Red or Blue?
Aliens are real. They exist. Once we get past that fact (seriously, just ask the entirety of Phoenix, Arizona), we can stop imagining why otherworldly beings haven't exactly stopped by for a cup of tea. Humans are so incredibly violent to each other—why would an alien race think they'd be met with anything other than a face full of buckshot? When I consider the fact that our universe spans millions and billions of light years, I start to wonder not of an impending alien invasion, but of the friendly faces hidden among the stars.
I suppose that's why Alph, Brittany, and Charlie—the trio of protagonists in Pikmin 3—give a whistle and a wave and immediately start tossing the alien life of PNF-404 around like Beanie Babies. When Nintendo's new interplanetary heroes touch down on a planet teeming with foreign life, it's time to get down to business and the rainbow-colored Pikmin are all too willing to help. In presenting a familiar landscape dotted with unfamiliar creatures, Pikmin 3 gives the player an odd sense of wonder and responsibility that comes from both gameplay and presentation.
In reintroducing players to Pikmin, Alph, Brittany, and Charlie will have to reunite first, but to do so they'll have to ration fruit juice for every "day" of playtime. As was the case in past Pikmin games, nocturnal predatory creatures make it impossible to progress, so activity will be segmented by day cycles. Unlike past Pikmin games, players can replay days as many times as they'd like to perfect strategy and unit management and they won't fail the campaign if they don't complete it within 30 days (as previous titles required). In fact, the larger level structure in Pikmin 3 belies the nature of time management and might fool fans of past games.
With three explorers at players' fingertips, Pikmin have to divide to conquer. Flipping between characters is easy and directing three different squads quickly becomes frantic, alien fun. No other game does strategy as actively as Pikmin. Each explorer can tear down walls, collect fruit, and do battle with carnivorous enemies independent of the others. Giving orders from one explorer to a separate Pikmin squad will only work if players make sure to flip back and issue more commands quickly. Without direct interaction, Alph, Brittany, and Charlie like to laze around on the job and their Pikmin will follow suit.
That's why it's important to play aggressively, but you know… don't stress yourself out. There's no shame in huddling up with Pikmin in orbit while night passes. The greatest enjoyment Pikmin 3 has to offer comes from doing just enough in the field on any given day to make it back to the ship with every stray Pikmin in tow (and enough fresh fruit to continue the campaign). Juggling objectives and coming to grips with the responsibility players have for every Pikmin life lost will quickly become apparent.
It's an odd emotion for the strategy genre where an ever-expanding unit count can make Firebats exceedingly expendable. Players are limited to just one-hundred Pikmin on the field at any time, so specializing squads with all blue Pikmin headed for underwater objectives or all yellow Pikmin for fruit hanging on a high branch is a must. Lose too many of one type, though, and players will have to backtrack a few days to build their squad up once more.
When the little creatures screech and die in the mouth of an aggressive enemy (or jaunt up to the departing spaceship only to be eaten as exhaust blasts dirt in their faces), players will absolutely feel guilty. Blatant mistakes feel shameful, like matching vulnerable rock Pikmin against a fire-type enemy even if you have scores of flame-retardant red Pikmin at your disposal. Unavoidable missteps feel more tragic than anything else. It's a shame that the game's final area effectively forces players to expend whole populations of Pikmin to beat the game.
Everything seems stacked against the little creatures, even if they're the most endearing and likable figures in the game. I had an odd sort of disdain for Alph and the other explorers. This wasteful civilization has exhausted their resources with no regard for the future, but the Pikmin know nothing of that past. The Pikmin offer themselves without expecting anything in return, but the connection the player will forge with them is largely betrayed throughout gameplay.
It's heart-wrenching, but the wealth of entertaining gameplay makes up for it. The main campaign is satisfyingly long, but diehard explorers will find more challenge and deeper gameplay in Mission Mode. Both Story and Mission Mode offer leaderboards and trackable stats, all the way down to every Pikmin life lost. The replayability is undeniable and layered, with experience gained in other modes aiding your performance in Story Mode—and that even includes tactics and skills from Bingo Battle.
Bingo Battle pits two players against each other in an effort to gather four consecutive items from your card. Bingo cards are randomized, so you might have to take down tough enemies, collect fruit, or both, to win. There's no online multiplayer, but two friends on a couch can waste hours at a time squabbling over who the best explorer is. Brilliant graphics with tons of sprites, fast action, and engaging, unique gameplay make Pikmin 3 a complete package, but there are a few nagging complaints.
Some textures look stretched and muddy (even if they're supposed to look like dirt) and it's clear that Pikmin 3 walked a long trail to Wii U. The controls alone present a messy and confusing dearth of options. The ideal scheme involves the Wii U GamePad on a stand, maybe sitting on your coffee table, and a Wii-mote and Nunchuk in hand. Unfortunately, you'll have to pick up the GamePad frequently, dropping your dual motion controllers to interact with menus, utilize the first-person GamePad camera, or even direct unused explorers to other locations. Utilizing just the GamePad allows you to keep all play on the handheld screen if you need to share the TV and use the map on the fly, but your pointer will miss the infrared bar's added accuracy.
Regardless, these issues will quickly fade as Pikmin 3's engaging storyline (including Dead Space-esque notes left behind by previous explorers) takes hold. Feelings of success and failure certainly magnify through Nintendo's measured and player-oriented development lens, but it's multiplied as the company explores HD resolution with timid, first-contact steps. With Wii U gamers hungry for software, Pikmin 3 offers an interstellar feast.
Copy provided by publisher. Exclusive to Wii U.