Why I’m looking forward to Pikmin 3
A lot can be said for how underwhelming E3 2012 was, but for me the show was made when Nintendo opened their conference by showing off Pikmin 3 for the Wii U. I will try to explain why this game excites me so, mostly by talking about it predecessors.
Now I think everyone can agree that the Gamecube was a great system. A handy shape, a nice assortment of colours, an excellent controller and a great game library featuring titles like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Luigi’s Mansion, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Resident Evil 4, Metroid Prime, Mario Kart: Double Dash and of course Pikmin and Pikmin 2.
If you disregard stuff like Nintendogs, I believe Pikmin is the latest new IP Nintendo have come up with. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. I can’t recall what made me buy the first game. Maybe I saw a good review, maybe I just liked the cover, I’m not really sure, but I’m really glad I did. It’s a weird little title that I’m not sure how to categorise… I think the closest genre would be 3rd-person Real-Time Strategy mixed with Adventure/Exploration, as absurd as that sounds.
The game’s protagonist is the slightly chubby and big-nosed Olimar whose spaceship crashes on a lush, green planet after being hit by a stray asteroid. It falls apart in the atmosphere and while Olimar escapes unharmed, his ship is a wreck. But closeby he finds a little sprout that glows curiously, and he pulls it out of the ground, revealing his first Pikmin. They are an odd plant/animal hybrid of very small size, with little leaves on top of their heads that will grow into flowers if left in the ground for a while or fed special nectar. (Fully flowered Pikmin are faster and stronger than those who have only leaves)
Now all other creatures you meet will be bigger than your Pikmin, and the vast majority would eat or crush them given half a chance. What you have on your side is numbers. Get the Pikmin to collect food and bring it to their seed pod, or onion as the game calls it, and the food will be absorbed into the pod and new seeds will shoot out and plant themselves in the ground around the onion where you can pluck them to increase your army, though your max number on the field at one time is 100 (including those still in the ground). Food can be pellets that grow on special flowers, or animals/monsters that you kill and let your Pikmin feast on. For such a cute and colourful game, the concept is actually rather brutal.
Olimar discovers that with enough Pikmin, he can get them to carry the parts that fell off his spaceship and are needed to get it repaired, so he sets out to collect all 30 parts before his life support runs out in 30 days. In many instances you can get 2 or 3 parts in a day, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to beat the time limit. I think I got it in 28 days on my first try, but I’ve managed to get as low as 15 that I can remember, maybe even less, but it’s been some years since I last played it. As for the parts themselves, some actually improve your gameplay, like finding the satellite dish provides you with a proper map, but mostly you just have to get enough to get the ship flight-worthy enough to reach new areas to explore (and eventually leave the planet).
To help you, you eventually find 3 types of Pikmin. In the beginning you only have the red ones. They are the physically strongest of the three, and are immune to fire. (Curious ability for a half-plant, but quite useful). It doesn’t take you long to find the yellow onion though. Yellow Pikmin can be thrown higher than the others, and they can also carry and set bomb rocks, which are used to destroy walls that can not be beat down by Pikmin alone. You can also try using them in combat, but it’s rather risky. Finally you find the blue onion. Blue Pikmin can breathe underwater, but have no other special attributes.
I’ve pondered the question of why the Pikmin follow Olimar so loyally, instead of beating him to death and feasting on his corpse, and my best theory is that the glowing ball sticking out from his helmet has something to do with it. Either it hypnotises them, or it makes them think he’s a god or parent.
The controls were simple enough. A was the general action button to pluck Pikmin, access the onions to call out and send back Pikmin, throw one of your follower Pikmin and finally punch if you have no Pikmin after you. B made you whistle so that any Pikmin in range that weren’t already following you, started following you. The C stick let you directly control the Pikmin following you to an extent, and was a great way of swarming enemies quickly instead of throwing them one by one, or to simply get as many as possible to help with carrying an object. X dismissed your Pikmin and made them sort themselves by colour. This was handy to prepare for going into areas where you only wanted one type with you. Y opened the map/menu. The shoulder buttons and back button controlled the camera.
In addition to managing your Pikmin and making sure you divide the food and then pluck them at the right time, you also had to manage time. A day in Pikmin is 13 minutes long real-time, just about. So learning how to make the best use of your time is quite crucial. There’s always an indicator at the top of the screen showing what time of day it is. You can’t be out at night because most of the big predators are nocturnal, and any Pikmin that doesn’t get back to its onion by nightfall gets eaten.
Speaking of predators, you will encounter quite a lot of creatures in the game, though the most numerous by far is the Spotty Bulborb. They come in dwarf and large variety. With a well-aimed throw you can actually squash a dwarf in one hit, but swarming them tends to get them killed before they have time to eat anyone anyway. As for the large ones, they are nocturnal and can usually be found sleeping during the day, so it’s possible to sneak up on them and rapidly throw a load of red Pikmin onto their back to wear their health down before they get the chance to shake them off and start eating them. The sound Pikmin make when they die is heartbreaking. Combat tends to become rather hectic, with any and all planning done before it actually starts, so it can be hard to not lose any Pikmin when fighting the big ones. Other creatures are fire- and water-breathing pigs, fliers that like to carry Pikmin around for a bit, jumpy frogs that like to squash things, giant bird-snakes that burst from the ground and beetles that squirt out goodies in all directions if you manage to land a Pikmin on top of them.
I had a lot of fun with Pikmin and played through it many times before the sequel came out. My only big complaint was the 30-day limit, because I’m a gamer who likes to take their time with games.
So when Pikmin 2 actually removed the day limit (individual days were still 13 mins, but you could just spend entire days picking flowers and admiring the scenery if you wanted to) I was positively ecstatic.
The plot of Pikmin 2 is that when Olimar returns to his home planet, his boss sadly informs him that the company he works for is bankrupt and has accrued a fair bit of debt. Things turn around however when a souvenir Olimar brought back turns out to be worth quite a lot of money, so he is sent back with a new ship (which has a treasure detector and appraiser installed) and a partner: the slightly dopey-looking Louie. This game actually featured both competetive and cooperative multiplayer, but the campaign itself was still entirely singleplayer. But just having two protagonists you could switch between at will did open up a lot of possibilities.
Considering the “treasures” you collect, it is pretty clear that the planet this is taking place on is Earth, possibly at some future point after humans have died out, or perhaps Olimar and the Pikmin are just so small that they wouldn’t notice a human even if they were still around. And each treasure you collect, big and small, is given a name and a bit of flavour text. They also added a menu for looking up the names and flavour texts of creatures you encounter, and you even unlock cooking tips by Louie for all the creatures eventually, most of which are quite hilarious.
The game also introduces caverns, which are little holes in the ground that lead into underground dungeons where you take a number of Pikmin in and have to complete the dungeon with just them and no reinforcements. Thankfully daytime is also suspended while you’re down there, because most of them tend to take longer than 13 mins. Now in the dungeons you find special flowers that you can throw Pikmin into to cause some special effect, either transforming them into a different kind of Pikmin, or turning one Pikmin into several seeds, basically multiplying them. The dungeons can be just caves, or they might be rooms that you’d find in a regular house, like the table in a kitchen or a floor full of toys. This really helps you see the scale of just how small you and the Pikmin are.
It’s in the dungeons you are able to get the two new types of Pikmin. They don’t have their own onions, instead residing in the ship at night, and can only be gotten via the transformation flowers. There are the purple Pikmin, which are large and bulky, sumo-style, move slowly, can carry for 10 regular Pikmin, and tend to create a shockwave when they are thrown, stunning creatures nearby. The other are the white Pikmin, whom are very petite. They are the fastest Pikmin, completely immune to all toxins, poisons and venoms, and are highly poisonous themselves. If an animal eats one, it tends to mean instant death, which can be a valid tactic to use if you’re cruel and heartless.
The old Pikmin have gotten some updates as well, though it’s mostly cosmetic. The only real difference is that the bomb rocks are now gone, and the yellows have instead acquired an immunity to electricity. There is also kinda a sixth type of Pikmin that exists only in dungeons, and pretty far out into the game as well. Unlike purple and white you don’t get to take them with you to the surface, which is a huge shame. They are called Bulbmin and are the children of special Bulborbs that have turned half-plant themselves. After you kill the parent, you can round up the Bulbmin and have them follow you. They’re pretty adorable, and definitely neat, as they’re immune to all hazards. (Please keep in mind that if you already have 100 Pikmin with you, the Bulbmin will not spawn, so it’s usually best to take no more than 80 Pikmin with you down into a dungeon)
When it comes to controls, they added the option to switch the Pikmin you are holding for one of another colour following you by using the D-Pad while pressing A, which was definitely handy, and you could also collect special liquids to turn into sprays. Purple became an ultra-bitter spray that you could use to stun creatures, and red became an ultra-spicy spray that you could use to give your Pikmin a temporary buff, making them all super-strong and super-fast for a short time. A must for certain fights if you’re trying to avoid losing any Pikmin at all. These sprays were also activated with the D-Pad.
Pikmin 2 was a such a huge update to Pikmin that I have been unable to actually play the original since the sequel hit, because it just feels too limited in comparison.
Now then, Pikmin 3. I’ve really only seen the E3 coverage, but I quite liked what I saw, and the new Rock Pikmin look strange, if intriguing. I do have to wonder if having 4 captains will turn out to be too confusing, or if they’re actually going to let us play the campaign cooperatively this time, and also kinda hoping the purple and white Pikmin are still in the game. The only thing that really causes me any worry is that they only seemed to be collecting various fruits… all the weird treasures and the interesting flavour text was a big part of what made Pikmin 2 the game that it was.
That’s a minor issue though. Based on everything I’ve seen, and how much I loved the first two games, this is an instant buy for me. There is more I could say, but I’ve probably said more than enough already.