Review

Pikmin 3

Let’s Get Dirty

Nintendo revisits its grimy roots in the lively Pikmin 3.

By Anthony John Agnello • August 12, 2013

Whether it was handcrafted or created by some serendipitous elemental collision, this much about life is plain: It’s messy as hell. It’s grubby and beautiful and perfect. We came from muck. Nintendo used to know that. The company’s always been good at making fun games, but it forgot how to make dirty ones. The sticky critters in Metroid and the nasty swamps of The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past have yielded to an all-encompassing sterility in recent years.

But there are signs of life at the big N. Pikmin 3 is dirty in all the best ways, a game that feels more alive than anything ever made by Nintendo’s EAD Group 4—the team behind the polyurethane playpen of New Super Mario Bros. U. Here they’ve turned in a juicy, unwashed peach of a game.

Pikmin 3

The planet Koppai is in a heap of trouble. In the face of starvation brought on by overpopulation and dwindling resources, its citizens are scouring the universe for planets with untapped assets. They discover a distant, unexplored world that may hold the sweet goods the lilliputian Koppaites need to survive, so an exploratory team is deployed to see what they can find. The landing goes awry, and the three-person crew is spread across this strange land of giants with no idea how to find each other or their ship. Lucky for them, the planet is populated by a race of even tinier plant people called Pikmin who are eager to help.

Seeing the bulbous little Koppaite crew crash-land beside muddy streams, surrounded by fat bugs and lizards, gives an urgency to Pikmin 3 right out of the gate. The stakes are high. Far from home and on the brink of starvation, your first task is to dig around for something to eat. When you run into a bright strawberry in one of the game’s first levels, it’s exciting. It’s your salvation.

Pikmin 3

The fruit you find is enormous, though. The Koppaites—Alph, Brittany, and their stoic captain—are themselves grape-sized, so transporting the fruit back to the ship requires Pikmin assistance. The squeaky big-eyed weirdoes are immediately endearing. They have a leafy, waxy sheen; you can practically smell the aloe that would come off of them. You can command up to 100 Pikmin at a time, but you start off with just a few—tossing them at the fruit you want carried back to the ship or at big beasties that are giving you trouble. Pikmin are fragile critters and prone to panic, but you can afford to be rough: Most everything you pick up that isn’t fruit is converted into new Pikmin.

The goals feel natural, ramping up slowly as you get into the game. In the short term, you have from sunup to sundown to explore, collect food, and, at the beginning, find your ship and shipmates. Every day, you use up one bottle of juice, and if you waste days just looking for fun stuff without stocking up, it’s game over. Having goals this imperative makes Pikmin 3 more engaging than its predecessors, which sometimes felt like arbitrary outings where you mostly dug up junk.

Pikmin 3

Figuring out how to reach each piece of fruit and get back home to Koppai are the long-term goals. For that, you’ll need the help of a diverse Pikmin army. Each type of Pikmin has its own specialty. Big-eared yellow Pikmin conduct electricity—handy for bringing down garden fences—and rock Pikmin are good for squashing bugs and cracking crystal. It takes some thought to reach a giant ripe mango on a riverbank, and the same goes for the confrontations with big predators. Your second boss fight, against a furry slavering bat, requires you to split the team of pilots into two groups while using yellow Pikmin to juice up old light bulbs. The Wii U gamepad, with its prominent touchscreen, is a boon for this multitasking, letting you look down at a sprawling map to see where everyone is. You can even tap a point on the map to send one team off on an errand, rather than controlling them directly and splitting your attention.

There are some small worms in the fruit. Sometimes the Pikmin are uncooperative, getting hung up on corners while they follow you around. That problem compounded by the finicky camera, which struggles to show you the world. For every problem, though, there is an extra spark of life, like the crew’s diary entries at the end of the day. “Everyone’s got juice mouths!” says Brittany, evoking memories of pounding a well-earned drink at the end of a hard day’s work, when you’re all sweaty and nasty. “Filth is my life,” Divine said in Pink Flamingos. Nintendo has taken that mentality to heart with Pikmin 3. It’s filthy and lively and all the better for it.

Pikmin 3
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group 4
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Price: $60
Rating: E10+

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  • http://thewickerscale.blogspot.com/ Charlotte Grote

    The thing I remember the most about Pikmin is that the time limit on it gave me real anxiety and as a result I never finished it, but Pikmin 2 didn’t have that so I liked it a lot better. I’m glad to hear this is good, I may actually need to get a Wii U now.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      Well, Anthony captured that it’s definitely for you.  (I haven’t settled my thoughts about the series yet, apart from it being great.)  The game forgives a little too much when it comes to wasting time, which is the opposite of what Miyamoto said it would be.  However, the nature of the challenges captures the stress of 1 more than the stress of 2, so expect less skillful management and more “puzzle-solving.”

      The thing you’ll really love, as Anthony said, is that this might as well have been from either Luigi Mansion team.  Modern Nintendo is good at fanservice and good for weird experiments, but I think they’ve lost the love for detail that used to be a hallmark.  However, like Luigi games, there are tons of details, obvious and not, that are designed to make you grin and forget you’re playing a genre that’s not mainstream.  It’s an organic world that brings to mind the care and innovation of the best childrens films.  There’s even a little drama in the story!  This comparison may make sense to me alone, but modern Nintendo is like Where’s Waldo/Wally, and Luigi Mansion and Pikmin 3 are like I Spy.  It’s organic and charming where Nintendo is otherwise plasticky.

      (By the way, Little King’s Story is a similar thing you should buy.)

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        It sounds like with the “juice bottle” mechanic, they might have found a nice medium between the two extremes. You can’t dawdle or you’ll starve, but if you make steady progress you’ll find more fruit, which yields more juice, and which gives you more slack in exploring.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-John-Agnello/1362601810 Anthony John Agnello

        That’s so funny you mention the Luigi games, Ghaleon. The first draft of this review actually talked at length about how it feels of a piece with Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon in its careful attention to detail and how it nails that old “lived-in” feel that great Nintendo games had. But Dark Moon is also not the work of Nintendo’s EAD studios. 

        I don’t know about you, but my greatest hope is that Nintendo gives Mario a rest. The last few years of Mario games embody that chilly plastic nastiness of modern EAD-born games. Give me the Nintendo that made Super Mario Sunshine and Smooth Moves!

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Less EAD and more RND1, I suppose. Fewer slick, boring ‘New’ Mario rehashes and more weird, experimental takes on things…

      • Roswulf

        Wait…you find I Spy organic and charming and Where’s Waldo plasticky?

        I had the opposite feeling as a child. Give me whimsical illustration over bland photography of nightmarish messes any day.

        OK, to be fair I didn’t love either, but I had a sort of grudging respect for Waldo.

    • Crusty Old Dean

      I was disappointed that they brought back the time limit at first, but it’s probably for the best as it really raises the urgency. I’d like to take my time and just enjoy the scenery, but then I remembered that I actually thought Pikmin 2 was a little dull and padded (the caves).

      Pikmin 3 often leaves you with this gnawing feeling (in a good way!) that you could have done just a little bit better – picked up one more fruit or not lost as many Pikmin in that battle… and then you debate with yourself weather to re-play the day or not and it’s kind of tortuous but also really fun.

      My main complaint is that it’s really hard to aim in the heat of battle. The wiimote is better but then you lose the map (unless I’m missing something?). Someone mentioned playing with the wiimote and the gamepad on the side but that sounds super cumbersome.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Pikmin 2 was nice and relaxing UNTIL THIS HAPPENED OH MY GOD!

      I still have a 5-year-old save file in that exact dungeon because I could never beat it and it was so anxiety-inducng and terrifying, and eventually I gave up. Eventually I’d like to go back in an actually beat that game. It was lovely.

    • Raging Bear

      Well, this is the first Pikmin I’ve played, and I might sell it right back to Amazon this week. While clearly others like the urgency that comes of the time limit, I personally just about can’t enjoy the game at all because of it.

      It’s not just that there IS a time limit, but it’s so absurdly short that I constantly feel like there’s absolutely not a spare fucking second to take in the scenery, or consider strategy, or do anything other than GO GO GO GO GO.

      • indy2003

        Out of curiosity, what does a sunrise-to-sunset day translate to in game time? Anyway, I definitely want to check this one out, but the mixed consensus on the time limit element has me feeling a bit hesitant.

        • Raging Bear

          I haven’t clocked it, though I kind of meant to. My knee-jerk is that it’s 10 minutes — while that definitely feels right for the level with the boss in the screenshot above, which I redid about 5 times (the first time I actually manage to beat it, I ran out of time trying to retrieve the drops. Fun!), I’m wondering if it really can actually be that short.

          So definitely no more than 15-20, or it may even vary by day. “Too short,” really, is the upshot, as far as I’m concerned.

        • DrZaloski

          Twenty minutes per day. It really does depend on your own personal taste. I personally really like the amount of fast, on-your-feet planning you have in the game, but that can also be annoying for some people. There is a lot of time the take in the gardens, though, you just have to get back by nightfall.

          The game has a sort of “easy to learn hard to master” thing with the overall time/juice limit. It’s easy to play through the story mode and build up a good backlog of juice, but lots of people also speed-run the game for the fastest time possible, and that’s much harder.

        • Ardney

           Just want to mention to raging bear that boss drops survive the night. I ran out of time the 1st time I beat the boss as well but merely went back the next day and grabbed everything.

        • Crusty Old Dean

          @Ardney:disqus Also you don’t have to get back before nightfall, you just have to gather your Pikmin with the whistle.

      • long_dong_donkey_kong

         See I love having the short time limit because I can snack on the game. If I’m playing something like Zelda, I know a temple can take hours to complete so if I’m not ready to dig in, I might hold off on playing it for a few days. With this game, I can sneak in a level here or there throughout the day.

        Also, there is so much fruit in the game that you can extend it somewhere into the 60 day mark. I think the minimum needed would be about 1/3 of that so you can have days where you just screw around.

    • Unexpected Dave

      “Time anxiety” is the main reason I didn’t play Pikmin for very long either. The possibility (however remote) that I might have to start from the very beginning of a game after sinking in several hours always scared me.

      I had a similar experience with Parasite Eve. About halfway through the game, healing items and ammo had become limited. I realised, “Crap. If I waste too much, I’m going to be completely fucked.” So I stopped playing altogether. The anxiety had stripped away all the fun.

      A little bit of time/resource anxiety is part of gaming. If you don’t beat Bowser before bedtime in Super Mario 3, you’re going to have to start from level one. If you lose too many units in StarCraft, you’ll have to restart the map.

      But when time/resource limits are too strict, and the consequences too punitive, the player doesn’t have a chance to explore and learn.

      • His_Space_Holiness

        I loathe time limits in games. Resource limits are fine, that’s just part of the game, but artificially setting a limit for how long I can play ticks me off. I play games to screw around in fun fantasy worlds, not meet deadlines.

      • DrZaloski

        The resource limit in Pikmin 3 really isn’t that strict though. Fruit is everywhere, after playing about 3-4 hours and after about 15 days, I had a juice storage that could last me another 20 without collecting any more at all. It’s really not hard, the game does not punish you time-wise for goofing off.

        As for the actual pikmin though, the game slaughters them ruthlessly if you aren’t performing well. The body count was over 250 by my 20th day.

  • Walkerk

    I never expected to see a Pink Flamingos quote in a review of a Nintendo game, but I guess I’m just small minded.

  • rvb1023

    I was never a fan of Pikmin, though it will always be part of that wonderful Gamecube era where Nintendo really experimented and their new IPs didn’t consist of various minigame collections. It’s also the last time Miyamoto has done anything remotely creative from a software perspective. I really don’t get my dislike for it though, but it has stayed firm throughout Pikmin’s life. Olimar is even one of my least favorite characters in Brawl.

    At this point Wonderful 101 just looks like a more interesting and fun take on this kind of concept.

    • Marozeph

      I always thought Pikmin looked really interesting, but my complete ineptitude at strategy games kept me from trying it out. Or is it wide enough removed from standard RTS-games like Starcraft that i should give it a shot (when i get a Wii U, that is)?

      • rvb1023

         What little I played of it wasn’t too strategy heavy and once you remove the time limit it feels like a bit more of a puzzle game than a strategy one.

      • duwease

        I’ve traditionally been pretty bad at RTS games, but the two previous Pikmin games weren’t too tough for me.  They heavily streamline the unit management, and make it far more clear what each unit’s strengths and weaknesses are, so to me it’s a lot easier.

      • DrZaloski

        It’s much simpler. I would never compare Pikmin to Starcraft, it’s a totally different beast. If you ever played Little King’s Story, it’s a lot like that. Much more about long-term resource and time management, and a lot of forethought. Your APM doesn’t matter in Pikmin, and it’s not a very hard game. It’s also very streamlined.

  • Enkidum

    “Whether it was handcrafted or created by some serendipitous elemental collision, this much about life is plain..”

    Pretty sure there are other options.

    Eh, just nitpicking to be nitpicky, I guess. Sounds like a bloody fun game, at any rate.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Really? I’d think the categories of “created” and “uncreated” are so complementary and so vague that all options/theories/stories would fall under one or the other.

      Maaaaybe some goofy intelligent design stuff would be in a Venn diagram overlap between the two, I guess.

      • Enkidum

        Actually, never mind. I was getting antsy because I thought the implication was that evolution is a random, serendipitous process. But he’s actually talking about abiogenesis, not evolution, I think, in which case it’s all good.

        EDIT: also, weird shit makes me antsy.

  • Effigy_Power

    Question by the uninitiated (me):

    Did Pikmin predate the first Overlord game? Because the concept with different classed minions sounds so similar.

    • Jeff Tweedy

       Uh, dude, Pikmin was released in late 2001. Overlord was released 6 years later.

      • Effigy_Power

        “Uh, dude”? How gauche.

    • Unexpected Dave

      Pikmin came out in December 2001, just a few weeks after the Gamecube launched.

      • Effigy_Power

        I didn’t know it was that old. Overlord was so much later, it’s almost too late to think of it as ripping it off. But it’s pretty easy to think of Overlord copying the whole concept.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          I remember previews and reviews of Overlord basically calling it “Pikmin with Sauron.” I think it wore its influences on its sleeve.

  • NakedSnake

    Here’s the difference between GLOG and other gaming sites. At other gaming sites, I read the reviews to find out if I should buy the game. At GLOG I read the reviews if I have already bought the game . GLOG is all about entering a conversation about a game you like.

    That said, I read this one without playing any Pikmin before games. Maybe I should check out some of the old ones.

  • Matt Koester

    Pikmin’s concept just depresses me too much to play it I think. You’re from a wealthy, destructive civilization, and it’s your mission to go to a planet of untapped beauty, exploit its wildlife and seize its resources. 

    • long_dong_donkey_kong

       I’m not exactly tapping into new territory here, but by the same token, Star Wars is nothing more than a story about terrorists. Not everyone in the Empire was evil, they just weighed the risks and rewards of holding a steady job they didn’t like versus joining a treasonous rebellion that statistically was more likely to end with their death. I mean, what were the odds of a torpedo successfully hitting a two meter ventilation shaft? It’s all about perspective. You could also look at Pikmin as a game that has you cleaning up a planet with a lot of litter.

    • DrZaloski

      Well, this one has a major environmental message, and actually ridicules the old character (Olimar) as a desperate treasure-hunter, at least.

      But yeah, almost every wildlife you touch is either killed by your minions, sacrificed as your minion, or eaten.

      Nintendo just uses the whole Pokémon dodge, saying “but the Pikmin looooooove you!”

      • Matt Koester

        I’m assuming there are a few already, but I’d love to see a non-PETA game that subverts this trope. One where you do increasingly terrible things to cutesy creatures, under the game’s instructions while being assured that your furry little friends just love it. 

      • apple_mummy

        Aw, that’s sad. I still have yet to play any Pikmin games (although I’m dying to. They look so charming), but wasn’t Olimar just trying to repair his ship before being forced to go back?

    • Doublemc

      (not really a spoiler since it’s pretty obvious from Day 1)

      The planet they “plunder” is Earth long after humans have left, so technically it wasn’t untapped, but reborn.  That rebirth is a main theme running through the game; even when you kill wildlife, they can be reborn as Pikmin.  

      As it’s been mentioned, the game can be depressing in other ways, to see your minions die and yelp as they leave the world