Developer: Nintendo EAD
I met the announcement that Captain Olimar would be included in the Super Smash Bros Brawl roster with a resounding “meh.” I had never played a Pikmin game before, and did not even look in the general direction of the ports of the GCN Pikmin and Pikmin 2 (upgraded with Wii motion controls). And then, I actually played with Captain Olimar in Brawl, amused by differences in how each color Pikmin could inflict damage. This impression lasted through the release of Pikmin 3, which I purchased many years ago shortly after the launch of the Wii U, but I had yet to take the game out of the shrink wrap until now.
The only vulgar or gruesome subject matter found in Pikmin 3 is that which is the result of a neglectful leader. For example, I once failed to scout ahead after commanding my flying Pikmin to carry some fruit to the ship. One of my captains began expressing dismay at the fact that Pikmin were in distress somewhere. I found them with little effort, only to discover that a score of them were stuck in a spider web and were being devoured one by one, their poor souls floating where their bodies used to be. Pikmin can also apparently succumb to a literal lack in leadership—if left stranded without a captain, Pikmin lose the will to live and give up their literal ghosts.
Two alien cadets, Alph and Brittany, along with their captain, Charlie (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie) search space for resources that will prevent their home planet, Koppai, from perishing due to famine. Their ship, the S.S. Drake, malfunctions, and crash lands on the planet PNF-404, separating the three. It is not long before they are reunited however, as a core mechanic of Pikmin 3 is managing all Alph, Brittany, and Charlie simultaneously. I did find myself intrigued by the campy secret clues hidden around the planet, though these elements only add up to equate to a scavenger hunt for series staple Olimar.
Pikmin 3 is one of the Wii U’s “launch window” titles, not released along with the console, but before the holiday season. As such, it functioned as a demonstration of the gamepad’s potential. I did not care for off-TV play because the gamepad is much more useful for the map display, especially when aiming for platinum trophies treasure challenges. For those who are wondering about alternative controls, my children prefer the Wiimote and nunchuck combination and do just fine in cooperative modes. Still, no matter what control method, the problem of using the targeting reticle to aim at airborne enemies remained consistently problematic no matter the control method—annoying considering that these are the kinds of issues that I would expect indie developers to struggle with in 3D games.
The objective of Pikmin 3 is to use the titular Pikmin to collect as much fruit as possible around each map within a daily time limit of about thirteen real-time minutes per in-game day. The “strategic” elements of the game include finding (or growing) the appropriate number of Pikmin to handle fruit of variable sizes in addition to defeating the variable predatory lifeforms native to the planet. Additionally each color Pikmin is capable of a unique task: red Pikmin are immune to fire and make for great fighters (unless noted, all Pikmin are average fighters); blue Pikmin can breathe underwater; yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity and can be tossed high, making them great for fetching fruit on elevation or defeating airborne enemies before the discovery of pink Pikmin who make for poor fighters, but can fly; grey, or rock Pikmin cannot be tossed very far, but they do ample initial strike damage when thrown, unlike regular Pikmin that merely stick on foes like ticks; white Pikmin, only available in mission modes, are speedy and poisonous when eaten (though what kind of captain would allow their army to be eaten, I have no idea). The purple Pikmin, also exclusive to the mission modes, are my favorite; they are notably fat, make a cartoonish “BOUNG” sound when they land after being thrown, and while slow, they have the freight strength of ten Pikmin of any color.
Besides collecting fruit—a necessity given that the crew consumes one container of juice per day and if they run out, will starve—it will become necessary to overcome obstacles such as sand castle walls or electric fences. Ah, I did forget to mention: everything in this game is scaled to ant-like proportions! Indeed, Alph, Brittany, Charlie, and their Pikmin army are so small that even a frog is gargantuan enough to jump and squish everyone into pancakes. Larger foes like Daddy longlegs require Pikmin to scale them to strike weak points. Some bosses wear shells requiring stone Pikmin to crack. In other words, even in a game that largely revels in its cuteness, the obstacles and enemies are varied and interesting.
The main campaign, or story mode, is easy. I suffered a massive loss of Pikmin only once before I understood that Pikmin needed to either be with one of the crew or within the “safe zone” of their Onions (Pikmin-sized space ships). I found the inevitable Easter eggs of communication devices “evolving” from walkie-talkies, car phones, then cell phones charming, and the hunt for every single piece of fruit on PNF-404 all-consuming. I also might have spent as much time earning platinum trophies in the treasure hunter mode as I did the entire story mode; the planning, multitasking, and finesse required made me proud to earn them. I remain undecided if not confused by this game’s self-categorization of strategy, because I think of it more as a puzzle-adventure. Nevertheless, Pikmin 3 is significantly cheaper now than from when I purchased it, and should be in the library of everyone who owns a Wii U.
The Bottom Line