Like an Old Friend Returning

E3 2012: Pikmin 3 is as delightful and charming as you remember the franchise being.

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When nothing grows in your garden, you begin to fear the worst. Have the nutrients all been used up? Do you have an infestation of boll weevils? No one poured salt in the earth, did they? But then one morning you walk through your garden, assuming that you'll once again be greeted by a barren patch of black soil, when a green stalk catches your eye. Could it be true? Has your garden finally returned? The years of absence fade away as you rejoice in your blossoming oasis.

That's the feeling that sprung forth when Nintendo showed off Pikmin 3 for the first time. This plant-based real-time strategy franchise has been off the radar for eight long years. Though Nintendo did mention its existence once or twice, it always seemed like an empty promise. The idea that there really was a sequel to this beloved adventure, inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto's own gardening hobby, was like a dream that would vanish as soon as we woke up. But now that it's real, and we had a chance to play it, we can confirm that it's just as charming as you remember.

If anything, Pikmin has only become more endearing in the eight years (two console generations!) we've been apart. Amid the sea of violence and vulgarity that permeates big-budget games, the lovable, pint-sized beings are a welcome respite. But it's not just the happy-go-lucky tone that makes Pikmin 3 so engrossing; it's the core concept. What worked so well on the GameCube is still incredibly rewarding almost a decade later.

Very little has changed since Pikmin 2 doffed its flowery cap. And though being derivative is usually a bad thing, it works for Pikmin because it has been so long since the last game came out, and there is nothing else on the market quite like it. It's hard to be sick of an idea when games sporting that gameplay surface only once in a blue moon.

For the uninitiated, you control a pint-size spaceman that has crash-landed on Earth. Upon arriving in this strange land, you find a group of plantlike creatures waiting for you. Docile and obedient, they circle around you when you blow a whistle. In the demo we played, resource gathering was the main task. So we sought out trash on the ground, directed our Pikmin to carry it back to our ship, and basked in the wealth.

Given that the Wii U doesn't support the GameCube controller, we used the Wii Remote with Nunchuk. Although we were initially hesitant to change, the new method is, at worst, equal to what the original offered, and could be better with practice. You can easily point at the objects you want to collect and send your Pikmin that way quickly and smoothly. Switching between different Pikmin (there were two in the demo, red and stone) is a snap, and gathering them with your beckoning whistle is as easy as pie. The GamePad is also supported, though we weren't allowed to try it for ourselves. We were told that it's a little less intuitive using that controller instead of the Wii Remote, and E3 goers unfamiliar with the concept of Pikmin were struggling to come to grips with the controls.

Although we aren't sure how the game feels with the GamePad, we're certain that what we played is incredibly fun. The slow pacing and gooey charm go together beautifully, and the combat is fast and furious. Using the new aiming controls, you can attack enemies from different angles with ease, and hoisting the carcass after a hard-fought battle is always rewarding. We're giddy that this game actually exists, and is incredibly fun, and we cannot wait to play the final game sometime during the Wii U's launch window.

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