The Pikmin franchise attempts something that many games have tried and failed to do: make a fun real-time strategy game playable on a console. With the release of Pikmin 3 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch, a new generation of gamers are discovering a game that manages to do it right, but it’s not without its flaws.
An adorable army
Pikmin games tend to strand the player on a planet with little hope of accomplishing their mission. It is only through the use of Pikmin that the heroes can survive on a harsh planet where most wildlife is much larger than you. Thankfully, the player has fine allies in their campaign to save their home planet from starvation.
The strength of Pikmin comes down to their numbers and their specialization. Red Pikmin, for example, are combat experts who deal increased damage in battle. However, they can’t be thrown as far as Yellow Pikmin or survive in water like a Blue Pikmin can. Pikmin have their specializations in both combat and solving puzzles, and later levels will see players using a roughly even mix of the colorful creatures. The different types of Pikmin adds a surprising layer of strategy to Pikmin 3 Deluxe.
The path to success
Pikmin 3 Deluxe offers several game modes for the player to enjoy. The heart of the game is surely the story: three astronauts come to a planet in search of food and get separated after an accident. The player has to balance progressing through the game while searching for their crewmates, useful information, and other allies. One must also ensure a steady supply of juice by acquiring fruit as each day only lasts so long and the protagonists consume a juice bottle at the end of the day. The juice mechanic effectively sets an overall time limit (albeit a very generous one) for the campaign as a whole.
As a real-time strategy, Pikmin 3 Deluxe players must consider the “small picture” and “big picture” in every level. The small picture — also known as “micro” in real-time strategy games — is making effective use of your Pikmin in battle and moving as quickly as possible. The big picture (also known as “macro”) is ensuring a steady supply of fresh units, completing overall objectives, and managing your army of diminutive warriors across the map as a whole.
Soldiers need commanders, however, and Pikmin 3 Deluxe is no different. The third core game in the franchise features a total of three characters, each of which has the ability to throw Pikmin at objects or enemies, order them to charge at an enemy, or call them back with the whistle. This handful of moving parts promise entertaining gameplay, but a few problems can make moving your Pikmin around occasionally frustrating.
The pathfinding is one of the largest issues in Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Your Pikmin will go to where you tell them to go 95% of the time. 5% of the time, however, a handful of your Pikmin are inexplicably stuck on a corner or a ledge. In the worst-case scenario, Pikmin can fall into water and die if they are not recovered quickly. It’s a frustrating issue that shouldn’t exist in a modern real-time strategy game with otherwise excellent pathfinding, and it’s most evident in the story’s final (and extraordinarily challenging) mission.
Once Pikmin are separated from the party, they’ll idly stand around until they are recalled with the whistle which is another source of constant frustration. The whistle covers a very tiny area that expands as the player holds down the B Button. Unfortunately, the whistle often gets the attention of Pikmin outside of the circle, making it difficult for the player to select precise groups, and that can be a serious downside in the heat of battle. Several other smaller issues plague the game. The camera, for example, can be moved horizontally but not vertically; there are often moments where it’s difficult to get a good look at something.
These issues aside, Pikmin 3 Deluxe manages to have a number of helpful failsafes and quality-of-life features. A waypoint will eventually appear in the game world to point the player in the right direction should they get lost. The vast majority of boss fights can be abandoned if they start going south, and the amount of fruit in the game affords the player plenty of wiggle room to plan out the proper strategy.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe is more than just a campaign. While the story mode is arguably short — a non-completionist run can beat it in 8–12 hours — two bonus campaigns featuring Olimar and Louie are available for players to enjoy. These are supplemented by several challenge modes, the option to play co-op multiplayer, and a competitive 2-player “Bingo Battle” mode.
“Olimar’s Assignment” is the first of the two Side Stories; it features four short, self-contained missions where players try to hit a high score by collecting as much fruit as possible. The “Olimar’s Comeback,” campaign, on the other hand, is all about recovering Olimar’s ship through a series of ten missions.
In both cases, these additional missions pit the player against a timer, disappointing those who may want to continue the relatively leisurely pace of the campaign. The Pikmin 3 Deluxe Side Stories are also standalone missions that serve as a stark contrast to the campaign of the main story. Although challenging, the bonus missions, especially Olimar’s Comeback, have an entertaining story and intriguing challenges all their own. They are well worth playing.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe Review | The final verdict
Pikmin 3 Deluxe does what Starcraft 64 could not: make a real-time strategy game work well on console. It does have its aggravating flaws and quirks, but these are balanced out in part by robust quality-of-life features and sensible design. Despite its flaws, Pikmin 3 Deluxe gets most of its gameplay right and will hopefully serve as the blueprint for the continuation of the franchise on the Nintendo Switch.