In my previous Pikmin retrospectives, I talked a lot about how important multitasking is to the series and how Pikmin 2 went too far to bend over backwards to fix complaints about the original by decreasing the emphasis on it. These aren’t just my opinions: we know for a fact they’re the opinion of Shigeru Miyamoto himself, and they had a heavy influence on the direction of Pikmin 3.
That’s actually something that all the staff members had to debate over when we were discussing what kind of direction we should take for Pikmin 3. First of all by looking at Pikmin 1 we noticed that it wasn’t a very easy game for people to play, and from time to time they had to feel some stress.
Our main aim in Pikmin 2 was to get rid of any stress as much as possible, so that it would be very user-friendly. Well, I myself couldn’t agree with that direction perfectly. That kind of nature of Pikmin 1 was exactly what I wanted to reproduce and I was actually intentionally doing so, so that Pikmin 1 could be a strategic game.
When we started creating Pikmin 3 I gathered the main members who worked on Pikmin 2 and talked about how I thought it was important to get back to the basics of Pikmin 1. Or I should say that half of my job at that time wasn’t just to talk, but rather to persuade them to understand what I intended to do and to agree to my idea.
True to Miyamoto’s word, it’s clear from playing it that Pikmin 3 feels less like the third game in the series and more like a second shot on a second game in the series. It doesn’t ignore the second game completely: in fact, Louie returns as an integral part of the story. The ultra spicy berries and sprays also return. The purple and white Pikmin return, albeit in a limited capacity only in the secondary mission mode where they’ve also been heavily nerfed. Most of the gameplay enhancements like the ability to switch which Pikmin you’re holding at the push of a button and the concept of multiple captains are still around.
However, all of the game’s new features double down on what makes the original game so compelling and expands largely upon the strategical elements of Pikmin. The end result is a much more focused game than Pikmin 2 and an improvement on the first in almost every single way.
Like in the first game, everything you do is on the clock. There’s the daily timer along the top of the screen that’s always ticking even during boss fights encouraging you to keep moving, and there’s no caves to escape from it. There’s also a limit to the number of days you have to beat the game much like in the first game. However, this time the limit is much more lenient and works a bit differently: rather than a hard time limit, you get juice from the fruit you collect. Each bottle of juice you have equals one more day you can explore. In other words, your time limit to beat the game is always expanding and expands directly proportional to how well you’re doing. While it’s hard for me to judge since I no longer come close to the time limit in the first game or this one, this on paper seems like a great way to immediately drive the player to multitask: they start with just 3 bottles of juice which creates a sense of urgency to work quickly to get more, but you get enough fruit to expand that out to prevent it from becoming a major issue. You can also rewind to any previous day and restart your save from there in the event you get stuck and need to do previous work better to give yourself time to advance.
There’s numerous small tweaks that make this the easiest Pikmin to play yet. In the original Gamecube versions of 1 and 2, moving your captain and moving your throwing cursor were both controlled via the same control stick. In the Wii remakes of the first two games, you run with the control stick and use the Wii Remote pointer to move the throwing cursor, but this was still less than ideal since your cursor was always locked to the ground. Using the Wii Remote and Nunchuck in Pikmin 3, you can now directly point where you want to throw your Pikmin. Want to throw your Pikmin at a flying enemy? You no longer have to do the mental math on the arc of your throw: just point at the enemy and fire away. Even if you do point at the ground instead, the arc of the Pikmin’s toss will be shown on the screen so there’s no confusion as to where your toss will go. If you don’t want to play with the remote, you can also use the Gamepad’s second stick to move the cursor or, in a neat feature added in a patch after I originally played the game, you can also play in touch screen mode where the action is shown on the Wii U gamepad and you simply touch where you want to throw. All three control setups work better than the original games in my opinion with the Wii Remote coming out on top.
You can also lock on to enemies similar to how targeting works in 3D Zelda games. While locked on, shaking the nunchuck will order all Pikmin nearby to rush the enemy. This replaces the ability to give orders via swarming using the C-Stick on the Gamecube or D-Pad down on the Wii for the first two games and works slightly better due to the fact that you’re less likely to accidentally have Pikmin do the wrong thing when multiple swarmable items are nearby. With that being said, it can also be easy to give the charge command and have half of your Pikmin ignore it and disband because they aren’t close enough to the target so you have to be a bit careful with it. I’m mostly ok with this tradeoff though given a full army rushing an enemy can kill it in just a couple seconds making it a very powerful tool.
Regular enemies also have more depth to them this time around. Wollywogs no longer only move just by jumping up and trying to crush Pikmin: They’ll also make smaller hops run away forcing you to change your throwing trajectory rather than just throwing Pikmin on it, waiting for it to jump straight up, calling them back, and repeating without moving. Some enemies have weak points. Throwing a Pikmin at a Bulborb’s eye will cancel its eating animation and stun it but at the cost of causing it to immediately throw off all Pikmin clinging to it. The Peckish Aristocrab, one of my favorite new enemies, has a giant crystal claw which it uses to feast on Pikmin that can be broken by hurling some of the new Rock Pikmin at it. It also uses its long legs to rise up if you try to charge it, causing all of your troops to crush right under it. These changes to combat help make encounters feel a lot more interesting than in previous games. It’s generally easier to fight enemies without losing Pikmin in this game than the first, but it’s no longer trivial like it was in Pikmin 2 with purple Pikmin.
Speaking of combat, boss fights are now a much bigger deal this time around. The Armored Mawdad has a crystal shell that must be broken by Rock Pikmin before Red Pikmin and whack away at its soft body. The Vehemoth Phosbat is invisible and difficult to fight until you use Yellow Pikmin to complete circuits and light up its arena. The Quaggled Mireclops requires the use of several different Pikmin types due to its watery arena, crystal shell, and elevated nature. While there’s significantly fewer boss fights than in the second game, each one is significantly more involved and interesting than pretty well all of those. Some variations of old favorites also return in the form of minibosses like the Burrowing Snagret.
There’s a few other very nice quality of life features. Anytime there’s a pile of similar objects such as tiles for bridge building or grapes, you can throw a few Pikmin at it and they’ll automatically repeatedly go to the pile, carry the object to its destination, and then run back to the pile and continue until the job is complete. This means it’s easy to set a few Pikmin to a task and go do other things until it’s done rather than having to wait around for the task to finish. It even works on berries used for sprays meaning you can have the same 5 Pikmin continuously build up your spray supply all day if you’d like. Also, all of the Pikmin’s onions are condensed into one super onion this time around: this means you can swap the number of different types of Pikmin in your party all at once instead of running between three onions and your ship. You no longer have to mash the pluck button repeatedly to pluck Pikmin: you just press it once and then can press a button to cancel at any time.
However, of all of the changes and additions to Pikmin 3, the real gamechanger comes in the way multiple captains are handled. When you split up your captains, you can now use the map on the gamepad to give your selected captain a “Go Here” command to have them automatically walk to any area of the map you’ve previously visited. They’re notify you when they’ve gotten there (or if they’ve run into trouble along the way) giving you a way to time your actions to the departure and arrival of Captains at their locations. This is by far the greatest addition to the series so far: it makes multitasking easier, more engaging, and more effective. While days don’t last much longer than they did in Pikmin 1, you can get so much more done in a single day in Pikmin 3 with the “Go Here” command that it makes you feel like a master strategist. In my Pikmin 1 run, I considered getting 3 ship parts in a single day to be a very good day. In my Pikmin 3 run, I was able to get 9, 10, or even 11 pieces of fruit in one day thanks to the ability to issue commands. Completing a day like this felt like a bigger accomplishment than anything I’ve done in any of the other games in the series.
The ability to split tasks up more easily makes this game much more replayable than past iterations because there’s so much room for improvement and optimizing your strategy. During my most recent playthrough, I wanted to beat the game in fewer in-game days than ever before. Thanks to the ability to restart a day in-progress at any moment and the ability to roll back the clock, I’d frequently find myself spending a couple days collecting fruit in the same area only to stop and go “You know what? I bet I could get this all in a single day” and going back to spend a couple hours optimizing until I succeeded. As a result, my in-game record now stands at 16 Days to 100% the game which according to the in-game online comparison chart is significantly faster than the 40-50 days the average player takes. I’m certain I could get it down to 15 Days by completing the game’s final area in a single day as well so I’ll probably go back and fix that. In case you don’t want to keep replaying the main story since there’s no reward for doing so, there’s also mission mode where you play on smaller maps either battling enemies or collecting treasure in a time limit and you get medals depending on how much of it you complete.
With all of that being said, there’s still a number of issues with Pikmin 3 that hold it back from being the perfect Pikmin game. The types of Pikmin are once again imbalanced, although not to the insane degree that purples were imbalanced in 2. There are two new types of Pikmin: Winged Pikmin and Rock Pikmin. Instead of latching on to enemies and continuously damaging them the way normal Pikmin do, Rock Pikmin deliver one larger chunk of damage and then bounce off and roll away. They also can be used to destroy crystal and glass objects. In a lot of ways, they feel like a reworked purple Pikmin since they focus on doing a lot of damage when thrown, but not nearly to the insane degree of purples and their bounce is a legitimate downside. However, their inability to be crushed or stabbed makes them invincible to a good number of enemies in the game which still makes them feel a little overpowered, and the damage they do when thrown can make many enemies crumble quickly.
Winged Pikmin can fly over water but can’t go in it which helps prevent them from defeating the point of blue Pikmin. They’re also weak in combat which is a significant downside and they can also get stuck in spider webs when carrying objects through the air. However, they end up effectively negating the Yellows’ ability to fly high through the air due to an oversight by the devs: there are several puzzles throughout the game designed around high-flying Yellows that can be completely broken by targeting the fruit at the end of them and commanding Winged Pikmin to charge. They can also fly past numerous ground based enemies without drawing attention making them by far the best option for carrying objects.
On the other end of the spectrum, Red Pikmin seem more useless than ever. There are only a couple of fire based enemies and hazards in the entire game, but they can either easily be taken out by other Pikmin in a single charge or can be ignored altogether by using Winged Pikmin to carry objects past them. Their advantage in combat is also lessened due to the effectiveness of Rock Pikmin when thrown or the charge command. Bosses also have limits to the damage they can take at one time which removes a bit of the Reds’ effectiveness there. As a result, once I got Winged Pikmin in my party on Day 6, in my finalized runthrough (as in not counting days I undid and replayed), I ended up not using Red Pikmin again at all until the final day.
The game’s story is also far more prevalent than ever. Rather than simply unlocking new areas as you collect parts like in the first game, you have narrative goals to achieve in each area before you can move on to the next. Each goal is achieved by beating a boss and obtaining an object they drop. On one hand, getting to these bosses and fighting them as quickly as possible is fun. Also, actually having a narrative makes the conclusion much more fascinating (something which I’d elaborate more on but this article is long enough as is). On the other hand, it means the first half of any given 100% playthrough is virtually always the same with the only variable being how fast you can complete the story objectives.
This isn’t necessarily a major problem by itself, but it becomes a bigger deal due to by far the biggest downside of the game: a relative lack of content. While I don’t think it needs to be too much longer since it would otherwise lose a lot of its replayability, the story mode feels like it could stand to have 30-50% more pieces of fruit via the addition of one or two more new areas (maybe a solid 100 instead of the strange final total of 66). There’s a lot fewer enemy types than in Pikmin 2, and there’s no Piklopedia with engaging enemy notes like in Pikmin 2. The base game only came with 5 missions each for collecting treasure and battling enemies: the rest required the purchase of DLC packs, and even then some of the DLC was just remixed areas from either the main game or of other mission levels. If you’re not a fan of replaying a game to improve after you’ve beaten it, Pikmin 3 doesn’t have a lot extra to offer. For all of the issues I have with Pikmin 2, lack of content certainly wasn’t one of them: this is a much smaller scale game in comparison.
Still, when my biggest complaint about a game is “give me more”, it’s done something right. Pikmin 3 is the best entry in the series to date thanks to the increased emphasis on strategy, more compelling combat, and its many quality of life improvements. If the rumors of a Switch port are true (as of this writing, we’ll have an idea if those rumors are true in about 3 days), I only hope that this game sells well enough that the series will finally get the size of audience it deserves.