Overwhelmingly dangerous, yet delightfully light-hearted
Pikmin 3 is a game that seamlessly blends some rather somber undertones with a heavy dose of light-hearted joy, and the game starts working that magic from the moment it presents its storyline. The planet of Koppai has had all of its natural resources completely depleted. On the very verge of dramatic mass starvation, teams are sent to explore nearby planets in search of food, only to come back home empty-handed. However, a team of three explorers - Alph, Brittany and Charlie - stumble upon an alien planet that not only possesses fruit whose seeds can be used to breathe life back to Koppai, but also has them in gigantic size. However, just like the pieces of fruit are enormous, so are the life forms that inhabit the planet's surface. Fortunately, the brave crew of explorers will find the helpful Pikmin to aid them in their task.
That's the extent of the setting of Pikmin 3. It has all the ingredients of an epically dramatic space opera: a devastated home planet, a group of explorers millions of miles away from home having to make do with limited resources, valuable goods that need to be collected, and enormous threatening beasts trying to keep them away from reaching their goal. However, as a game true to Nintendo's legacy, Pikmin 3 is whimsical about everything surrounding it. It starts with the absolutely gorgeous graphics that paint the rather hostile environment in shiny vivid colors, and it ends with the game's joyful presentation where both the characters facing an impossible task and the creatures they have to face could have easily come out of a silly cartoon. The characters engage in dialogues that are humorous and juvenile, and the battles can be often playful; at the same time, the game never lets players forget that this is by all means a dangerous adventure.
Not only are the game's maps filled with vile enemies who are looking forward to devour the captains and their pikmin, but the place is also packed with traps and obstacles. Electrical circuits must be fixed, lakes must be overcome, fiery geezers must be avoided, and walls must be brought down. For those tasks, and many others, captains must wisely use their army of pikmin. Aside from the already known aggressive fire-proof red pikmin, aquatic blue pikmin and nimble electric yellow pikmin, the game presents two new types of creatures: rock and pink. Rock pikmin, though not aggressive during battles, cannot get crushed by enemies and are able to break down the most resistant walls; while pink pikmin have wings which enable them to take loot back to the spaceship without exposing themselves to many dangers and to overcome special barriers.
The new pikmin types are used wisely in the map layout both by the introduction of new enemies that require a certain type of pikmin to be defeated, or by the inclusion of puzzles that smartly use many different combinations of pikmin. When it comes to puzzle-solving, though, it is not just the pikmin that are smartly used. Featuring three different captains, Pikmin 3 always allows players to split their army in three distinct parts and multitask in order to achieve certain goals. Sometimes multitasking becomes mandatory, as the solving of some puzzles and the reaching of certain locations require that the three captains are used separately. However, on other occasions, it is entirely optional and can be chosen as a way for anxious people or speed-runners to get to certain places quickly. Changing between captains comes easily with the press of a button, and the map that is constantly on display on the gamepad is also helpful in the management of who is where.
The frequently optional nature of multitasking reveals one of the greatest features of Pikmin 3, which is giving the power to players as what to do next. The game features two basic goals: fixing the ship so that the astronauts can go back home, and collecting fruit. While the first is certainly mandatory, the second is mostly optional. The captains must leave the planet's surface before twilight, and at the end of every day they will consume a bottle of juice. As a consequence, obtaining some fruit is certainly necessary, but once some juice has been safely stored players can choose whether they want to explore some more and collect all pieces of fruit that are available or simply try to fix the ship to get out of this hostile land. That pleasant degree of freedom does wonders to the game, and even though there is a set time limit for each day, it allows players to play the game at their own desired pace.
As Nintendo's first full-fledged adventure that takes advantage of their latest system's hardware, it is no exaggeration to say that, up-to-this point, with the sole exception of the astonishing visually timeless Wind Waker, Pikmin 3 is Nintendo's greatest looking game. The natural scenarios are absolutely alive, and all of the effects used are marvelous; water has neither ever looked this good nor behaved so perfectly. Although most of the game's scenarios look like vast and greatly varied gardens, they are not too realistic. The bright colors and slightly cartoonish lines that are used suspend the environments far above reality, making them - simultaneously - incredibly believable and out-of-this world. The immersion is completed through great sound effects that add to the organic feel that is such an important component of the game's feel.
Pikmin 3 is not without its share of problems, though. The game suffers from an AI that is often a little bit too independent. The main issue occurs when the army of pikmin is disbanded. Instead of just standing still so that players can choose how to form their army, the creatures will automatically interact with whatever is close to them, meaning that sometimes they might inadvertently decide to face a foe by themselves, or carry the corpse of a dead enemy back to the ship. Suddenly a moment that should have been spent in meticulous army management turns into a mad attempt to gather pikmin before something goes sour. In contrast, on a few occasions, pikmin that are thrown in order to perform a certain activity - such as battling or picking up items - might completely ignore the object due to landing slightly off target. Those little AI problems, though not severely harming to the game, are nevertheless annoying and show that it is an aspect that should have been given more attention.
Saying that Pikmin 3 is a little bit on the short side is a fair statement, after all the game can be completed with all fruit properly gathered within fifteen hours. It is one of those cases on which a game ends many hours before it stops being enjoyable. While that is certainly better than dragging its body through its final stretch, the feeling that the game could have been longer simply cannot be shaken. Fortunately, Mission Mode and Bingo Battle - which can either be played alone or multiplayer - exist to extend the game's play time considerably. While Mission Mode has three different gameplay options (Gather Fruit, Battle Enemies and Defeat Bosses), Bingo Battle basically consist of gathering specific loot in order to fill up a row of your bingo card. The modes are an absolute blast to play with friends, and more often the not madness will ensue during battle, causing some rather hilarious moments.
All in all, Pikmin 3 is, right now, the very best reason to own a Nintendo Wii U. It is Nintendo's first definitive step into a new generation of gaming, and it displays a great franchise at its very best. Pikmin 3 is overwhelmingly charming, impressively beautiful and it is a blast to play through. Although some AI issues will certainly occur during the adventure, Pikmin 3 is a clear display of how Nintendo's uncanny magic comes to life. Small humanoids from a starving planet use tiny beings to battle gargantuan bugs in a hostile and deadly world so that they go back home before it is too late, and it is all done in such a whimsical light-hearted way that, in spite of the haunting grief that comes with the perishing of any pikmin during battle, you cannot help but smile at the end and ask for some more.