If you’re a Pikmin fan like I am, you’d been looking forward to the announcement of Pikmin 3 for quite some time before this year’s E3. After the initial excitement wore off, though, I had to wonder: is this going to be the same franchise I know and love? Or has Nintendo found a way to transform the experience completely? Honestly, I’d say the pendulum swings more towards the former. The game takes very much after previous ones in terms of gameplay mechanics and even content, but they’ve still done a lot to enhance the traditional experience while adding in some new features.
As a result, I’d say it feels very much like a “back to basics” game that takes what we know about the franchise and redoes it within the standards of more modern sensibilities. What does that mean exactly?
The core gameplay and design philosophies are still intact. You control a small spaceman who in turn controls an army of tiny plant-men who can interact with your spaceship, gathering supplies and other goodies, some of which they use as resources for reproduction while others help you achieve your own goals. The control scheme is adapted from the Wii versions but features Wii Motion Plus controls as well as a dedicated map screen via the Wii U GamePad. (You’ll also be able to use the pad independently, but this wasn’t demoed on the floor.) Each Pikmin has different abilities; the red ones are flame-resistant, while the new rock-based ones can break certain barriers and heavily damage enemies.
Point the cursor at whatever you want to interact with and press A to throw your Pikmin. Point at wayward Pik-pals and press B to round them up again. Use the C button to toggle between different Pikmin types for attack and the Z button to center the camera or target enemies and objects. Shake the Nunchuk to dismiss your Pikmin, allowing you to choose which ones you want to bring with you. Fight critters and use their corpses as food; gather fruits and nuts and things to bring back to base; find other fallen objects - and all before night falls. All very basic and very familiar to anyone who’s played the franchise before.
Where Pikmin 3 really excels is in the little details. I’m not just talking the HD visuals, which help each Pikmin stand out as well as providing more detailed environments - the game design itself is more intricate and thought through than ever before. Numbered food pellets seem to be out, in favor of various fruits and other more food-like objects. Previously, when your Pikmin built bridges it consisted of them banging their heads against bundles of small twigs until they mysteriously unfolded. Now the little guys grab small chips of stone and set them individually into place to form a much more realistic-looking path. The various barriers that block your path, made of sand and stone and other stuff, now break apart instead of “falling down” into the ground as in the first game. New glass barriers can be shattered by Rock Pikmin. The whole game seems to better emulate the feeling that you’re a tiny little man exploring somebody’s backyard, and I absolutely love that about it.
(Close enough Alex…close enough)
I don’t see how Nintendo can make such popular characters that are so adorable. They know how to create a simple character that really tugs on your heart’s strings. I think any player feels guilty when they see those little ghosts float towards the heavens whenever a Pikmin dies. No Pikmin gets left behind!
The demo we played had two parts: one for exploration and one for a boss fight. Alex chose to explore, since he really likes that feature in just about every game. I didn’t complain though, because I really like fighting off giant bug things with a little Pikmin army.
Alex explained the controls earlier, but I do have to comment on one action that I missed. The use of the C stick like on the GameCube controller to command your entire group of Pikmin in particular directions wasn’t there. Instead, you can have your leader perform a ‘barrel roll’ that moves everyone a short, quick distance in the direction you want. In the boss battle I played, I was fighting against a giant centipede looking creature that had pinchers near its mouth and a hard, glass shell. I was using the barrel roll quite a bit.
This boss demo was a great way to show the new kind of power that the rock Pikmin had in battle. They didn’t latch on to the enemy like their red companions, but instead merely struck it with their tough exteriors before landing to wait for a new command. They didn’t continue to attack, but only did a single blow for each toss. I mostly used them to destroy the shell of my enemy to expose its weak flesh before tossing my red Pikmin into the fray. It was here that I wished I had more freedom in controlling all of them at once. This might be possible with the Wii U controller, but it wasn’t possible with the Wii remote and nunchuck. I wasn’t able to swarm the monster and had to press the throw button repeatedly.
The boss fight had its classic Pikmin style as well. The creature would run around for a few moments before suddenly attacking. After the attack, it would either pause for a moment to allow me to strike, or, if it caught a few straggling Pikmin, begin to gorge itself. I lost a couple of the little guys. I think I was yelling, “Noooo!” at one point.
This is a title that will sell like hotcakes on the Wii U. Any fan of the series, as well as new folks, will enjoy it. The updated graphics add to the game’s visual charm, and I hope to learn more on the use of the Wii U tablet controller as the console’s release date approaches.