Solo Gamer Review: Pikmin 3
The success of Nintendo consoles is typically associated with the success of their first party software. Pikmin 3 is Nintendo's inaugural major release for the Wii U, but can the tiny plant creatures really drive sales the way Mario, Link, and Samus can?
The Hocotian star of the first two Pikmin games, Olimar, is strangely absent at the start of this latest outing, and we are instead introduced to three new aliens from the planet Koppai: Alph, Brittany, and Charlie. The trio crashes on a distant world while searching for food for their starving homeworld, and it isn't long before they discover the inexplicably helpful Pikmin. As they regroup, they uncover clues about another visitor to the planet--Captain Olimar, of course--and learn that he has made off with their cosmic-drive key, believing it to be treasure. They have to gather food in order to survive and help their homeworld, but they must also find Olimar before he leaves with the key to their trip home.
|There is more going on this time around|
There has always been a surreal quality to the Pikmin universe, and Pikmin 3 continues the tradition of bringing us a world that looks eerily similar to Earth, albeit from the perspective of very small beings. It also refuses to elaborate on its setting, which is probably a good thing, but anyone looking for closure might find the game's denouement head-scratching at the very least. Still, as a narrative, it's more cohesive than its predecessors, and the inclusion of three main characters instead of just one gives it a bit more personality.
[Story: 9 - It's not exactly ground-breaking, but there is a neat little tale being told about three explorers facing impossible odds.]
There are a few different control schemes available--including the possibility of playing entirely off-TV--but anything less than the full Wii-mote, Nunchuck, and GamePad combo is frustratingly imprecise. When playing with just the GamePad, the right stick controls the camera and the left stick controls both the player character and the targeting reticle, meaning that you have to move and aim at the same time. It is possible to move the reticle by itself by pressing the right shoulder button, but since the right trigger is responsible for your whistle--an action you are using constantly--this is a clumsy solution. Without the speed and precision of the Wii-mote and Nunchuck, the game's difficulty is ramped up for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, the Wii-mote scheme sacrifices camera control, meaning that there is no "perfect" controller set-up available.
|When used in conjunction with the Wii-mote and Nunchuck, the GamePad is incredibly useful|
Still, the basics are unchanged for anyone who has played either of the previous games' Wii-adapted incarnations. You pluck your Pikmin from the ground, hurl them at enemies, obstacles, and collectables, and learn to take advantage of the different properties of the different colors. This time around, though, you can control three different characters on the same map at the same time, a gimmick that offers up a whole new dimension to the franchise's mechanics. You can take on several different projects at once--which can certainly speed things along--but if you aren't careful, you can lose a lot of Pikmin when you aren't paying enough attention. There are also certain puzzles that require the team to work together, along with certain obstacles that can be crossed by one character bodily throwing another. Using the GamePad, you can send one or two characters to specific locations on the map while you work with another, and it's surprisingly easy and intuitive to juggle them effectively.
There is a time limit for each day, and your characters rely on juice collected from fruit to survive. Fruit is plentiful, though, meaning that this limitation serves only to keep you moving rather than stressing you out. As you progress, the daily time limit gets more and more unnerving--and the long series of cutscenes and progress reports between each day gets more and more exhausting--but it is eminently satisfying when you successfully manage your time, deciding which priorities to tackle and in what order. It also helps that bosses retain damage to their health meters so that you don't have to worry about beating each one in a single day.
The game takes it easy on you, for the most part, and introduces the various mechanics one at a time, allowing you to get the hang of it before throwing a new challenge at you. By the time you reach the nailbiting final level, you will be surprised at how much you have learned and mastered, and that's the mark of clever and deceptively deep game design.
[Gameplay: 8 - The gameplay mechanics are startling in their complexity and satisfying in their design, but a lack of precise controls holds the game back, especially when playing solely with the GamePad.]
As Nintendo's first true HD experience, Pikmin 3 pulls off some pretty visuals in the world at large. Leaves, dirt, water, and rocks have never been quite so fascinating. However, the characters are cartoonish, which adds a dischordant dichotomy to every scene, like an unintentional Roger Rabbit effect. When the camera zooms in close at the unspeaking faces and dialogue text is displayed on the screen, Nintendo once again proves its unwillingness to embrace the voice acting and lip synching that the rest of the video game world accepted as standard a decade ago. It's almost forgiveable here--given the saccharine, child-like tone of the game--but still disappointing. The music gets in your head and the sound of trickling streams will have you pausing for a few more bathroom breaks than normal, but otherwise, the soundtrack is merely acceptable.
|The environmental graphics are definitely a giant leap forward|
While the main game is definitely on the short side (10-20 hours, depending on how much fruit you decide to collect), there is a "Mission" mode that allows you to tackle a single map in a single day with a single main objective: collect treasure, defeat enemies, or conquer a boss from the game. These missions are the most addictive part of the game, as they encourage you to come up with creative new strategies in order to earn the elusive perfect score. They also hit that Nintendo sweet spot of simplicity and complexity, in that they are simple enough for my four-year-old to play and understand, but complex enough that they are a challenge for his gamer father.
Still, with only five locations, even these missions start to feel bland after a few games. Pikmin 3 feels unfinished in that there is so much potential for more. Sure, there's a watery location, a desert location, and a frozen tundra, but the game designers should have thought bigger and given us more locations that get increasingly exotic and interesting, perhaps even more alien. In other words, the game's greatest flaw is that there simply isn't enough of it.
[Presentation: 7 - The alien world looks great in HD and the Mission modes are insanely addictive, but the game is too short and Nintendo really needs to stop with the damned text-driven dialogue.]
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10
TOTAL SCORE: 8.5
The Pikmin are more at home on the Wii U than they ever were on the Gamecube or Wii, but this is hardly the killer app Nintendo was hoping for
-e. magill 8/27/2013