Saturday, January 23, 2016

Pikmin 3 (Gaming Grunts Review Repost)

Note: This review was originally published on July 31st, 2014 for Gaming Grunts, which went under some time ago. Having recently salvaged most of my articles on there, I've decided to give them a new home here for archival purposes. Please bear in mind they differ in structure from this blog's reviews, and be sure to join me at the end for a bonus reflection!


Following years of delays, console hopping and developmental conflicts, Pikmin 3 finally arrived on the Wii U nine years after the Gamecube’s Pikmin 2. Once again starring the adventures of adorable plant creatures under the command of interplanetary spacefarers, Pikmin 3 is a brilliant mixture of strategy and exploration that enfolds in a world with all the terror of the wild, yet holds as much intrigue as the hidden expanses of your backyard. Released almost exactly a year ago in a sea of high-quality Nintendo sequels, Pikmin 3 lives up to its potential through an endlessly flexible campaign and addictive sub-modes.

Story

Disaster has stricken the planet of Koppai. Food supplies have all been depleted, and numerous universal scans by space probes for planetary cultivation prove to be fruitless….until a ray of hope is found on a planet light years away: Planet PNF-404. Koppai sends a three-man team–the famed Captain Charlie, the botanist Brittany, and the engineer Alph—to harvest fruit seeds from PNF-404, but upon reaching the planet, their ship suffers a mysterious crash landing and the three crew members are left separated. What is their fate? What caused the crash? What are these mysterious carrot-shaped creatures that follow their every move, and who’s leaving these cryptic data files across the planet’s surface?

Graphics

Continuing to prove Pikmin is home to Nintendo’s greatest sense of visual artistry, Pikmin 3’s greatest strength lies in bringing its world to life through lush visuals and amazing creature design. The game is just straight up beautiful to look at, such as the green expanses of the Garden of Hope or the wet sleekness of rainy days. As most of the characters are just under a foot tall (the three protagonists and Pikmin not being any bigger than a quarter), much of the wildlife encounters are imposing through outstanding animation work or detail, whether they be anteater-inspired Bulborbs or the bee troop movements formed under their harp-plucking queen.


Special attention should be paid to the all-important fruit, as the rich texture work and detailed models are a feast for the eyes. They look so good, in fact, that it is not uncommon for one to get hungry after a play session. When the juice is extracted at the end of each day, I find myself wanting to drink white grape.

The only downside is the game’s Wii origins are evident throughout, as some poor land textures and low-poly models can detract from the experience. While it’s mostly only noticeable when using the in-game camera, it’s a shame to see Nintendo’s lack of experience with HD holding them back. Regardless of the occasional rough patch, Pikmin 3 is quite possibly Nintendo’s most beautiful game to date.

Gameplay

On the surface, Pikmin 3 plays identically to the first two games. The game is divided into 15-minute “days” for the player to accomplish various tasks, whether it be collecting fruit, creating bridges, or eliminating dangerous wildlife.
Under the command of the three protagonists, the Pikmin are united into an army for these tasks and are divided into the classic trio of Reds (strong fighters who are resistant to fire), Yellows (light and immune to electricity), and Blues (swimmers who can survive any body of water). Joining the gang are Rock Pikmin (strong troops who slam into wildlife and obstacles of all sorts) and Winged Pikmin (flying Pikmin who excel at aerial combat and can traverse over any terrain). While Pikmin 2’s Purple and White Pikmin are sadly relegated to the Mission Mode, these two new Pikmin are far more interesting in their environmental and puzzle interactions.
While Pikmin 3 takes inspiration from both of the first two games, it harkens back to the original in that there’s an overall time limit to the campaign. As opposed to just being set to thirty days, Pikmin 3 counts down the days depending on the amount of juice siphoned from the collectible fruit strewn around the surface (so, for example, five containers of juice equals five days left). Each day subtracts a can of juice for the team to drink, and with many of the fruits guarded by dangerous beasts, there’s an innumerable amount of ways to tackle the campaign.
And that’s where the beauty of this game’s depth lies: through a player-manipulated time limit, you can choose to play any way you please. Do you have enough juice to spend a day or two propagating more Pikmin? If you choose to do a speedrun playthrough, you’d have to do so simultaneously along the main tasks, but then what type of speedrun should you pursue? Should you see how fast you can collect all the fruit, or just see how quickly you can beat the game? If so, how do you split up the captains this time?
For those of us who want to get up close and personal with the diminutive Pikmin world, the game features an in-game camera to snap pictures. Whether it’s zoomed in or zoomed out, players can upload their snapshots up on the Miiverse social network.

Despite the issues with up-close textures and the like, the good definitely outweighs the bad here. Everything from lighting effects (check out the flame pits in caverns) to spots optimal for panoramic scenery are at their best with this POV, and there are a number of fun easter eggs to discover and share (such as mysterious wall etchings). The juxtaposition of such beautiful scenery alongside an uninhabited alien world really shines here.
Pikmin 3 offers numerous ways to play in regards to controls. Anyone familiar with the Wii ports for the first two Pikmin games should feel right at home with the Wii Remote +Nunchuck combo, although of course the game supports the Wii U Gamepad. Thanks to a recent update, you can now repeatedly flick the screen with the stylus to sling Pikmin (as per the Pikmin Adventure minigame in Nintendo Land).
While the new gesture is appreciated, the regular Gamepad interface is the optimal choice for control. Aside from being easier on the hands, having the entire map at your disposal works wonders in planning out strategies and feels completely natural. At the very least, it’s the key to getting the best scores in Mission Mode.

Music and Sound

Gentle and soft, Pikmin 3’s soundtrack is the definition of atmospheric. From the jingles of Distant Tundra to the haunting chimes of cavern sections, just about every musical piece absorbs the player into Pikmin 3’s alien world. Garden of Hope stands out as a particularly dreamy melody, perfectly complimenting the dawn of a new morning with the plucks of banjo strings.

The sound effects are no slouch, either. The Pikmin are as adorably expressive as ever, and your heart will sink at theirs upon drowning and being munched upon by hungry monsters. In particular, the Rock Pikmin display an amusing incongruity via sound: their sole purpose is for destruction, as tossing them at obstacles and enemies leads to shattered glass and terrified cries from battered creatures…yet their landing on the ground is greeted with the thud of a pebble.

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Mission Mode

Think getting all the fruit in the main game is tough? Try getting Platinum Medals in the highly addictive, yet excruciatingly difficult Mission Mode, which is divided into three sub-modes consisting of 36 missions in all (including DLC): collecting treasure, defeating enemies, and boss battles. Confined to time limits, these missions grade the player with various medals (from bronze to platinum) depending on how much the player had accomplished before the whistle blows.

Clearing every one of these missions to perfection requires a serious time investment, as just like the main campaign every map is designed to be completed however the player wishes. For example,some monsters will take time to bring down, so how many Pikmin should be divided into simultaneous tasks such building bridges and collecting fruit? You can compare your score to the worldwide online leaderboard to see how far along you’ve improved, so if you’re feeling particularly competitive and are wondering why you’re some 5000 points behind, get ready for some serious planning and brainstorming.

Bingo Battle

Rounding out Pikmin 3’s features is the multiplayer Bingo Battle mode. Two players are tasked with collecting objects and felled creatures that are displayed on a bingo-esque grid, and whoever nabs four in a row becomes the winner. Each of the ten battlefields will become a battleground as the opposing armies’ Pikmin wage war to steal each other’s prizes through direct combat, summoning falling giant boulders, or fend off attacks from wildlife. It’s the sort of devilish setup that leads to hilarious co-play, and would be absolutely perfect if it had online play.

Pikmin 3 is yet another victim of Nintendo’s misguided, narrow focus on couch multiplayer for the Wii U (as opposed to just having both it and online multiplayer). While Pikmin 3 might be a tad more forgivable due to potential technical difficulties (If we’re to trust Nintendo’s word, around 200 Pikmin running around at once could strain connections), that the developers see it as no big loss is a shame. This is something I could see myself playing every weekend if I was given the option.

Pros

· Superbly flexible single-player
· Addictive mission mode
· The in-game camera opens up more of the game’s world than you think.
· Incredible atmosphere thanks to art and sound direction.
· Character design is a joy to witness.
· Bingo Battle!

Cons

· Occasional low-res graphical work
· No online multiplayer

Summary

Pikmin 3 is in almost every way worth the wait. The campaign is a perfect middle ground between time restrictions and freedom, and is just flexible enough to encourage multiple playthroughs. The sound and graphical work are some of Nintendo’s best, and Mission Mode will have you coming back again and again. Regardless of any blemishes, this is the best game you can play on the Wii U today.

10/10

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Reflection: Still the Wii U's masterpiece! Just started my fourth playthrough recently and I can't wait to see how I'll tackle it next. Perhaps I should share some of my Miiverse pic uploads?

As for the blog review, the Pikmin series is due very soon, and I can't wait to elaborate on one of my favorite Nintendo series. I like to think I'm still on the money with this review, so I wonder how I'll go forward with it...

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