It’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a proper sequel to Pikmin — about ten years, in fact. Pikmin’s unique take on real-time strategy games — featuring diminutive plant people instead of squads of hardened soldiers — enchanted and delighted a relatively small, yet rabid fan base, who instantly clamored for more. Finally, after almost a decade and several delays, Pikmin 3 arrives on Nintendo’s newest console, hoping to finally give fans a reason to run out and buy a Wii U.
To do so, you’ll need to use your Pikmin strategically as they become the workhorse behind your self-rescue attempts. Throwing these little guys at everything will cause them to react in a ton of ways — they’ll attack the ferocious fauna that wants nothing more to gobble you up, they’ll pick up and carry important objects back to your starting location, and they’ll destroy any barricades that block your path — letting out delightfully cute squeals at each command. Picking up defeated enemies and taking them back to base will net you more Pikmin — and you’ll need many as you can get, as it’s really easy to lose them from enemy attacks, the various elements, or running out of time at the end of the day. You’ll quickly turn your handful of sprouts into a Pikmin army, and there’s a certain joy in pulling off a concerted attack against a massive bug then watching your little minions cheerily haul away its lifeless corpse that never gets old.
Completing these objectives and progressing through your harrowing adventures requires prodigious and precise use of each of your Pikmin’s unique abilities. Red Pikmin are impervious to fire, Yellow Pikmin can harness electricity, and Blue Pikmin can swim underwater. New to Pikmin 3 are the Rock Pikmin, who deliver crushing blows to opponents and can destroy glass and crystal, and the Flying Pikmin, who have the greatest maneuverability and can lift objects off the ground, despite being much weaker than the others. These new Pikmin don’t add terribly much to the proceedings, but their inclusion does add a few new obstacles to overcome, and it gives you a reason to use some of the new features that help mitigate the complications that arise from trying to corral five different types of Pikmin.
With so much going on at once, it can be a bit difficult and clumsy to keep up with everything just through button presses, and that’s where the GamePad comes in. A swipe of the touch screen pauses the game and shifts the game screen to an overhead view of the level. You can look around, see where your objectives are, and direct each of the three Pikmin wranglers with a simple touch.
But that brings up a bigger problem, one that highlights the largest issues with “second screen” gaming. Playing with the Wii Remote means having to put down the controls entirely to view the map or interact with those moments where the game forces you to look at the second screen to watch incoming video messages. But strictly using the GamePad just isn’t that fun, so you’re either fumbling with two different sets of controls, or finding a way to prop up the screen next to you. Pikmin 3’s control solutions are completely at odds with each other, and they never really gel into anything truly satisfactory.
After completing the relatively brief and disappointingly anticlimactic eight to ten hour long campaign, there are still plenty of reasons to hop back in to Pikmin 3. There are dozens of challenge stages, ranging from collecting treasure, to defeating enemies, to boss fights, that can be completed by yourself or with a local co-op partner. These stages force you to complete your objectives under an incredibly strict time limit, and figuring out each stage’s maps and executing them perfectly for their platinum medals should add several more hours to your play time.
It’s a bit disappointing that Pikmin 3 is so similar to its predecessors — especially since it’s been almost a decade since the last time we’ve had a chance to explore this world with our tiny plant friends. The limited innovation, the dissonance between control inputs, and the lack of any online functionality hold Pikmin 3 back from true greatness. Instead, Pikmin 3 will have to settle for being good — and good is just fine.