Wow, Nature Is Unforgiving – A Pikmin 3 Review
This game was reviewed on the Wii U.
Pikmin 3 is an action-strategy game in which you lead three bold explorers around an alien world, searching for food for their home planet. Commanding an army of intelligent vegetable sprouts called Pikmin, the explorers must make the most of their time: battling monsters, building bridges, breaking down walls, and collecting food before their supplies run out. The game lets you take the time to make careful and deliberate decisions, but sometimes thrusts you into situations in which you must act quickly to rally your Pikmin and send them after their targets.
When you begin to play the Story of Pikmin 3, you quickly see it as a fable about why we should treasure food. In a distant galaxy, on a planet called Koppai, the people have eaten all of the food on their world. With their supplies dwindling every day, the Koppaites send out probes into every corner of space, and one by one the probes report that there is no food to be found anywhere… except for one probe, sent to the faraway planet called PNF-404.
The Koppaites quickly prepare an expedition to PNF-404. Three brave volunteers are chosen for this vital mission to save the planet: engineer Alph, botanist Brittany, and Captain Charlie. With only three days’ supply of precious juice, this crew travels tens of thousands of light-years to reach their destination. But then, disaster strikes! The ship malfunctions in orbit and the three explorers are separated, each crashing on a different continent on this alien world.
Your mission is to help Alph, Brittany, and Charlie reunite with one another, and to collect fruit for Koppai so that your people can have juice to drink and seeds to plant. PNF-404 is a veritable paradise of giant fruit, ripe for the picking, but it is also a world of danger and mysteries that will draw you deeper and deeper into the wilderness. Luckily for your crew, they won’t be working alone. PNF-404 is populated by friendly native creatures, the Pikmin, who volunteer for service.
PNF-404 is a garden of wonders, filled with diverse plants and colossal landscapes. Alph, Brittany and Charlie are tiny compared to everything around them: they are approximately the size of a quarter-dollar coin, dwarfed by huge dandelions and shielded from predators by tufts of clover. They explore a series of enormous, well-cultivated gardens that are filled with plants and artifacts that should be familiar to Earthling players.
The soundtrack lends an air of calm to the atmosphere of PNF-404. In the Garden of Hope, birdsong is joined by delicate flutes and banjos, instilling the scene with a rural tranquility. In the Distant Tundra, icy synths produce a feeling of alien melancholy, with gentle bells ringing out a hesitant tune: the song of Captain Charlie, stranded by the snows. A steel drum and marimba provide background percussion to the Tropical Wilds, occasionally joined by reedy woodwinds. The instruments come together and move apart, as though the players are wandering through the dense foliage, searching for one another.
On the surface, this appears to be a very peaceful and beautiful planet. It is rendered in great detail, rich in colours, shapes and textures. Players will notice that rippling waters, waxy leaves, and fluffy dandelions are everywhere. But it is dangerous to be too caught up in this natural splendour, as it camouflages the terrifying, ferocious monsters that infest the planet. Pikmin 3 is a lesson in survival. Apparently harmless backdrops conceal hungry predators, and if you underestimate even the smallest creature then it will show you its rapacious appetite for Pikmin.
The Pikmin are helpful life forms who gladly follow your explorers as a sort of entourage, and really serve as extensions of the explorers’ wills. When you see an object that you want to take back to the landing site, you can ‘reach out’ for it by tossing Pikmin at it. If there is something which must be built or torn down, you can toss Pikmin at it and they will begin their chores. You can also toss them at enemies, to order them to attack.
Combat in Pikmin 3 is an intimidating but necessary part of life. The explorers are typically faster than PNF-404’s monsters, but the little Pikmin that follow behind are not nearly so lucky. If you try to run around monsters and avoid fights, then you will eventually run into a beast that is too large, too fast, and has too large a mouth for your legion of sprouts to escape. The squeaky cries of the little carrots remind you that there is real danger on this planet, and that you are responsible to your loyal followers. You must destroy the monsters, or else they will interrupt the Pikmin convoys that carry fruit, tiles, berries and bombs around the map for you.
Most beasts are huge, lumbering animals that require swift maneuvering and special tactics to be dealt with. Take the Bulborb as an example. This gigantic, spotted blob has a wide maw, and if you attack it from the front then it will devour four or five shrieking Pikmin at a time. The only solution is to attack from the rear and toss Pikmin on its eye-stalks, confusing the horrible creature as it tries to shake off Pikmin that gnaw, beat and tear at its hide.
There are multiple colours and types of Pikmin, each with its own, several, unique abilities: red Pikmin are fireproof, rock Pikmin can smash crystals, yellow Pikmin can conduct electricity, plus several more with their own unique abilities. It is important to know what obstacles lie ahead, which Pikmin can surmount them, and how to prepare by bringing the appropriate types and numbers with you.
Because the Pikmin can’t do anything without an explorer to lead them, you can’t get much else done once you have ordered the vegetables to carry out some task or other. Your explorer must remain in the area to act as foreman watching over the work, making sure that no monsters attack and that no Pikmin make mistakes or play truant.
This is where it becomes important to use your multiple commanders. Each can command their own squad of Pikmin and travel across the map, so that you can carry out multiple tasks at once. This saves a great deal of time, which is vital to success! When sunset arrives every day, you must return your Pikmin to the landing site and take off, or else nocturnal creatures will devour you all. Beyond the cycle of day and night, you also have to keep an eye on your juice supply: you begin with three day’s supply, and every night your crew will polish off one of your bottles. It is vital to collect as much fruit as you can, as often as you can, so that you can restock the ship and continue exploring another day.
All of your preparations are made easier by the KopPad, an in-game item that mimics the GamePad held in your hands. The KopPad’s display is shown on your GamePad at all times. During normal play it shows an overhead map of the region, including all regions that you have explored, any fruit or objects of interest in that explored area, the locations of your explorers, and the locations and types of Pikmin in the field. Using the KopPad you can plot out your day’s work before leaving the landing site, deciding what chores must be done, what obstacles must be overcome, and which fruits can be collected.
Perhaps the most useful feature of the KopPad is that it allows you to plot courses for your explorers. Once you have assigned them a Pikmin squad, you can drag your finger on the KopPad to choose a destination for the commander. A dotted line on the screen shows the course of their travel, and by pressing the Go Here button that appears on the screen, you can send them to journey automatically to their goal. This saves an enormous amount of time and allows you to use the division of labour to multitask.
Story mode can become overwhelming after a while. If you don’t want to play through its massive stages and arduous tasks, then you can turn to Mission mode instead. This is an arcade mode where every match has a time limit, and you aim for a high score. You can go on a treasure hunt, trying to collect as much fruit and gold as you can find; a monster hunt, trying to kill the biggest beasts; or you can replay boss battles, aiming to outperform your past encounters.
Pikmin 3 also includes a multiplayer mode called Bingo Battle, in which you and a friend can compete against one another to gather goodies. Both players are given a 5×5 bingo board with pictures of fruit, treasures and monsters on it: the first player to collect the goodies and complete a straight line across their board will be the winner! If you do not want to compete with your friends, Pikmin 3 also allows you to play co-operatively in Missions, so that you can reach even higher scores and more remote areas of the maps.
The story mode of Pikmin 3 is an intense and deeply immersive adventure in a world that is both alien and familiar. It is easy to pass hours at a time in the real world, spending many days exploring PNF-404. Just when it feels like you have completed your tasks for the day, you will often discover a new goal, a hidden pathway, a secret treasure, or an unknown fruit. With dusk fast approaching, you will have to return for these goodies on the next day – and the preparations will sometimes take a day or two on their own, as you break down barriers, build bridges, defeat monsters, and navigate the tricky terraces and chasms that separate you from your goal. With help from the KopPad you can send your explorers to carry out all of these tasks at once: the game can become a sort of business simulator, in which you must manage time and labour resources efficiently, to get the most profit out of every day!
Pikmin 3 allows you to play at your own pace, whether you want an in-depth, strategic experience in Story mode or quick, tactical action in Mission and Bingo Battle modes. What appears on the surface to be a simple and easy game can offer you a great deal of complex scenarios and monstrous challenges. Pikmin 3 is easily one of the better games of recent years, and certainly one of the very best for the Wii U. Between its luxurious visuals, enchanting melodies, loveable characters and rewarding gameplay, this game is a living, breathing world.
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