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In Bloom: In Praise of Pikmin 3

I’m sure many people would agree that being a Nintendo fan can be quite the rollercoaster ride, the long-lived Japanese company hitting lofty, admirable highs while also plummeting to head-scratching lows. Like living with a bear covered in fireworks, it’s never boring.

Although Nintendo continue to make questionable decisions, it’s important to remember that they can still knock it out of the park when they put their minds to it – when Nintendo are on form, they are on form. And 2013’s Pikmin 3 is a perfect example of this, being a wonderful game which exhibits all of the charm, colour, fun, brilliant gameplay, and generally high level of polish for which the best Nintendo games are renowned.

Originally announced as a Wii title but with development later transferring to the Wii U, Pikmin 3 is the third game in the real-time strategy series, the gameplay remaining true to earlier games while simultaneously introducing new elements.

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In the story mode, you take control of a squad of three alien explorers – Alph, Brittany and Charlie – from the planet Koppai as they explore the planet known only as “PNF-404”, their objective being to search for fruit – oranges, pears, grapes, plums, and many others – which they can take back to Koppai to help bring an end to the planet’s current famine.

Utilising their spaceship, the SS Drake, as their home base, Alph, Brittany and Charlie go about their mission with the help of Pikmin, plant-like creatures native to PNF-404. The Pikmin are in abundance and you can command up to one-hundred of them at a time, tasking them with defeating hostile creatures, removing barriers, building bridges, collecting fruit and other objects, and more. Cute helpers or enslaved abominations? You decide.

    Adding depth is the fact that there are several different types of Pikmin: red Pikmin are immune to fire, blue Pikmin can breathe underwater, yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity, rock Pikmin can break tough materials, and winged Pikmin can fly. The abilities of the various Pikmin types come in handy in different situations, and proper use of them is required in exploring the game’s levels and progressing the story. Individual Pikmin can also be made stronger, and you can tell what “level” a Pikmin is at by the appearance of the flower which blooms on its head.

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Pikmin types are introduced gradually so as not to overwhelm new players, and the game does a great job of this as a whole, introducing new gameplay features at a steady pace, the learning process being fun rather than stressful.

This is particularly impressive given the game’s increasing focus on multitasking and the inclusion of a timer which splits your time on PNF-404 into consecutive days, with you returning to the SS Drake at the end of each day’s exploring and fruit-collecting – the latter being vital as each day you spend on the planet costs you one jar of juice made from the fruit you’ve collected, so endlessly wasting time isn’t an option. Although the timer and finite juice supply initially made me sceptical – I like taking my time and exploring when I play a game – it turned out that there was nothing to worry about, as both are very generous, and I found myself with ample time and resources throughout almost the entire game.

Another element which could have been a source of frustration but which absolutely isn’t is the control system – or “systems”, rather, as Pikmin 3 can be played with the GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller, or Wii Remote and Nunchuk. My choice was the GamePad and I found this to work brilliantly whether I was switching between leaders, splitting Pikmin into separate groups or sending Pikmin off to various locations in the level. The GamePad also offers other features such as a map, some menus and statistics, and a camera mode which allows you to take in-game photographs.

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And you certainly couldn’t be blamed for wanting to capture some images of your adventure on PNF-404, as Pikmin 3 is an absolutely gorgeous game, the visuals being bold and colourful, and mixing cartoonish character and enemy models with more realistic scenery – a combination which could have been jarring but which actually works great. And then there’s the all-important fruit, the 3D models for which are crafted in tremendous detail and look delicious. As such, Pikmin 3 is the clear winner of my “Videogame Which Most Makes Me Want Some Raspberries” award for 2016.

With nature being a key theme of Pikmin 3, it’s no surprise to see that the game’s five separate locations reflect this, containing grass, plants, streams, barriers of dirt and sand, snow, trees, and of course the creatures who inhabit these places, many of whom are hostile but can be attacked via the use of your Pikmin. There’s a decent amount of diversity between the areas and each one is brilliantly designed, featuring numerous paths to explore and secrets to uncover. The areas are unlocked as you progress through the story and can then be revisited at any time should you want to explore them further and collect more fruit.

    The game’s infectious and joyful charm doesn’t just come through in the visuals but also the music – the track which plays at the end of each day on the planet’s surface being a particular highlight for me – and the writing, which often shines in the characters’ dialogue, fruit descriptions and journal entries.

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Although the story mode isn’t especially lengthy, you’ll still get plenty of play-time out of it if you make the effort to explore the levels. In fact, I was enjoying the game so much that I ended up making a point of collecting every piece of fruit before finishing the game, and it was a joy to revisit areas with new Pikmin and abilities which allowed me to explore them fully. Also, the amount of fruit you collect has an effect on which ending you’ll receive, although the variations are slight.

There’s content beyond the story mode in the form of “Mission Mode”, which sees you collecting treasure or defeating enemies, trying to achieve as high a score as possible within a time-limit, and you can also battle any bosses you’ve already defeated in the story mode. These missions can be attempted by one or two players, and there’s also competitive multiplayer available via the “Bingo Battle” mode. Mission Mode and Bingo Battle feature two extra Pikmin types which don’t appear in the story mode, and more Mission Mode stages are available for purchase from the eShop.

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While the Wii U certainly isn’t enjoying the longest and most commercially successful lifespan – to say the least – it has seen the release of some fantastic games, and as far as I’m concerned, Pikmin 3 is up there as one of the best on the system.

Even if you’re generally not a fan of real-time strategy titles, if you own a Wii U and have yet to play Pikmin 3 then you should definitely do so as Nintendo have delivered a game that looks and sounds fantastic, is accessible while simultaneously offering plenty of depth, feels great to play, and constantly exudes charm, joy and fun.

While this was my first experience with the series, hopefully it won’t be my last – like the colourful little buggers for which it’s named, it would be great to see the Pikmin series continue to bloom and go from strength to strength in the future.

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Alex De-Gruchy

Alex De-Gruchy is a writer and editor of fiction and non-fiction whose work covers videogames, comic books and prose. His upcoming comic book work includes two graphic novels from Markosia Enterprises. In terms of videogames, he has worked as a writer on iOS action / strategy title Crystal Arena while his upcoming videogame projects include a shoot-‘em-up, an action-RPG, an interactive novel, and action-adventure Edelin Tales: Portals of Doom.

Marvel at more wordy outpourings from his brain-meats on Twitter: @AlexDeGruchy.

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