What would you do for a strawberry? When your life depends on the juice encased in this tasty fruit, the answers are as limitless as they are disturbing. Survival of the fittest is at the heart of Pikmin 3, and though the dangerous fauna cavorting about the environments are well equipped to fend off interlopers, those predators have no counter to a horde of scavengers ready to fight. And as you secure the bounty of your triumphs--avocados, melons, grapes--you feel not regret for what you had to do, but relief. This achingly cute adventure taxes your brain as much as your fingers, resulting in a satisfying journey through Darwinian conquest.
Crash-landing on a foreign planet, three explorers must do what they can to survive. When colorful beings approach Charlie, he blows his whistle in an attempt to chase them away. But that only draws them closer. Once surrounded, he tosses them to and fro, but instead of running away from this angry man, they happily chop down a nearby mushroom. And then he gets an idea. Why not use these diminutive creatures to his advantage? He can gain the attention of the pikmin by blowing his whistle, and then toss them near an object or enemy to set them to work. Through this delightful tutorial you learn the core mechanics and set off to find your two stranded comrades.
Charlie, along with his crewmates Alph and Brittany, is in search of a solution to save the inhabitants of their home planet from starvation. Much of your journey entails securing fruit that will sustain you for one more in-game day. Melons, lemons, and the like are scattered throughout the five enormous environments, and you have to be resourceful and persistent to collect enough to keep living. You consume one vial of juice per day (which lasts about 15 minutes), and you're free to stay on the planet for as long as you have fruit juice to keep you energized. In the early hours of the adventure, you're focused on nabbing as much fruit as your pikmin's tiny arms can carry. Once you have a healthy supply, however, your focus can shift to ship repair.
Five pikmin types eventually join your party, each with special abilities that make them indispensible to your survival. Venturing underwater with any color but blue is going to lead to a lot of drowned bodies, and only your red guys can withstand the scorching heat of fire pits. When electricity makes its presence known, make sure you have plenty of yellow pikmin nearby. Although those three pikmin types have been in the previous two games, there are a couple of new additions as well. The slight pink pikmin aren't too handy in a fight, but their flight lets you lift up gates or reach higher ground. The black pikmin are the exact opposite. Their heavy shell keeps them grounded, but they can crash clean through crystal. This formidable team keeps you prepared for any situation. Plan wisely, though: you can have only 100 pikmin at a time.
There are five massive environments to explore. Aside from restocking your fruit supply, there are no pressing objectives, so you're free to wander wherever you desire, enjoying your time in this foreign land. The atmosphere is instantly welcoming. Foliage lines every path you walk down, making it feel as if you're taking a simple stroll through an overgrown forest. Such sights are continually stunning, and the game employs a number of camera tricks to ensure you see the many serene vistas from optimal vantage points. The muddy ground textures are the one sore spot, but it's easy to look past that misstep as you admire the teeming beasts that populate this alien world. And the photogenic protagonists are always at their cutest. The pikmin are brimming with personality, squealing their pain and miming their pleasures as they frolic beside you.
The beautiful environments contain formidable barriers to test your resourcefulness while you admire the splendid artistic design. There are walls and rivers to corral you, darkened caves filled with nocturnal monsters, and hordes of creatures who have developed a taste for dead pikmin. Combat is a frequent occurrence, and there are enough different enemy types to ensure you can't rely on the same techniques if you want to excel. Giant bulborbs have drooling mouths and insatiable appetites, so you need to stay on their backside unless you want to lose half of your party. Wollywogs leap high in the air, so you better be quick with your whistle lest your team ends up flattened into the earth. Fiery blowhogs make short work of every pikmin type but red, so be prepared. There's no time to relax in Pikmin 3 because there's always something dangerous waiting around the corner.
Death is not handled lightly in Pikmin 3. When one of your friends falls in battle, its soul floats upward from its body into the clear blue sky. It's heartbreaking to see a group of souls soar toward heaven after a difficult fight, and that constant reminder of the price that's being paid for your survival means you never take their sacrifices lightly. The same respect is paid to your many enemies. They are not evil or bad; they're just simple beings trying their best to live. And so they fight you when you encroach on their turf, and they don't stop bucking and braying until you leave them alone. If you should win, you see their souls commingle with those of the departed pikmin, and you realize just how brutal nature can be.
Pikmin 3 never hides from death. At the end of each day, you must gather up all of the remaining pikmin to save them from the impending dangers of night. Any pikmin not in your company are left behind as your ship hovers above the ground, and you're forced to watch the stragglers be eaten by the hungry citizens of the night. You feel utterly hopeless in this situation, and silently resolve to not let it happen the next night. But it will happen. And it's not always your fault. The pikmin, stupid beings that they are, have trouble following behind you. They get caught on rocks and logs, and aren't smart enough to free themselves from those tricky corners to catch up with the group. It's a slight annoyance that frequently surfaces.
It can be tough to keep track of a handful of pikmin amid the chaotic endeavors of each day. The three explorers can separate from one another, traveling to different parts of the map with their own group of pikmin. Efficiently doling out orders is the key to quickly completing stages. You may grab a few blue pikmin with Charlie as you gather pieces of a bridge underwater, while Alph uses a group of pink pikmin to unearth a banana buried in the sand. The map located on the GamePad makes it possible to keep your eye on everything that's going on. At a glance you can see where your explorers are and where fruits are located, and you can even send Charlie, Alpha, and Brittany to specific points just by tapping where you want them to go.
It's a great system as long as you're using the GamePad. However, even though the map is incredibly handy, you do have to put up with annoying control issues. You can lock on to enemies and objects to quickly throw pikmin where you need them to be, but it's clunky on the GamePad. It's easy to overshoot your target, especially if it's hovering in the sky, which is frustrating during heated battles. The Wii Remote with nunchuk is a much better option if aiming is getting you down. Pointing at enemies is so easy, you never have to worry that you're going to inadvertently throw your pikmin in the wrong place. However, you won't have the map in your hands. Neither method is ideal, so you just have to decide which problem you can live with.
No matter which controller you use, you won't have too much difficulty given that this adventure doesn't offer much challenge. Pikmin are a replenishable resource. Carry a couple of enemies back to your ship, and new pikmin sprout from the ground. Because you're always ferrying resources back to your ship, you constantly have new pikmin growing, which means you have tons of disposable critters waiting to be unleashed on the world. Any fight can be won by attrition. It's a shame pikmin 3 is so easy, especially compared to the previous games in the series. The original Pikmin demanded efficiency because your adventure ended after just 30 days. And Pikmin 2 introduced caves, which taxed even the most hardened animal trainers.
Thankfully, if you venture outside of the story mode you can find serious challenges. Mission mode can be played alone or with a friend, and time is a quickly evaporating commodity. In these specially designed levels, you have to collect treasure, kill enemies, or vanquish bosses as quickly as possible, and your reward is a shiny badge. Planning how to scoop up all the fruit or slay the baddies without wasting a second requires the mind of a battle commander, and it's exhilarating to ensure all of your explorers are maximizing their potential as you inch closer and closer toward perfection. You may never collect every item or enemy, but slightly beating your previous best attempt is satisfying enough to keep bringing you back for more.
Bingo Battle is the final mode, and it's a chaotic excursion into competitive matches. In this two-player face-off, you try to complete one row of your bingo card before your friend can. Bring fallen enemies or delicious fruits back to your base as quickly as you can if you want to win. But winning is only a small part of the fun. The real joy comes from griefing your buddy. If you see that your opponent needs to collect just one lemon to win, do whatever you can to get that lemon yourself. And then look at the pain on your opponent's face as he or she sees what you just did. It's fantastic! This hectic mode is fast and unpredictable, and leads to tasteful trash-talking as you try desperately to one-up each other.
Pikmin 3 doesn't offer much growth from previous games in the series, and actually takes a step backward in some areas. But there's no shame in falling just short of the classic offerings that came before it. Scouring the environment for all of the hidden goodies is eminently enjoyable because of the clever problem solving you have to employ, and the competitive mode should test the strength of any friendship. There's nothing quite like Pikmin out there, and its delightful combination of survival strategy and unflinching cuteness should entertain you throughout this lengthy adventure.