What with both a new Luigi’s Mansion and now a new Pikmin, Nintendo seems to be in a real Gamecube state of mind these days and that’s totally fine by me as the Gamecube was and is my favorite Nintendo console. Yeah the SNES was cool or whatever but the first-party games on the GC were just so special. They weren’t necessarily the best of their respective series but they were unique and played with their concepts in some very interesting ways that the Big N had never done before and hasn’t truly done since. The epitome of that was the Pikmin series which was criminally neglected last generation, it was strange and confusing and utterly unlike anything else in the Nintendo catalog. Thankfully that legacy of being something truly different has been upheld and Pikmin 3 is worthy of the name and just might be worth getting a Wii U for…maybe.
Gameplay-wise this plays like just more Pikmin (not a bad thing mind you considering how long it’s been since the last game) but they’ve added a few new hooks and smartly roll everything out at a perfect pace. The new stuff is nothing mind-blowing, a couple new types of Pikmin (rock and flying) and few new mechanics like bomb rocks and electric walls that honestly I’m not even sure are new. That said because it has been so long, every mechanic feels both somewhat fresh and yet familiar bridging the fun of discovery with the warmth of nostalgia. I will say the game doesn’t control as fluidly in places as I remember, the ability to sweep your pikmin around with the right stick is gone and the cursor for your whistle and throw is at a fixed distance rather than you being able to move it about which I swear you could do in the GC games but it has been nigh on a decade since I played those. This slight rigidity in the controls is easily made up for by an overall better AI for the pikmin, they will still constantly get stuck on shit while just walking around but once set to an objective they conquer it very efficiently and innately use their properties to do so. As an example flying pikmin will carry an item back to your ship over water or obstacles if it’s a faster route than the one your land bound pikmin are taking. Again overall the gameplay is the same as ever but there are the appropriate adjustments made to liven things up and keep everything moving smooth.
Of course sheer mechanics aside, this is still a new game packed full of new puzzles, new enemies, and new bosses. That same wonderful slow exploratory feel is very much present as you amble through the game’s five environments feeling out each zone with cautious curiosity. This mixed with the time limited in-game days creates a good tug and pull of both slowly trawling through the environment yet doing it in as efficient a manner as possible to get as much as you can done. They’ve even raised the stakes by making it so you need to gather fruit to create a juice supply which you use to sustain yourself, if you run out of juice because you’ve been exploring too slowly or sloppily then it’s game over, it’s very hard for that to happen mind you but it adds a nice little edge of tension.
I think the real joy of Pikmin though has always come from its atmosphere and the Wii U’s HD graphics help breed that serene garden feeling better than ever before. This is easily the best looking game on the Wii U and it sports this great mix of fantastically designed monsters and mundane but giant-sized objects, the monsters all have a very bulgy cartoonish look to them and whereas the real world objects look as accurately modeled as possible, it creates a perfect visual contrast. Obviously these concepts were present in the first two games but they’re just so well represented here it bears mentioning. Also the music is right where you need it with nice peaceful slow mellow space jams lulling you through the experience and some appropriately tense boss music to spice things up when it’s time to kick the pace into high gear. Overall this is just a pleasant game to experience even if you’re not the one playing it. Also worth noting is the fact that the game looks great and plays great on just the Wii U Gamepad, in fact that’s how I ended up playing most of the game and it made for an equivalent if not slightly better experience as it contained everything to the single screen.
In addition to the pleasantness of the package you also have some real charm packed into the writing delivering both that chill Gamecube era Nintendo vibe and a slight air of ennui that fits the alien world setting of the story. The premise is that you are a group of explorers from the planet Koppai (a neighbouring planet to Hocatate where Captain Olimar from the first game is from) looking for a planet rich in fruit so you can bring back the seeds to cultivate the fields of the increasingly barren Planet Koppai. Upon finding a planet rich in fruit (that is never explicitly called earth but seems very similar to it, just as in the prior games) you crash-land and must regroup your three explorers, recover as much fruit as you can, and repair your ship all with the help of an army of odd but ever loyal pikmin. The best part of the whole game for me was the dialog from the characters; the wavering but optimistic daily reports of your team, the hilariously interpretive descriptions of common fruit from the crew botanist, and the mysteriously sad logs you’ll find from a certain Hocatatian captain. Over the course of your time with the game (took me about 10 hours but if you go for every fruit it could take double that) you’ll slowly get to understand your crew and really experience this feeling of isolation that comes from being lost on a completely alien world. It’s the same feeling that made the first Pikmin so interesting and it’s back here in full force.
Pikmin 3 is an utterly charming and enjoyable experience that takes me back to my favorite era of Nintendo, back when Zelda was cell-shaded, Luigi was a reluctant hero, and Mario wore a super-soaker jetpack. The games were unique and different and actual evolutions of age-old brands. While Nintendo never really lost that vibe when it comes to making games they did certainly go more traditional last gen with games being more directly relatable to past ones in their respective series so seeing them starting to call back to stranger days is incredibly refreshing. I can happily give Pikmin 3 a 5 out of 5 stars; while I’m not sure it’s worth buying a Wii U for if you don’t already have one, it’s a good reason to not count Nintendo out quite yet.