Until I played Pikmin 3 I had never played a Pikmin game. Until Pikmin 3 was announced I had never heard of Pikmin. I was young when I had the GameCube and didn't keep up with new games. Now I've played Pikmin, Pikmin 3 to be precise, and I want to play the first two because, although its flawed, Pikmin 3 is a fantastic game. This is important because Pikmin 3 must be more than just a good game, it must be the beginning of the Wii U's recovery and must be a critical and commercial success. Critically its certainly a success, and you'll see I agree with this standing. I just hope it sells well.
The story is pretty simple, the people of the planet Koppai have exhausted their food supplies and must send explorers to distant planets to find food to take back to grow on Koppai. Your team, Captain Charlie, Alph and Brittany, crash land on PNF-404 and find plenty of food to take back. You must reunite with your crew, fix your ship, gather food and then leave. Simple. Kind of. You see the planet is full of creatures called Pikmin, these creatures flock to you to lend a hand in your mission and in return you gather more of them and return them to safety when the predators come out at night time.
The Pikmin themselves are brilliant and come in a number of types. Rock Pikmin can smash things, Yellow Pikmin can discharge electricity and Red Pikmin are good all rounders. These are just a few examples, there are lots of Pikmin. As you progress you can acquire tokens and defeat enemies and carrying these back to the onions the Pikmin come from will generate more Pikmin which you pluck from the ground using A. This is made less dull than it sounds by the fact you only need to press it once and your character will automatically pluck them all. A similar idea is used for travelling, where you can set a destination for someone and they will go there automatically, allowing you to play as someone else or go and get a drink. Little touches like this really make the overall experience more enjoyable.
The gameplay centres around your use of the Pikmin. You throw them at what you need them to do, gather them with a whistle and acquire fruit and other items to take back to your ship. You can also throw teammates and can split into numerous squads or have one large squad. These squads can be switched through via the Y button and doing so is essential as you'll need to divide into squads to have one squad look for food and one work towards finishing the mission. You also have to bear in mind that you are on a time limit. You see at night time predators come out and they eat the Pikmin, there is a meter at the top of the screen that gradually moves from dawn to dusk, any Pikmin not back at the onion by the time dusk hits will die. Most of the time this isn't a problem but occasionally you could have just finished an important objective and find yourself far away from safety as night draws near or you could realise that if you don't find food and get it back to the ship before the day ends then you won't have anything to eat that night and your crew will starve. This tension, as well as the fact you accept the help of innocent creatures and then literally hurl them into danger, is what stops the game from being a simple kids' game. It may look childish but it has its sinister side too and I think this is a brilliant way of showing it off.
The other core part of the gameplay is the Kopad. This is effectively your character's in game GamePad and allows you to use yours for communication and map viewing. You can also seamlessly and instantly switch to GamePad only mode, or use the Wii Remote or the Pro Controller. The number of controller options on offer is brilliant and the speed at which you can change them is astoundingly good. This means that really no one should be able to complain about the controls. There is something for everyone and that's great. My personal favourite style is the GamePad because I like constantly having the map in my hands but all of the styles work great. The only thing is features like the map and touchscreen really aren't that big of an issue. This means the Wii U still lacks a game that proves to the masses why the GamePad is awesome. I love it, but billions of people don't even know what it is. Sadly this game isn't going to help out with that.
The meat and bones of the gameplay is made up of clearing obstacles and gathering fruit but you'll also fight a number of different types of creatures, each with their own weaknesses and strengths. You'll have to use the right type of Pikmin for each enemy which creates a surprising level of strategy. These fights will be interspersed with boss fights which feature some very cool enemy designs and a big emphasis on strategy. Dividing up into teams is essential and the gameplay, whether combat based or puzzle based, is always a great mixture of challenge and enjoyment. During the combat sections you may discover some nectar, if you have your Pikmin gather it then the flower on their heads grows and their abilities improve as they level up. There are also plants that you can throw them into to change one Pikmin into another. These little touches only add to the surprising level of strategy that the game offers.
Graphically this game is stunning. We don't know specifically how powerful the Wii U is but we do know its weaker than its still-to-be-released next-gen brethren. We also know that this does not matter. We know this because Pikmin 3 is stunning. The water looks good enough to swim in, the fruit good enough to eat, the individually animated Pikmin look cute and the monsters look terrifying. It's stunning both artistically and graphically. Even on the GamePad the game looks crisp, detailed and runs without a single hiccup. In short the world and its inhabitants are detailed, cute and stunning. HD Nintendo is bloody brilliant! The soundtrack is equally superb, with simple catchy melodies matching the mood of the game perfectly. The mumbly, cartoonish voices Nintendo use so often are present and correct and they do the job fine.
The only real flaws with the game are the lack of online multiplayer (sort this out Nintendo!) and the fact that the game is quite short. There is replay value to be had to find all the items and secrets but really it's a short lived experience. The multiplayer that there is, the bingo mode and mission mode, is great fun but again it's short because its only two modes and is offline only. Essentially in Bingo mode you and a friend each have a bingo card of fruit to collect and must compete to be the first to complete the card. It's great fun and is ridiculously competitive but it's a shame there is no online mode. In mission mode you work with a friend to complete a set task but, again, there is no online support.
Pikmin 3 is a great game and has the potential to be a great system seller. It isn't perfect, but its good enough to kick start the Wii U recovery and be a great addition to Nintendo's library of games. Whether or not it will sell many Wii Us remains to be seen but it certainly has the quality to do so. I cannot recommend this game enough.