Pikmin 3: review

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Pikmin 3 is often described as an RTS, but here’s the thing: it’s not an RTS. Rome: Total War does not task you with hurling individual soldiers at huge monsters with bulbous eyes (sadly). It is extremely rare for Company of Heroes to require you to order your cold and scared conscripts to carry a gigantic lemon around. Starcraft features very little in the way of flying onions. There are similarities in the mechanics, yes – but still, Pikmin 3 is an RTS in the same way that The Office is a documentary.

Pikmin, for the benefit of the uninitiated, are planimals (plant animals – a clever play on words on our part there). Left by themselves, they’re clueless little creatures destined to be gobbled up by predators. En masse under your command, they can be diligent workers or fearsome(ish) warriors. There are five flavours in the story mode: Red (fire retardant, the best fighters), Yellow (shock resistant & able to conduct electricity, the best diggers), Rock (deal the most damage when thrown, able to smash through crystal, cannot be squashed), Pink (flying – the weakest fighters, but best against flying enemies), and Blue (the only type able to survive in water).

You directly control one of three big-nosed captains who have crash landed on the Pikmin homeworld, but you also have a constant on-screen cursor. Hold down ZR and the cursor expands, your captain whistling to call any Pikmin within the circle – or rescue them from many hazards (such as being set on fire). It also acts as a targeting reticule. This is how you will tell Pikmin which enemies to attack, what fruit to pick up and return to base, or (for example) fetch pieces to complete a nearby bridge, or destroy an obstacle in your way. You can also lock on to a target and order all Pikmin to interact at once. It’s clear that using a Wiimote is the preferred method, but we played the story start to finish with the gamepad with few problems.

Guest starring Mick Jagger.

The aforementioned fruit essentially gives you continues. Each play session has a time limit, the idea being that you land on the planet each time and have until sunset, when the area becomes overrun with predators (who will gobble up any of your Pikmin you don’t have under your wing at the end of the day). Recovered fruit is converted to juice, with one serving required for each day – and some fruits provide more than one serving. You also need to keep your supply of Pikmin topped up. Avoiding sending them to their deaths is always a good idea (especially given their disturbing death screams), but bringing enemy corpses and coloured flowers back to base will slightly increase your reserves of whichever coloured Pikmin carried them. Each day therefore is all about balancing your need for juice and your need for Pikmin – as well as advancing the story.

The gist of the story is that your captains need to find the ‘cosmic drive key’ that will allow them to go home. As you might guess, this means exploiting the unique qualities of each Pikmin flavour to traverse the levels and even take down the occasional boss creature. You can in theory progress as quickly or as slowly as you like – but you’re constantly aware of the march of the sun and the size of your juice reserves.

The gamepad map is a blessing. At any time, you can tap the screen to pause and look around however much of the map you’ve already explored at your leisure (top-down on the gamepad, a detailed real-time view on the TV). You can even set a course for your current captain and any Pikmin in tow to follow, especially useful as you’ll sometimes need to split your colourful crew up into groups.

You will grow to hate and fear these Pikmin hoovers.

Each area has plenty of hidden and/or hard-to-reach fruit and secrets, meaning a first playthrough could take anything from 7-16 hours depending on how you play and how much you want to eke out of each day before moving on. It’s a lovely looking game too, which encourages you to explore; a wonderful marriage of enchanting design and super-smooth textures that shows what Nintendo can do in HD. For all the cuteness on display and gentle charm of the music, this is a game people of any age can enjoy – until the final stage.

Difficulty skyrockets in the story’s final area. There is no fruit and no way to increase Pikmin reserves here, meaning you may be forced to revisit other areas if you don’t succeed quickly. That isn’t a problem in itself. What is a problem is the frustrating decision to suddenly force the player to think and act in a way almost completely different to that which the game has required in all the previous hours, under immediate and constant pressure. It’s a shame, as the difficulty curve is perfectly judged up until this point.

With that done, however, there are score attack-style missions to play alone or with a friend. This helps add plenty of replay value, especially as the Platinum awards seem attainable only by some sort of god – but an online mode would have added even more. The offline-only (save leaderboards) nature of the game also highlights the fact that the story really needs at least one more area to explore; or two, if we could take the final stage out of the equation entirely.

Existing Pikmin fans will love the third game instantly, and have probably bought this already. Those new to the series needn’t worry about being thrown in the deep end and, though there’s room for improvement, you should definitely give this a go if you’re prepared to try something different. After all, even during the somewhat anticlimactic endgame, Pikmin 3 is still better than a great many games could ever hope to be.

critical score 8

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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