Pikmin 3 may perhaps represent the most oddly satisfying guilt trip in recent video-game history. Not since the heyday of Worms has sending a squadron of obedient little minions to their annihilation been so simultaneously pleasurable and heartbreaking. Call me soft, but there’s something to be said about the elevated level of signature Nintendo charm on display in each and every frame of Pikmin 3’s miniaturized world made gigantic by the size of its tiny heroes. From the dazzling environments to the spectacular enemy designs, everything is aglow with a unique visual sheen that dutifully demonstrates the graphical capabilities of the Wii U’s hardware. Taking a look at the Pikmin themselves, a bizarrely appealing blend of homely and cute, from the original trio shaded in red, blue, and yellow, to the fresh additions of rock and pink flying-type specimens, it’s difficult to imagine becoming too emotionally attached to any of them, but, after only a few hours of dedicated play, the idea of having your extremely hard-working teensy recruits fall by the wayside takes a toll on the paternal psyche.
It’s been nine years since the release of Pikmin 2, and its highly anticipated sequel isn’t so much a full-fledged reimagining of the franchise as it is a beautifully rendered HD update. The main storyline is again replete with suggestive messages about not neglecting the value of nature, but this time around allows for three food-foraging space travelers (Alph, Brittany, and Charlie) to be directed rather than just one (Captain Olimar, who gets his due in an integral endgame cameo). The Wii U GamePad acts as an extraordinarily helpful map tool, depicting the lay of the land in an orderly manner so that keeping track of each of your platoons is rarely a source of frustration. Though at certain points the need to split your troops up is a must, largely to solve a variety of clever puzzles, uniting the totality of acquired Pikmin to form a massive multicolored army provides some of the game’s most memorable moments. Battling Pikmin 3’s wide array of distinctively devised foes, each with their own singular attack patterns and weak spots, is exhilarating and exasperating all in the same instant. Although the GamePad and the Pro Controller may seem like the handiest initial control schemes, summoning the dependable Wiimote Plus and nunchuck combination makes adversarial encounters much easier, granting the ability for more precise aiming and quicker cursor movements.
As with past Pikmin titles, chronologic management and foresight are the keys to survival. Every minute of each day roaming around the field away from your spaceship must be spent wisely. Amassing a surplus of fruity sustenance doesn’t take long (an in-game day equates to roughly a quarter-hour in real life), but can waste away just as rapidly. Using each Pikmin’s strengths to your advantage is paramount; tossing them just anywhere will lead to many an expedited death. Yellow and blue Pikmin perform well in electrocuted and aquatic scenarios, respectively, while the fireproof red types are the feistiest of fighters. Newcomers like the rock Pikmin are called upon to smash through objects, while pink Pikmin are almost an exclusively exploratory species, hovering over obstacles to assist in accessing previously unreachable destinations. Commanding Pikmin from a triad of positions has its downsides, as it never truly feels like you have a firm handle on each unit when they’re separated, but when the intermediate routines of delegation and delineation are comprehended, Pikmin 3 reveals itself as a strategic undertaking that gamers of all ages can enjoy. Unfortunately, multiplayer is restricted to non-narrative settings like Bingo Blast and Mission Mode, wherein the special purple and white Pikmin make appearances, yet both are pleasant enough diversions, offering a pair of party-centric minigames that put the majority of Game & Wario to shame.
Clocking in at around 10 hours, Pikmin 3’s solo campaign isn’t as lengthy or as continuously challenging as those of its predecessors, but the number of excellent enhancements made to an already sound gameplay model indisputably make it the Wii U’s best game to date. Visibly and aurally sumptuous, transporting, and curiously sentimental, the voyage from planet Koppai to PNF-404 is a journey well worth the nearly decade-long wait to embark on.