I’ve never played a Pikmin game before, but I had heard a bajillion great things about the series. Part RTS, part fruit? Count me in. I love yummy things that I can shoot into space. The Wii U’s new tablet controller, the Gamepad, seems like a perfect fit for the genre.
I found out during my demo that how it’s actually implemented isn’t the perfect experience I expected.
The demo dropped me and my ship into a field, sans Captain Olimar; I was another little alien, as the absence of Oli was something that related to the story, I was told. The visuals were great, though Pikmin games never really needed to push hardware rendering because of their “semi-realistic meets cartoon mascot” style. The demo was divided into two parts: collect enough resources in the time allotted, and defeat a boss enemy.
To move around I used the left-hand analog stick. Naturally, I thought that I would be able to do the remainder of my functions with the right stick. To collect Pikmin I was asked to hold a button and tilt the Gamepad as I aimed it at the screen and the collection reticule on the ground. The motion was a little awkward, especially considering that the tilting was extremely sensitive and it took some getting used to.
To top it off, the Gamepad kept losing calibration; at one point I was standing nearly sideways, looking at the screen over my shoulder to function the Pikmin collection aiming. To recalibrate the controller, the game had to be paused and a WiiMote brought out to “reset” the calibration.
The only other use for the Gamepad is the map on its screen, which I rarely glanced at. There didn’t seem to be any other added value to playing the game with the pad.
That’s not to say that the experience was all that bad. The Pikmin are adorable, especially the new Rock Pikmin which can be used to break walls and crystalline structures. The enemies are cute and I was almost ashamed to attack them. Watching the Pikmin carry the little beasts to to the space ship was nicely animated. The boss was huge, and battling it was enjoyable and easy to deduce what the best strategy was to defeat it.
But the controls of the Gamepad just didn’t work, and it’s all the fault of the motion control. The Nintendo representative couldn’t tell me if the controls could be remapped — though when asked about multiplayer he responded that they “don’t have anything to talk about in that respect at this time.” Interesting. Multiplayer Pikmin? I can dig that.
As one of the launch window games for the Wii U, Pikmin 3 needs to be perfect in every respect. Unfortunately, the Gamepad usage in the game is still not far enough along to move past gimmickry… and broken gimmickry at that. The game clearly is meant to be played with the WiiMote + Nunchuk combination, which we’ll talk about later.