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Review: Pikmin 3

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The planet Koppai is running low on food. A desperate search of the cosmos is underway to retrieve food resources from the Class M planets. While this sounds like your typical sci-fi film plot, this is the basis for the latest installment on a series that Captain Olimar built using a whistle.  After numerous delays, Pikmin 3 finally debuts Nintendo’s first Triple A effort on its newest home console. There are high expectations from fans of this beloved franchise that this third entry will deliver.  In short, the Pikmin have answered the whistle and are ready to dig up a passion for gaming you never knew existed.

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Class of Its Own

It was an odd and brilliant story when legendary game creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, admitted he was inspired by his frequent gardening to create the Pikmin franchise. Equally as odd and brilliant has been the effort to classify where in gaming’s genres these plant-like creatures belong. Since the enemies in the game require a different approach each time, the game feels more like Zelda than Mario among Miyamoto’s creations with the backtracking of Metroid. The puzzle elements are more realtime than most realtime strategy (RTS) Sid Meier games (e.g., you can see actual enemy fighting and not a simple animation, the number of soldiers, and a sound effect). There’s also a lock-and-key element thrown in with a bridge construction focus.  Add to the mix the fact that there’s corporate daily graph presented to you in tycoon fashion and a mortality tracker that reminds me of Battlestar Galactica, and you’ve got a potpourri of genres all mixed in there…and it works quite well. The only way to sum it up appropriately – Pikmin is a complicated game of Fetch.

GAMEPLAY: A

Playing the Game

There are 5 game controlling options:

  1. GamePad Only – For gamers who have to share their TV often with other family members.
  2. Pro Controller + TV – This is the traditional way to play Pikmin that mimics how the first two installments were played on the GCN.
  3. GamePad + TV Combo – For gamers who like to glance at their map on the GamePad while everything is happening on screen.  There are some story elements that are given cosmetic enhancements using this method. Swiping the map on the GamePad is a nice touch.
  4. Wii Remote and Nunchuk + TV – The most functionally efficient way to play the game.  Using the onscreen cursor maximizes your aim while continuing to stay mobile.  Pikmin is about being efficient with every minute of a ‘Pikminese‘ day.
  5. Wii Remote and Nunchuk + GamePad + TV – This is actually no different from the 4th gameplay style except you’re using the GamePad to sweep through a map of discovered areas by occasionally swiping your GamePad. This last option is reserved for the somewhat overly hardcore Pikmin player. Anyone using this control option is aiming looking to boast their completion times online or on Miiverse.

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Three’s Company

Along with the previously described 3 max mediums of gameplay controlling options, there’s a theme of 3’s at work here:

  1. Three Koppaian Crew Members – The original Pikmin featured famed Captain Olimar of Hocotate, left to his own devices to survive the Pikmin world. In Pikmin 2, Olimar was joined by coworker Louie, which allowed for two separate squadrons, allowing for Olimar to throw Louie over obstacles along with a group of Pikmin of his own to control.  This enhanced the puzzle elements and furthered took the multitasking to a new level.  In Pikmin 3, the use of three potential squad leaders adds a whole new dimension to the ways levels and backtracking elements are designed. It’s so detailed that Corporate America can teach their managers how to compartmentalize tasks just from playing this game.

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  1. Three Mission Modes:
    1. Story is your classic single-player Pikmin campaign with the franchise’s handholding tutorial over the course of the first three days.  Once you get the hang of it, you’re off to create your own Pikmin pace.  The daily time limit of the first game makes its return.  Gone are the timeless caves of Pikmin 2 and 30-day deadline of the original. The players are only responsible for keeping their Koppaian squad leaders juiced from day to day. Nintendo has also implemented a time machine interface that will allow you to repeat a completed day.  This is to help the inevitable carelessness of having your entire Pikmin troupe wiped out with a single wrong turn.  Don’t worry. I’ve already been there multiple times in Pikmin 3. This time machine interface definitely lends itself in the replay value department. Prepare to spend at least 15-20 hours (if not more) of gameplay time as careful players will repeat days on multiple occasions while the speedy gamers with no regard for Pikmin life will clock in 8-12 hours to complete the quest.
    2.  Mission mode is made for speed run junkies with options to: (1) collect the most treasure; (2) kill the most enemies; (3) re-visit boss battles.  Times and scores are posted online in “Global Rankings”. Given the game’s multitasking emphasis, every second is important in mission mode.  This added feature is a welcomed addition that will improve the already-high replay values seen in Story Mode.
    3. Bingo Battle is the franchise’s new head-to-head mode.  It’s a clever implementation and expansion on Pikmin 2’s multiplayer mode.  The addition of the bingo card really helps to diversify the numerous strategies that can be employed to stump your fellow gamer…locally.  It’s easy to turn the tide on an appointment that’s overwhelmed you throughout a match. Careful targeting of bingo card items will aid your cause greatly. Unfortunately, the downside for Bingo Battle is the lack of an online mode.

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Responsiveness

There is a learning curve where the use of the whistle to retrieve Pikmin is used consistently.  Pikmin aren’t as responsive in this game to the retrieve function.  After recently playing Pikmin 2 for GCN, it feels like the aiming mechanism may be a little too sensitive.  This is easily remedied with the use of the Wii Remote + Nunchuk, using the pointer for all of your aiming needs.

GRAPHICS: B

Pikmin 3’s art direction hasn’t changed since the first two installments on the GCN. As a matter of fact, if you’ve only played the first two games since 9 years ago, shortly after Pikmin 2 was released, you may not notice the significant leap in graphics that the series has made.  The improved graphics horsepower of the Wii U is subtly put to work with textures, character models, environmental effects (e.g., water, fire, electricity, snow, etc.) show noticeable cosmetic improvements. Nintendo’s in-house development team at Entertainment Analysis & Development (EAD) has once again opted to go with photo-realistic garden graphics with inhabitants that are designed appropriately to fit in a lush, fertile environment. Character models of our alien-invading humanoid protagonists are again on the cartoony side. There’s a Buzz Lightyear-esque look and feel to them. The juxtaposition of these two art styles (photorealistic vegetation and cartoony alien technology) make you feel like a kid playing with toys in the backyard.

If there’s a downside to the graphics, it’s the visually and noticeably apparent look of a game that wasn’t created for the Wii U from the ground up (no pun intended).  The ground textures at times, while looking good from far are far from good up close.  This looks to be a leftover from running the game on the previous engine.  Also, the background textures of trees in the distance can also pixelate at times and feel  more like billboards in the distance rather than actual giant trees.  James Cameron is cringing.  These graphic shortcomings are nit-picky though considering that the rest of the textures and locations in the game are chock full of the bio-diversity and beauty that’s synonymous with this franchise. Furthermore, Pikmin’s graphics are indicative of the upside of Nintendo’s growing grasp of transitioning into HD graphics.

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TECHNICAL A+

Improved Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Increased horsepower has vastly improved the Pikmin AI from the first two games.  For example, while walking over a bridge, there’s no need to use a separate control to make sure they walk in a single file line and not fall over the sides.  Another improvement is that Pikmin are much smarter to continue tasks until it’s completed.  If you leave a few Pikmin to pick up bridge tiles for construction, they will return to the pile of tiles until it’s they’ve used all of them in bridge construction. There are more improvements that can be seen, but are done in the name of emphasizing the gamer’s ingenuity, problem-solving, and multitasking as opposed to control oversights. The AI’s improvement over the first two games is comparable to going backward in a level of Super Mario Bros. 3 over the original Super Mario Bros – a smart improvement that hugely affects gameplay structure.

Sound Design & Music

The music composers – Asuka Hayazaki, Atsuko Asashi, and Hajime Wakai – have put together a theme that’s consistent with the first two titles.  The game’s musical score helps to retain the lightheartedness of the first two games and keeps the mood delightful as ever. The music doesn’t distract and accomplishes that Nintendo feat of tying the score to the game, much like the music in Zelda and Mario help you identify their respective games if you were just to hear the music by itself. Thankfully, the Pikminese cadences while carrying items, high-pitched “what just happened?” sound while being thrown, and the death cry are all untouched.  Production values are also apparent when you first start the game. Voice narrations have been added to tell the story. Although the classic Nintendo jumbled talk that was created during the Nintendo 64 era has made its return.  It would’ve been nice to put some voice actors to work here. After all, Buzz Lightyear needed Tim Allen and Darth Vader needed James Earl Jones. However, this may be too much to ask for since Mario and Link both have speech challenges as well.

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OVERALL: A

If ever there was a title that is sorely needed to inject some life into the current Wii U gaming library, this is it.  Pikmin is a one-of-a-kind experience that is made for gamers of all ages. It has great production and high replay values for a continued revisiting of the series throughout the lifespan of the Wii U. It exudes charm and delight at every turn, while challenging your synapses for gratifying problem-solving. For fans of the first two titles, this is and should be an instant buy. For folks who’ve never tried the Pikmin games, this game is currently the best reason to own a Wii U outside of Earthbound. The Nintendo stables at EAD have taken the best elements of the first two installments and bred themselves a gaming masterpiece

Special thanks to fellow Pikmin gamer Siliconian for the assist.

 

 

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Images Source: Island_Gamer’s Miiverse (Follow Me!)

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