Pikmin 3 might not look like the typical system seller for Nintendo (there's not a Mario Bros. in sight), but if you’ve been a fan of the series since its GameCube inception, you’ll probably know otherwise. It certainly had me spending more time with my Wii U than I have in recent months after my Monster Hunter 3 obsession wore off a bit. And while Pikmin 3 has had a hefty development cycle, starting life on the Wii and then falling back to the Wii U, it still feels as if it was tailor-made for Nintendo’s newest platform.
The majority of Pikmin 3’s gameplay mechanics are largely unchanged from previous entries, but with some key additions tossed into the mix, like the new rock and flying Pikmin types. You’ll control groups of colored Pikmin, with returning hues of red, blue, yellow, white and purple. Using either the GamePad and its analog sticks, or the Wii Remote, you guide your Pikmin across a variety of lush, outdoor stages in an effort to help your humanoid, space faring travelers that serve as Pikmin Commanders of sorts, off of the planet they’ve crashed on and back home.
Along the way you’ll encounter various forms of carnivorous (or maybe vegetarian?) life-forms intent on gobbling up any and all Pikmin they come across. You’ll need to defeat these foes by tossing Pikmin at them, often times pairing up the appropriate colored Pikmin to match the weakness of any given enemy. Red are strong against fire, yellow against electricity, blue can swim underwater and so on. Pikmin 3 does a pretty great job of easing you into the mechanics if you’re new to the series, but remains challenging enough that Pikmin vets won’t come out unscathed through most major battles.
Guiding Pikmin from point A to point B is easy enough at first. Early goals involve simple tasks, like navigating narrow passageways, collecting bridge pieces to construct new paths, and collecting the occasional piece of fruit or radar enhancement. But as you progress through the different areas you’ll see the difficulty ramp up, and soon you’ll need to manage not multiple Pikmin types, but also divide your little army amongst the three different Koppai travelers you’re attempting to get back home.
To help with all the micromanaging, the GamePad employs its unique screen as a map function, which isn’t unlike most Wii U titles. But the map is easy to navigate, pausing time as soon as you press it, and allowing you to trace a path to any point accessible by dragging your finger across the screen. The “Move Here” feature becomes a very important piece of the gameplay puzzle, and while I think the analog controls are a poor substitute for the Wii Remote when it comes to navigating and controlling Pikmin, it’s hard to deny that the map and Move Here function are key elements to success. Nintendo clearly realizes this as well, considering you can use the Wii Remote, GamePad, and Nunchuk together while playing, making this trio the best control set-up available.
Adding to the challenge is the daily time limit, which forces you off planet and into the atmosphere when the sun sets. There’s a day timer displayed at the top of the screen, and the light cycle will move from dawn to dusk in a realistic manner. This timer forces you to make key decisions on how you’ll spend your limited day, often forcing you to rethink an upcoming boss battle in favor of gathering necessary food supplies to continue. Food is pretty limited at certain points in the game, and while fruit is in abundance for the most part, there are points in the game where you’ll certainly feel the stress of impending starvation if you’re not careful.
The boss battles in Pikmin 3 are easily one of my favorite things, and it’s one of the many areas where this game doesn’t disappoint. There are six major encounters in the game, along with a handful of larger enemies that could qualify as mid-bosses. But these six fights really task the player to use all Pikmin types in strategic ways, often punishing players for tossing Pikmin around without care, and forcing you to approach a fight carefully, occasionally stretching across days if you’re not careful enough on the initial encounter.
Pikmin 3 is also a visually stunning game, not so much because of its texture work or modeling, both of which belay its Wii roots, but because of the absolutely stellar art design seen throughout. There’s a camera function in Pikmin 3 that lets you see the world through the eyes of your explorers, and you’ll find yourself flirting around with the device when you should probably be performing more important tasks, simply because the surrounding world is absolutely breathtaking and deserves to be seen. While the MiiVerse function tied into that camera device wasn’t up and running at the time of this review, you can expect to see a lot of game-selling shots uploaded by users soon enough.
The story mode of Pikmin 3 clocked in around the 15 hour mark, but that was with just a little over half of the fruit discovered and not nearly all of the journal/data entries discovered. You’re free to go back to earlier days and explore around, reattempting your travels in order to be more efficient, or to discover more items. There’s also a neat little replay feature that’ll help show the flaws in your strategy, especially useful if you plan to perfect any of those challenging boss fights in the future.
Besides the well-paced story mode, there are two additional gameplay modes to check out. One is simply called Missions, which breaks into three different categories of single player and local co-op play. These categories involve gathering treasures, defeating enemies, or fighting bosses. There’s a series of smaller stage layouts that use environments from the story mode structured in unique ways. Each mission is scored, with various medals to earn based on your final tally. I actually found this Mission Mode to be pretty tough, and while I was able to score bronze medals easily enough, I clearly need to spend more time if I ever hope to achieve gold.
The second mode is a multiplayer mode called Bingo Battle. This pits you against another player as you attempt to collect items found on a bingo card. The items can consist of treasure and enemies, and the first player to complete a line, whether it’s horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, wins. It’s a pretty fun and frantic mode, and while not nearly as challenging as Mission Mode, it’s a neat concept to add some longevity to the experience. And while it would be nice to have the option to play online against others, it really is a mode that benefits from that same room experience.
While Miyamoto and company certainly made us wait quite a bit, I think you’ll agree it was worth it for Pikmin 3. It’s easily one of the best titles on the Wii U, and something that every Nintendo fan should certainly plan to pick up. If you’re worried about any development issues stemming from Pikmin 3’s Wii roots, I think you can definitely put those to rest. It really feels like a game created from the ground up for the Wii U, and benefits greatly from the added support that the GamePad brings. Despite a busy season coming up for Wii U releases, I have little doubt that Pikmin 3 will still be a standout favorite far into the Wii U’s lifecycle.