Pikmin 3 Review – Third Time’s Still the Charm

Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Format: Nintendo Wii U (played)
Release Date: August 4, 2013
Copy borrowed from friend

Pikmin 3 was a game I eagerly awaited to play ever since it was shown at E3 in 2011. I remember being captivated by the familiar yet alien world, the intriguing enemies, and the brutal bosses of the first two games, and so 2011 Spide was positive that when she got her hands on a Wii U, Pikmin 3 would offer yet another adventure of wonder and strategy. So now that I’ve played Pikmin 3, were the hopes of 2011 Spide met in a time where the Wii U was a flop and quickly replaced by the Switch? Well, mostly.

I was so excited to see how these cute little bastards would ruin my every plan to keep them alive this time around ♥

 Pikmin 3 is a return to the familiar Pikmin formula with almost no innovations. Find some sort of important items (in this case fruit to sustain your crew), figure out how to get your pikmin to said item, and bring it back to your ship while avoiding enemies and environmental hazards. The story even begins with a crash landing as every Pikmin game has before it, along with the second game’s trope where the characters are separated. One of the slight changes in Pikmin 3 is how it takes a middle-ground approach to having a time limit for collecting key items. While the first game of the series forced the player to complete the game in just 30 days, Pikmin 2 did away with any sort of time limit. Pikmin 3, however, makes the fruit the player is collecting into the time limit itself, in that each piece of fruit collected contributes to the food storage and, therefore, the amount of time the player has to complete the game.

This new way of dealing with a time limit is, in theory, a much more enjoyable and fulfilling experience than either the first or second games’ approach because it puts control into the player’s hands. The player has to then decide when they have enough food in storage to spend the day building up their pikmin masses or how long one can spend trying to solve a particularly difficult puzzle.

My only issue with this system was that, as an experienced player of the series, there might as well have been no time limit at all as I never found myself in any true shortage of fruit juice. Maybe for a player who has never played Pikmin, this system would prove to be the resource management it seemed to want to be, but for me, it made little impact at all. And while Pikmin 2, my favorite in the series, had no time limit, it made up for that with its brutality in everything from the environments, the common enemies, and the epic boss battles. Meanwhile, Pikmin 3 was a complete turn away from its predecessor in this way.

This promotional image for Pikmin 2 had barbed wire in it to prepare the player for the war they were about to be enlisted in.

Most enemies in Pikmin 3 were easy to deal with, that is, when there were enemies to deal with at all. While exploring the world, I found very little enemies to contend with and even a few places which were heavily populated with enemies that could otherwise be avoided completely. Not to mention that the newly added pink pikmin can simply fly over nearly all enemy types, making hauling items to the ship even easier by ignoring the already sparse enemies all together. Moreover, most puzzles are extremely easy to solve, with the few exceptions where the solution is simply more infuriating and difficult to pull off than it is clever. This isn’t to say that all of the puzzles aren’t fulfilling or fun, but rather that some could have had more thought put into their creation. There were also many puzzles that surprised me and used the pikmin in new and interesting ways, such as flying pink pikmin having to pick up gates and be left on them to keep them open or rock pikmin being used to smash open crystal and glass.

Puzzles aside, the environments are just as awe-inspiring as the previous games, this time in glorious HD. Thanks to the HD, there are many small details added, such as gentle breezes and falling leaves, which make each level feel more alive, reaching a visual aesthetic that seems to be just how the Pikmin series always should have been. The updated pikmin pathing also makes navigating each beautifully detailed area less worrisome as pikmin are less likely to fall behind and become lost.

This, however, comes with the loss of the old way to control pikmin with another control stick. In its place is the swarm system, and while it seems like a better solution, I found myself running into many problems with it and wishing I could quickly move my pikmin manually to avoid harm in boss fights. Many times, it simply would not lock onto enemies for seemingly no reason or lock onto the wrong target entirely, making me feel less in control of my pikmin army and leaving me at the mercy of many harsh boss attacks. This ability was great for swarming pikmin onto fences and items, but once locked on, there was no way to only send a single pikmin color after an item, meaning the player would first have to halt the pikmin so that they separate into their own color groups, whistle to that group and hope that no other pikmin were accidentally called as well, and then target and swarm the item of interest. For me, the swarm feature was simply too frustrating at times and only made me miss the old controls all the more.

The pikmin floating away and out of reach in this image represent how much control I felt I had over them while using the new swarm feature.

But the most disappointing part about this game is its ending. The entire game, the three main characters are searching for Captain Olimar, and rescuing him forces the player to partake in a surprise escort mission which takes multiple days to pull off, followed finally by an otherwise satisfying boss fight. The boss fight alone seemed long and complex enough to serve as a game ender, but the escort mission felt like a cheap way to only slightly change up the formula. It was nice that the escort mission made the player utilize almost everything they had previously learned about the world, but most players, I would imagine, will have to tackle this mission in the span of a few days. This means that the player has to traverse the same parts repeatedly, with the only saving grace being that the walls they have broken down and bridges they built remain taken care of.

And while it’s true that pikmin itself boils down to almost entirely nothing but escort missions, this particular escort mission ignored the part of pikmin that embraces and rewards the player’s slow and careful planning of each puzzle and plan of attack. Instead, I found myself frantically trying to figure out where to go and what to do next, all while trying to juggle the three characters, the many different pikmin types, and the small group responsible to hauling Olimar to safety while in hot pursuit by the final boss.

I bet collecting this berry was more fun than saving Olimar. Tastier, too.

All in all, Pikmin 3 is a fine addition to the series, even if it falls just a bit short of its predecessors. It wasn’t quite the perfect package like the first game, nor was it as challenging as Pikmin 2, what I refer to as the “Dark Souls” of the series. But it showed mastery in that charm Pikmin always brings with its lively and vibrant world and unique yet strangely familiar enemies. Overall, it’s a game both experienced players and newcomers to the series alike can enjoy, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of Pikmin.

Weakest of the series but just as charming


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