Pikmin is one of the cutest franchises in gaming, but it’s also one of the most terrifying. As an alien invader, you’ll take full control of some of the most adorable little creatures of all time, but you’ll use them to do things like attack other innocent creatures, and carry their corpses back to a machine that converts them into more Pikmin.
After around 30 minutes, you’ll stop, look at the screen, and realize the severity of what you’ve just done. You may even be disgusted with yourself. But you won’t be able to stop.
For the uninitiated, the Pikmin series consists of strategy based games with a cute veneer, but relatively deep undertones that touch on themes such as hopelessness, despair, and loneliness. After a trio of aliens (Alph, Charlie, and Brittany) crash land on a planet full of plant-like subservient creatures (Pikmin), they claim dominion over them in order to saturate its natural resources and deliver them back to their dying planet — you, the player, are in control of said alien invaders. At the start, you’ll have access to Red (fighters, fire resistant), Yellow (easier to fling distances, shock resistant), and Blue Pikmin (water resistant) — but you’ll also enlist the help of Winged (fly over chasms, gaps, and water) and Rock Pikmin (smash through glass/smash enemies) throughout the story.
Once you progress to a certain point in the narrative, you’ll have the opportunity to switch protagonists on the fly with the Y button, which is when the game really begins. At this point, you’ll have to micro-manage multiple units of Pikmin, as you attempt to solve each puzzle in your head on the fly. For instance, you may pass a pool of water that has a gate under it, but you may not have any Blue Pikmin on hand yet — so you’ll have to make a mental note to return to this spot with the proper troops.
That’s pretty much Pikmin in a nutshell — it’s an action-strategy game that’s heavy on puzzles, and keeps you on your mental toes at all times. Of course, the natural progression of the game is such that it will slowly give you these concepts one at a time, so eventually when it comes time to integrate them all at once, you’re ready for it. As a somewhat reasonable compromise between a hard time limit and free play during missions (that the previous games have struggled to balance), Pikmin 3 offers you a limited time to complete each mission, but also allows you to re-do them if you want to attempt to better yourself.
While this does work, I feel like the time limits shouldn’t exist at all, as it was extremely frustrating to have to go back to a loading screen, wait a few minutes, then go back down and actually play the game again — or worse, feel like I should completely re-do a tedious level just to overwrite my previous failure. From a thematic standpoint it helps increase the tension of really starving foreign planet, but being able to simple redo everything takes away from the concept in the end.
But alas, despite a few moments of frustration, it’s still worth completing, and if you’re content to search every inch of the game’s world, you’ll have the opportunity to find every hidden piece of fruit and data file — which could take you quite a while longer than the roughly 10 hour campaign. The story itself is a decent narrative that has a few surprises for series fans, but despite the occasional bit of dialog that made me think of what it would be like to traverse a completely foreign planet with little hope of survival, it didn’t really stick with me. While some levels may in fact be tedious, the boss battles are the absolute highlight of the game, and I wish there were more of them. Having to switch Pikmin constantly on the fly is incredibly satisfying, as you have mere seconds to switch between your units and quickly aim and throw the right type for the situation.
A stark contrast from the often forced motion controls of the Wii, Pikmin 3 thankfully offers a number of control options such as the Pro Controller, the Wiimote and nunchuck, and the GamePad. The GamePad is a less precise method of control (due to the lack of IR aiming), but it works, and it’s nice to be able to simply boot the game up with the Pad and just play on it. You’ll also have the map readily available on the Pad regardless of what control scheme you choose, so even if you’re using a Wiimote, you can still grab the map or prop it up to tell where you are at all times.
While there are a few improvements on the Pikmin formula, the third iteration mostly feels the same. It’s an improvement in many ways for sure, but not a true evolution. I had a number of issues with the AI, including path-finding and proximity issues. For instance, pretty consistently I’d throw Pikmin at an object, only to have them stay in place, not actually interacting with it. Very often, my Pikmin will stop following me in a straight line, opting to instead get stuck in a corner somewhere, and break formation — the same goes for Pikmin who are carrying objects back to base. While this normally wouldn’t frustrate me if it happened one or two times, one of these problems occurs at least once per map, and with some minor tweaking, they could be fixed.
Thankfully, multiplayer is a ton of fun, mostly thanks to the game’s brilliant Bingo Battle mode, which I’ll get to in a second. The multiplayer side of things has a few new additions, such as a co-op mission mode (Gathering, battling, and boss fights), and extra Pikmin in the form of the occasional White (Poison) and Purple Pikmin (as strong as 10 regular troops). Outside of the boss fights, the other missions are completely new content, and can even be completed solo if you wish, which is a nice touch.
But where multiplayer really shines is Bingo Battle — a mode that pits you against another player head to head, fighting over randomly assigned resources to complete a bingo card. To be blunt, I absolutely love this mode, and it’s my favorite facet of the game. Essentially, it dumps you into a gigantic sandbox with an opponent, tasking you with grabbing certain items to “connect four,” to finish your card and win. Every single round is different in that not only the card itself is re-arranged, but the actual objects on the map are remixed as well.
If you want, you can engage in 2v2 combat, or turn on an optional capture the flag mode to add an additional objective to the bingo card goal. I can’t stress how fun Bingo Battle is when you really get into the thick of things, as you’re not only attempting to finish your card, but prevent the enemy from finishing theirs — whether that’s through the use of offensive power-ups, subversive stealing, or all-out war, attacking your opponent’s player-character or killing off their Pikmin. Mixing things up with CTF and multiple squads really helps increase the replay value.
But even multiplayer comes with a caveat — there’s no support for online play whatsoever. In this era, there’s really no excuse for at least a private co-op session between two players online, and it detracts from the package considerably. Taking into account how great Bingo Battle is, it would be a huge shame for players to miss out on it just because they don’t have someone to play with locally.
Pikmin 3 isn’t the savior of the Wii U, and the lack of online play is a major bummer, but it’s still an overall satisfying experience, and another win for Miyamoto. It’s cute, it’s tactically deep, and if you can find a local friend to play with, it’ll last you a long, long while.
This review is based on a physical copy of the Wii U game Pikmin 3.