Pikmin 3 – Sorta Review
How long have I waited for this? How many times have I replayed Pikmin 2? I’ve lost count. I even tried going for a “No Pikmin lost” run, but it was a bit too difficult to keep my attention. But here it is! Pikmin 3! Will it live up to its legacy, or will it be a disappointing addition to the series?
I was thinking though, which is always a dangerous business, and I think it might be worth actually explaining some stuff before getting into the review, since I don’t really expect a lot of my readers will have played a Pikmin game before. I will mark the sections with headlines so you can just skip to the review if you already know this stuff, or you don’t care.
PS! I am sorry about the black borders on the images, but it’s because of how I had to adjust the screen size in the settings menu to make it fit the TV screen properly, yet the DVR recorded the whole thing. I can’t be arsed to crop them all, though.
Introduction to Pikmin
What is Pikmin? Pikmin is a game series from the Gamecube days. One of the few original Nintendo IPs on that console, and it had two games there before fading into obscurity and now reappearing 9 years later on the Wii U. To be honest, I had all but given up hope when the Pikmin 3 announcement finally came.
Believe it or not, these are actually real-time strategy games. Rather unorthodox, with an emphasis on puzzles and with elements of management games, but strategy nonetheless. Time is an essential factor in these games, even though Pikmin 2 tried to lessen that by offering timeless puzzle/challenge dungeons. During the day you can run around and work towards whatever objective you’re trying to achieve, but at night you have to take shelter in the skies to avoid the nocturnal predators. Anyone left on the surface when night comes is doomed.
Part of the strategy is that you can only ever have a maximum of 100 Pikmin on the field at any one time. So you need to figure out who you want to take, and how many, to accomplish the tasks of that day.
The first game focused on survival and escape, the second was more about exploration and collecting stuff, and the third strikes a bit of a middle ground, where you have to acquire your own food supplies, and try to find every type of fruit you can to take back home for cultivation.
The games take place on Earth at some undetermined time. You always play as some tiny alien explorers who encounter the Pikmin and get their help. While you never encounter a living human, and the second game seemed to indicate that humans are long gone with just our junk left behind as an indication we were ever there, a lot of the stuff you find is in surprisingly good shape, so it could just all be going on beneath our feet, literally and figuratively.
And what are the Pikmin? Pikmin are small creatures that are half-plant, half-animal. They are ‘born’ as seeds from special living nests called Onions (that are capable of flying into the atmosphere), and grow in the ground until plucked, at which point their animal side shows. You get more seeds from feeding the Onions with food pellets, or the bodies of whatever creatures you’ve slain. Individual Pikmin are weak, but they’re strong in numbers, kinda like ants, and the various types have various strengths and weaknesses that you have to exploit to successfully progress.
So what are the Pikmin types? Well, I’ll go through the established ones, and discuss the new ones in the review.
The Red Pikmin are your basic ones, and the starter Pikmin for all three games. They are the most ferocious fighters and do the most damage of all Pikmin except the Purple ones. They’re also completely immune to fire. How that works for a half-plant I do not know, but just go with it. The fire immunity comes in handy, but I will admit I mostly take them along for the damage boost.
Yellow Pikmin are the ones that have gone through the most changes over the games. In the first game you could throw them higher than the others, I assume because those ears give them extra lift, and they were the only ones who could carry bomb rocks. I guess they were the demolitions experts of the Pikmin world. In the second game they gained immunity to electricity (though bomb rocks went away). And now they also conduct electricity. Biology is weird, you guys.
The Blue Pikmin’s claim to fame is that they don’t drown. This might seem a little underwhelming compared to the others, but they are VERY important. There is a lot of water around, and stuff you want in or across the water, so these guys really help your progress. The other Pikmin will drown very fast if they end up in water, and since they’re so tiny it doesn’t have to be deep either.
The Purple Pikmin debuted in Pikmin 2, and neither they nor the White Pikmin had their own Onions. You could only obtain them via special conversion flowers found in underground dungeons, making the ones you had extra precious. Purple Pikmin have 10 times the weight, and 10 times the strength of other Pikmin. They can single-handedly carry what would take 10 other Pikmin (just very slowly), and there was actually an item in Pikmin 2 that had a carry weight of 1000, so you needed 100 Purple Pikmin to get it. They excelled in combat, because when thrown they could squash bigger creatures than anyone else, and they performed a ground pound move that would stun nearby creatures, which was quite crucial when fighting certain big creatures. And they look like they’d give great hugs.
The White Pikmin were definitely the smallest and fastest of them all. They were immune to all poisons, while being highly poisonous themselves. If anything ate one, it’d die right away. So you could use them as sacrifices to get past difficult enemies, but I never had the heart to do so. Losing Pikmin is always awful, especially with that death sound they make.
Honourary mention goes to the Bulbmin, who were a strange mix of Bulborb and Pikmin that were immune to all hazards, but refused to move out of their underground homes, so you could only use them in dungeons. Considering how they grow up, that might be for the best.
You might have noticed from the Purple and White Pikmin pictures that the leaf on top of a Pikmin’s head is not always a leaf. If left in the ground for long enough, they will mature into a bud and then a flower. Flower Pikmin are faster than either bud or leaf ones, and considering you’re always on a time limit, that’s immensely helpful. Another way to get flower Pikmin is to feed them a special nectar you can find hidden around the levels, which instantly matures them.
Okay, that should be it, so on to the:
Yes, we are back on Pikmin‘s version of Earth, and this time we have three brand-new heroes from a new alien world. The story is that their homeworld, Koppai, is on the brink of starvation due to over-population and poor planning, and they need new food stuff, preferably fruit, to cultivate. Probes are sent out to look for promising planets, and Earth is found. So there’s the set-up. You have three playable characters, they’re on Pikmin Earth, and you’re looking to collect fruit.
First thing I noticed was that they’ve taken away the ability to manually direct the Pikmin around you. Throwing them is the main means of getting them to do work. No more swarming like the old days. There is the option to lock onto a creature or item and dismiss the Pikmin to get them all to charge at it, but it doesn’t feel the same. To its credit, the move is quite useful, but I miss the swarming nonetheless. I assume it was removed because they wanted to make Wiimote and Nunchuk a viable control option, and there’s no second analogue stick there.
Speaking of controls: you can now either go with Wiimote and Nunchuk, with the Gamepad serving as minimap, communications display and in-game menus, or using just the Gamepad. And to be honest they both work pretty well. They have different strengths, though. The Wiimote gives you much better aiming for throwing Pikmin, using the whistle and locking on to stuff. The Gamepad gives better camera control, and personally I felt like it was easier to keep on top of things while using it. Though if you want, you can seamlessly switch between the control methods at any time without interruption, which is actually a nice touch. And there’s also the fact that you can at any time hit the – button to switch to Handheld mode, in case anyone wants to use the TV for anything else, and keep playing on the Gamepad like it’s a large DS. Little nods to convenience like this are appreciated.
The upgrade to HD is really a big boon for the series. Seeing a colourful, bright and beautiful game like this in an HD resolution is a treat for the eyes. That’s not the only new thing, of course. We have two new Pikmin types; let me introduce them for you.
These are a cute and curious new addition to the Pikmin line. They don’t just look like rocks, they are hard as rocks too. You can throw them to smash crystals, or at enemies for high impact damage. The Red ones still hit harder when punching, and the Rock Pikmin don’t cling onto things, they rather repeatedly charge into it. Considering they don’t pay attention to your whistle as they’re rolling back, it can occasionally be tricky to get them to retreat, as you have to make sure you call them just as they’ve gotten back on their feet. And there is also the fact that they are nigh-impossible to squash, making them exceptionally well-suited against certain enemies, like those accursed jumping frogs.
While I like calling them the Pink Pikmin, they are formally known as the Winged Pikmin. They are very weak and can’t punch things very well, they have no resistances and a tendency to get caught in spiderwebs. But they can fly! So we now have two Pikmin types that can cross water, even though it’s still just the Blue ones that can fight in water or carry things that are submerged. They can also uproot Flukeweed, which is that pink plant in the background with a curl at the top, to find things. While they carry slower than the other Pikmin, they will always fly in a straight path back to the Onion or the ship, depending on what they’re delivering, going over any obstacles. And finally, in spite of their weak punch, they excel at taking down flying enemies and bosses with high-up weak points.
There have also been a few tweaks to existing Pikmin. Yellow ones can now conduct electricity to complete circuits, and they dig faster than other Pikmin. Blue ones are now revealed to be able swimmers, with the advent of deeper waters.
Sadly Purple and White Pikmin are not part of the story mode, but they do show up in Mission mode.
So I’m sure veterans of the games are now worrying about how big landing areas have to be to fit five Onions and a spaceship. There’s no need to worry! Because the Onions have evolved, and the first time two Onions take off and meet up, they will meld together into a larger form. So eventually you’ll have one Onion holding five types of Pikmin. And it’s quite large.
Bomb Rocks have also made a return, though this time any Pikmin can carry and handle them. I’ve however noticed that out of habit I still tend to choose the Yellow ones for the job. The little “waaaah” scream they make as they ignite the bomb rock and run away is totally adorable.
In certain ways Pikmin 3 resembles the original more than the sequel. Gone are the timeless dungeons, and the focus is again on time limits and survival. Not only do you have to manage your daytime well, but you have to find enough fruit to be able to secure provisions for your crew. It’s not super-hardcore, especially since you will only ever need one full juice bottle per day, but it’s another thing to keep in mind. I didn’t have any problems finding and recovering enough fruit, but then again I’ve played through 1 and 2 several times each, so I’m well-versed in how the series works. It might not be as easy for a newbie.
The feel of this game versus the first two seems to be more on strategy, tactics and puzzles, and less on combat. Not that any of the games lack any of these elements, and indeed 3 has some pretty large boss battles occasionally, and plenty of wildlife. But overall it feels like combat is less of a focus. It’s more about exploring the environment, overcoming the puzzles, knocking down gates, building bridges and making sure you’re stocked. Again, it’s not that either of the first games lacked this, but it just feels like an even larger focus this time.
The enemies present are mostly the kind you have to figure out, rather than just overpower. Send the Red ones after the firehogs, toss the Rock ones at the bouncy frogs and let the Yellow ones deal with the electric gerbil, that kind of thing.
And you have to build a lot of bridges, and figuring out how to get to the pieces you need, and safely transport them back can be interesting. Or frustrating.
This whole strategic tweak seems to be to better make use of you now having three concurrently playable characters. Curious how the original had one, and the sequel had two. If this trend keeps up, then four could be very tricky. Assuming they can come up with enough ideas to make another one.
You can use the Gamepad’s map function to set waypoints for your crew, and they will automatically walk the shortest possible path, keeping in mind the Pikmin following them. So they won’t cross water with a bunch of Pikmin that can drown, thankfully. This means you can send one character with a group of Pikmin to one location, while staying back and working on something with another. And then they let you know when they’ve arrived, so you can switch over and start another task. The game eases you into this idea, so when I was successfully juggling all three to overcome obstacles, it felt very fulfilling.
I’ve always appreciated how brutal the Pikmin games are. Not as in difficult, necessarily, but in how they portray their world. They show nature in all its beauty, and all its cruelty. 90% of everything you meet will try to kill you, either because it thinks your food, or because you trespassed on its territory. You are small and weak, and can only overcome through teamwork and strategy. You will lose some Pikmin along the way. Not doing so is nigh-impossible. And while the sound of them dying is always just as heart-wrenching, you push on, making sure their sacrifice was not in vain. Then whatever you defeat is carried back to the Onion to become food to create more Pikmin. As the game itself puts it: “Yesterday’s enemy is today’s food.” It’s not because of malice, or differences in conviction, it’s simply how the world works.
This isn’t something the game beats you over the head with, really. The Pikmin are cute, the world is bright, colour is everywhere, and there’s no blood. The game is actually rated 3+. But the subtext is always there; the theme is in place. Pikmin lost never come back. You can make more, but the dead stay dead. I’d say it’s probably positive for kids to play this game, since the message it gives strikes me as healthy. It might be more advanced than a 3-year-old can handle though, but a kid around 10, sure.
After much reflection, I will say that I still think 2 is better. I’d rate the three games as follows: 1 was very good. 2 was excellent. 3 was great. If you want to get into the series, I would actually recommend playing 1 first. If you play 2 or 3 first, with the plan that you’re going to go back and play 1 later, you might feel somewhat disappointed when you do so. For me personally, 2 made 1 redundant. I couldn’t go back and replay 1 after 2 because it felt too limited, but I still appreciated the build-up, practice and context that 1 had given me going into 2.
I feel like I should give some justification here. First off, 3 feels smaller than 2. Not just in actual level size, but in scope. While Brittany’s eccentric naming and amusing descriptions of the fruit they find is good, it doesn’t quite reach Olimar’s descriptions of the ‘treasure’ they found in 2, or Louie’s tips on how to cook the various creatures you encounter. It’s almost like in the transition to HD, Nintendo realised they couldn’t shove as much content and writing into the game as previously. To be fair it’s trying to do different things from the previous games to an extent, but it just doesn’t quite succeed all the time.
In short: It’s great, but it feels like it had the potential to be amazing. Like it didn’t quite try hard enough.
So yeah, those were my thoughts regarding Pikmin 3. Maybe not a system seller, but if you already own a Wii U it’s definitely worth looking into. And definitely a good addition to a hopefully growing stable of good Wii U games.