Nintendo bring their mix of real-time strategy and constant gardening to Nintendo Switch and it’s just as charming as ever.
There are many reasons why no other company has been able to replicate the success of Super Smash Bros. but primary amongst them is that only Nintendo has such a wide range of different characters, pulled from so many different franchises. They’re all subject to different levels of fame though and while your nan has probably heard of Mario and Pikachu, it would take a least a casual gamer to recognise the likes of Link or Kirby.
A level below that sits the Star Fox team and Samus Aran, but at that point it becomes hard to separate the C-list from the D-list, where characters like Captain Olimar and the pikmin reside. The original Pikmin game was a launch window title for the GameCube, back in 2001, and was essentially Nintendo’s take on a Command & Conquer style real-time strategy game. Although only in the sense that Smash Bros. is their take on a traditional fighting game.
Real-time strategies are not a genre that lend themselves well to consoles, given the lack of mouse control, but Pikmin’s streamlined interface and mellow pacing managed to work perfectly. The game was never hugely successful but it did gain two sequels, neither of which changed the formula all that much. Pikmin 3 seemed like it would be perfect for the Wii U but made disappointingly little use of the GamePad touchscreen and so it’s this new Switch version that is the definitive edition.
Although he features in a couple of brand-new side missions, Captain Olimar is not the star of Pikmin 3. Instead, you play as three new characters from a neighbouring planet who are exploring an Earth-like world in search of new food sources. Unfortunately for them they’re smurf-sized compared to the local fauna and virtually defenceless. So it’s lucky for them that the pikmin creatures – portrayed as a sort of perambulatory flower bud – are willing to help them out and obey their commands.
You can have up to 100 pikmin following along behind you at any one time, with different colours having different abilities such as the fire-resistant reds, the shock-proof yellows, and the flying types that weren’t in the first two games. Pikmin can be replaced by bringing back a food source (fruit or dead enemies) to their nest and sprouting more, which makes them highly disposable, but that doesn’t mean their deaths are inconsequential.
The mournful cry when they die, as their little spirit flutters up the screen, is heart-rending and you find yourself willing to do almost anything to protect them (and if you don’t the game would probably work very well as a sociopath detection tool).
They might be cannon fodder on their own but in a group pikmin can make short work of almost every enemy, but only if you direct them properly. Sneaking in with a surprise attack where they’re most vulnerable, and waking up dazed pikmin with a blow of your whistle, is vital and while Pikmin isn’t really an action game the bigger boss battles have a great arcade style feel as you work out how to beat them while losing the least amount of pikmin.
Unlike the first game, Pikmin 3 is much less demanding in terms of its time limits – you have to be back at your spaceship before nightfall or any loose pikmin will be eaten but you can take as many days as you like playing the story mode, slowly exploring and opening up new areas by building bridges and taking out larger creatures.
The main complaint of the original release was that it wasn’t really very different from the originals and, despite several delays, made little use of the Wii U’s unusual hardware. Those concerns are less of an issue now, although it is true that the story campaign remains rather short. You do get the small amount of DLC that was released before though, plus two brand new modes with Olimar – one unlocked early on and the other once you’ve beaten the main story.
The new additions are quite short but as a sort of time attack mode they’re actually quite fun, especially in co-op mode. The original game already had a co-op option but only for a limited number of separate challenge maps, while the Switch version now has co-op in all modes. It uses a simple split-screen approach but this works very well and is actually really useful, given that so many things are made easier when you have two people working together who know what they’re doing.
There’s still a sense that the Pikmin concept has not yet been pushed to its full potential but playing it again, after having all but forgotten about the series, it’s still charming and engaging. The art design is wonderful too and while the graphics haven’t been improved in any obvious way (in part to keep the frame rate up in split-screen mode) they’re still highly attractive and strangely beautiful when you’re not watching your loyal pikmin being scarfed down by a giant monster.
With the original game’s competitive multiplayer added on top this is a much more well-rounded package than when it was released, although Pikmin 2 is arguably still the better game, with more tactical battles and its dungeon crawler inspired interior sections. PIkmin 3 Deluxe does add an extra difficulty mode though, which is very welcome, although be warned that ‘Normal’ is actually easier than the original version and most experienced players should probably start on ‘Hard’.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe is a great little game and removed from the pressure of having to save the Wii U (spoiler: it didn’t) it’s a wonderfully whimsical piece of entertainment that makes you feel for its protagonists (the pikmin, not the astronauts) far more than most games with all their high-tech, emotional cut scenes.
Nintendo’s plans for the series beyond this remain vague – they’ve hinted at a Pikmin 4 but never formally announced it – but Pikmin 3 Deluxe is clear proof that the concept still works and has plenty of room to grow from here.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe review summary
In Short: After years out of the limelight Pikmin 3 has resprouted, with its mellow take on real-time strategy more enjoyable than ever, especially thanks to the expanded co-op options.
Pros: The whole concept remains as charmingly unique as ever and works perfectly fine without the Wii U’s GamePad. Great graphics, welcome new features, and excellent range of multiplayer modes.
Cons: The original was never very different from the previous two and the story campaign remains a little short.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo EAD Kyoto
Release Date: 30th October 2020
Age Rating: 3
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