitask while using the Wiimote, but without using the map and touch screen to direct troops, it's a lot more difficult.
The classic Pikmin gameplay is entirely intact in Pikmin 3. Entirely. The two new Pikmin types -- rock and flying -- have their own specific uses (rock Pikmin smash glass and crystal while flying Pikmin... well, fly) but other than that, not much has changed at all since Pikmin 2. Whatever your opinion of Pikmin will determine whether you think that's a good or bad thing. I think it's fine. A little innovation wouldn't have gone astray, but when the gameplay is as good as it is and you're having as much fun playing as I did, you can't really complain.
For a game that's been in development as long as Pikmin 3, the campaign is really quite short. With four main levels and one final boss level to explore, most players will be done within 10 hours. Going back to collect each and every piece of fruit will add a few hours, but not too many. Bingo Battle and the Mission mode are where you'll be able to spend get your money's worth.
Bingo Battle is an incredible inclusion which sees players facing off to collect a variety of fruit/enemies to complete a Bingo card. It's fantastically addictive and will definitely keep fans coming back for more. It's a real shame that it isn't an online mode though and feels like a missed opportunity. Mission mode is a collection of missions to carry out within a specific time frame. While not too much different from the campaign, the extra content is welcome.
Pikmin 3 suffers from a condition a lot of Nintendo games have contracted lately.
Being too easy.
It's admirable of Nintendo to want to reach as many players as possible, but when it comes at the expense of a real challenge for long time fans, it's of detriment. Pikmin and Pikmin 2 were very challenging games when they were released. Pikmin 3 just doesn't match up. Remember when I said I never split my group up? I also never needed to. I always had around 200 of each Pikmin type in reserve and I was never in danger of failing. The game wasn't patronisingly holding my hand like other recent Nintendo releases, I just wish it offered more of a challenge. That being said, I still had a whole lot of fun.
I said in the beginning that Pikmin 3 was the reason to own a Wii U and I stand by that. Despite some shortcomings like the poor GamePad integration and controls, low-res textures here and there, a short campaign and an overall lack of difficulty, Pikmin 3 still stands apart as the best game available for the Wii U right now. If you love Pikmin you'll love this. If you own a Wii U, you owe it to yourself to play this game. Games like Pikmin 3 are few and far between, so grab it while you have the chance.