This review didn’t take long to write. I sat on it for a bit but only because I kept coming back to this game, trying different modes and controls and replaying sections to perfect completion. After playing through it, I’ve come to three distinct conclusions about it:
- The first is that it was clearly meant to be a last-gen game before it was pushed to the current.
- The second is that it is far too short, at least in the single-player campaign.
- The final conclusion I made is that Pikmin 3 is insanely charming, addictive and delightful, and able to forgive any design issues it has because of that.
Joy is an easy concept to understand, achieved through emotion and experience in real life, but rarely comes off as clear in video games. Nintendo’s latest game approaches the concept as its primal focus. Pikmin 3 is meant to be a fun experience first, followed by game mechanic, followed by plot. There are issues with the other aspects, but that first primal point excels so much that it far overshadows what weighs it down. Well, for the most part.
Merriam-Webster defines joy as “a state of happiness or felicity” and “a source or cause of delight”. From the opening cinematic and narration, to the final closing elements, it seems apparent that game designer Shigeru Miyamoto spent time crafting the latter to create the former. This third iteration has five separate Pikmin (seven in the extended modes), each of a different vibrant hue, and each with its own strengths and weaknesses that balance well against each other. By design, the creatures — even the world’s enemies — are playful and curious and dutiful beyond belief. Each time a new one is discovered, cheery music fills the audio, bright colors the scene, and the senses are ignited. The game’s portrayal of ethereal richness depicts the bounty of life. “A source or cause of delight.” We’re happy and smile when it happens.
And once they appear, our minds seem to work right away visualizing how to solve puzzles that were inaccessible earlier. “Aha! Now I can get to that platform!” and “Now I can get that banana!” (The game centers around using the Pikmin together to collect the planet’s fruit.) We don’t really need to get that piece of star fruit, but we want to, we’re compelled to. The game rewards us with positive remarks from the cast of lilliputian astronauts as they chug down juice after a hard day’s work. They share their thoughts of the days’ successes and failures through diary entries. We’re always meant to be happy to play Pikmin 3, even when our armies of followers are decimated.
When it comes to the concept of joy, the game oozes it. Perhaps it even forces it upon us, hiding the issues that arise from the game’s last-gen underpinnings.
Pikmin 3 had begun as a Wii game, announced at E3 in 2008 years before the Wii U was even a thought. At some point the game was shifted over to the new console, but there wasn’t enough time to redo everything. The controls are the biggest concern, really. The game has excellent WiiMote pointer controls, flying in the face of the vastly sub-par GamePad tablet. We’ve played great touch-based strategy games on our mobile devices, but Pikmin seems to ignore those, and even got rid of the GamePad’s motion controls that that we experienced in its first iteration in 2012. Nintendo is banking on the hope that the majority of people who will buy this game also own a Wii or 18 WiiMotes, which they probably do.
Switching to the WiiMote as a primary input not only makes the game easier to control, but also that much easier in general, greatly shortening the length of time it takes to complete the single-player campaign. With the in-game “days” lasting around 13 minutes, the campaign can be completed in around 20 days, or around 6 hours. The adventure compresses its delightful nature in all aspects because of this, and thankfully Nintendo loads up several post-game challenge missions and the excellent multiplayer “bingo” mode to extend the play time. That’s where I got hung up, playing through missions to collect treasure and beat my scores and times, ranked against thousands of others in Nintendo’s live leaderboards.
I was having fun. I was smiling. My daughter was giggling as her favorite pink Pikmin would attack bees or carry off a giant succulent cherry. The entirety of it is hard to put down. I want to see this world again, to see these little friends that when even just one dies I’m instantly heartbroken, only to feel relief when I hear the familiar “pop” of new sprouts emerging from their home onions.
It’s hard to be indifferent to Pikmin 3; it’s optimism personified. I’ll solve the current puzzle, eventually. All I need to do is go back and harvest more followers. And, we keep coming back because we want to feel that bit of success and happiness again. Everything works together in symbiosis, with no situation ever feeling dire.
Pikmin 3 is joy. It’s not perfect, it’s not the Wii U’s “killer app”, but it’s most certainly one of the most delightful experiences that I’ve come across this year and one of the easiest to recommend.
This review is based on a retail disc version of the game purchased by the reviewer.