It may be horribly clichéd to hold up legendary Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto as some unparalleled, almost mystical figurehead of game design—after all, whether it was Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, or Pokémon, chances are the first videogame you ever played had his fingerprints all over it.
In the case of Pikmin 3, however, that fabled reputation feels—if not completely accurate—totally understandable. Miyamoto’s role may have transitioned in recent years from hands-on designer to big-picture producer, but under the oversight of a lesser creative mind, this long-awaited sequel caught between two hardware generations might have crashed and burned. Pikmin 3’s major issue is clear from the start: It’s not quite a seamless fit for the Wii U, but you also feel the vestigial remains of Wii-branded design throughout.
But even dealing with the game-long frustration of controls that never quite feel right no matter which scheme you choose, one factor remains consistent in Pikmin 3: You want to keep playing. And you can almost feel Miyamoto’s stubborn guiding hand fighting through the development process—determined that, in spite of any lingering issues, this game would be fun to play.
Amazingly, it’s been nine years since Pikmin 2 on the GameCube, but the good news is that you don’t need to know a thing about the Pikmin franchise to play Pikmin 3. Pint-sized astronaut Captain Olimar and his dopey sidekick, Louie, are nowhere to be found as the story begins, meaning that every player will be starting from scratch when it comes to the narrative. Instead, a similarly diminutive alien race known as the Koppites—distinguishable as a different species from Olimar’s Hocotates due to possessing discernible eyes, I guess—have exhausted their planet’s resources and now look for suitable foodstuffs on the edge of the galaxy. Captain Charlie, engineer Alph, and botanist Brittany head for a mysterious blue planet, PNF-404, 279,000 light-years from home, hoping that it holds the key to their homeworld’s survival.
Once our intrepid explorers touch down, they come across the friendliest of this planet’s otherwise foreboding fauna: the titular Pikmin. These absurdly adorable, steadfastly loyal (but none too bright) plantlike critters will do your bidding, whether it’s grabbing a pile of tiles to build a bridge to a lemon three times Charlie’s size, flinging themselves at a roaming beastie, or marching right into a shallow pond to their watery grave. (Please note that I never did that last one…intentionally!)
The general gameplay found here will be instantly familiar to any series veteran, but for the uninitiated, exploration is divided into game “days” (about 15 minutes or so in real time). And it’s here, after the rudimentary tutorials are over, that Pikmin 3 really shines as a “just one more day” experience. You’re free to explore any region of the world you’ve visited, and so long as your food reserves remain, you can explore at your own pace. This puts Pikmin 3‘s tempo in that sweet spot between the first game’s ominous 30-day doomsday clock and the leisurely, limitless pacing of the second entry. The fact that there are now three explorers instead of one doesn’t change things too much, though you will find several puzzles that require you to multitask and split your band of Pikmin into separate groups to reach a certain area or knock down a particular wall.
Miyamoto was reportedly inspired by his childhood spent exploring the caves near Kyoto, Japan when he made The Legend of Zelda, but I think Pikmin is actually closer to that prepubescent sense of wonder he must have felt on those wilderness treks. There aren’t any swords here. No sorcery. No crazy wizards. Just exploring the wonderment of nature from a bug’s-level perspective—oh, and simultaneously trying to keep 100 kooky little critters alive.
Part of that sense of awe is because the world of Pikmin is at once both familiar and exotic. The implication is that you’re exploring an Earth several million years in the future, with land masses suspiciously familiar to Australia, Antarctica, and India—and the vistas are simply spectacular this time around thanks to HD. In fact, I might say that it’s actually a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get Pikmin 3 on the Wii, as another game with muddy visuals would’ve been a disservice to the series. The high-def images are vitally important to the experience and really add to the sense of exploration, given that they could come straight out of a Discovery Channel nature documentary.
Pikmin 3 also manages to include a couple of twists for returning players by adding the Rock Pikmin and Winged Pikmin, both of which introduce clever wrinkles to the standard Pikmin strategy formula. Rock Pikmin are able to break through certain types of barriers, and they pack a punch when you toss them at any enemy—particularly when it’s a direct hit. The Winged Pikmin, meanwhile, open up exploration by traversing terrain impassable for everyone else—including Charlie, Alph, and Brittany. For example, Winged Pikmin might lift a gate while you lead a legion of Blue Pikmin underneath to access an apple in shallow waters to bring back to your ship.
And speaking of your base, this is where Pikmin’s most harrowing moments occur—and why it’s truly one of the most immersive franchises in gaming. Returning players will know this all too well, but neophytes may be shocked to discover that Pikmin die. A lot. Violently. Sometimes cruelly. And when Pikmin are left to fend for themselves at the end of the day away from the safety of your ship, they’ll be gobbled up by predators—and the game goes to great lengths to graphically illustrate the fatal position you put your helpless red, blue, black, pink, and yellow critters in.
In total, 1,448 Pikmin died on my watch. Sure, those aren’t exactly Pol Pot levels of genocide, but I still don’t feel good about that number. It’s weird—I would never print how many times my computer-controlled companions died in a game like Dragon’s Dogma. So, why do I feel compelled to divulge this information here? It’s because I feel guilty about my decisions in the game that led to these needless Pikmin deaths—and so many could have been prevented. You don’t want to save your Pikmin because of some arbitrary score. You don’t want to do it for some bonus—there is none. You want to do it because it’s the right thing to do. You protect them, and without them, you would never survive yourself. It’s a symbiotic relationship, and when you allow them to perish, you’re breaking that trust, that bond. This is an emotional connection and attachment that so many games say they strive for—but Pikmin is one of the very few franchises to actually get it.
As mentioned earlier, Pikmin 3 features several different control setups, all of which have their own shortcomings. The GamePad option is the one I preferred and used through most of the game, but using the analog stick to aim the Pikmin never quite delivered the accuracy I wanted. The Wii Remote/Nunchuck setup (Miyamoto’s recommended control configuration) does deliver more precise aiming, but you need to use the GamePad to access the map (which you’ll be doing a lot). I don’t know about you, but I don’t have three hands to hold the Wiimote, Nunchuck and GamePad all at once. Since the in-game implication is that Charlie, Alph, and Brittany are holding the “KopPad” info tablet in their hands while they go out adventuring, the GamePad option did nicely enough for me and seemed appropriate for the proceedings, but I still yearned for a more accurate aiming mechanism the entire time.
Outside of the controls, my biggest problem with Pikmin 3 is that it doesn’t quite feel like there’s enough of it. However, that may speak more to the impressive quality on display than an actual lack of content. After all, it says something about the experience that I played for 28 hours total in Story mode—and still hoped for the chance to explore a whole new continent even after that.
That’s not to say that Pikmin 3 doesn’t have extra material once you’ve completed the story. The Mission mode tasks players with collecting treasure, defeating enemies, or besting bosses, all within a specific time limit. Here, you’ll also find the Purple Pikmin and White Pikmin from Pikmin 2, but curiously, the game doesn’t explain what these critters actually do (super strength and enhanced speed, respectively), which will certainly cause confusion for new players. While it’s a bit baffling that these Pikmin weren’t included in the main game, their presence definitely offers some diversity to the mission segment, and they’re nice, bite-sized 7-to-10-minute breaks from the main experience.
The other bonus option is Bingo Battle, which allows you to face off against a human (though, strangely, not against the computer) in a battle to collect fruit, beasties, and so on to fill up a Pikmin-based bingo board. It’s actually a fun little party game, and the element of chance included means that even novice players have the opportunity to compete.
It’s certainly not the first example of this phenomenon, but Pikmin 3 is further proof that gaming isn’t about shooting some nameless, faceless threat as a bandanna-wearing bro. At its heart, gaming is truly about exploring and interacting with characters you truly care about saving—even if they only communicate via simple squeaks. For me, the plaintive, harrowing wail of a Pikmin in peril is far more affecting than any bombastic, big-budget cutscene designed to appeal to my emotions, and it inspires me to do more good than perhaps any other game I’ve ever played. And it will be an absolute injustice if we have to wait another nine years to play a game like Pikmin 3.
After a far-too-long wait of nearly a decade, Pikmin finally returns in HD, and legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto's handiwork is obvious at every turn. The controls are caught in a weird, nebulous void between being optimized for the Wii and Wii U, but the expansive miniature landscapes, excellent pacing, and varied Pikmin powers combine to overcome any technical issues or limitations.
E10+ – Everyone 10+
|Pikmin 3 is available on Wii U. Primary version played was for Wii U. Product was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
A proud Japanese RPG and serial-comma enthusiast, Andrew attended E3 for more than a decade. His least-proud moment? That time in 2004 when, suffering from utter exhaustion, he decided to take a break on the creepy, dilapidated—and possibly cursed—La-Z-Boy at Konami’s Silent Hill booth.