As each month passes the Wii U becomes less and less relevant, as most of its first-party library continues to be lifted up, piece by piece, and carried over to the Switch. Why, it’s almost like what Pikmin do – DO YOU GET WHERE WE’RE GOING WITH THIS?
Pikmin 3 Deluxe is Nintendo’s attempt at a definitive port of a game that deserves a lot more love than it got the first time around. Pikmin 3 sold a little over a million copies, which is great by many games’ standards, but not necessarily a first-party Nintendo IP. Nintendo presumably hopes that this time the success of the Switch will give the game a new audience, and it really deserves one.
If you didn’t play it the first time around, Pikmin 3 follows the adventures of three explorers called Alph, Brittany and Charlie, who crash-land on the planet PNF-404 while looking for food to take back to their famine-stricken home planet. The trio has to search the planet in search of sustenance – using the local Pikmin population to help them – while also trying to locate the lost Cosmic Drive Key they need to leave PNF-404 and return home.
The first Pikmin had a strict time limit, which frustrated some players who wanted a little more freedom to explore without the constant fear that it would all go to waste at the end when the 30th and final day ended and they got Game Over. Pikmin 2 went in the completely opposite direction, and maybe gave a bit too much freedom as a result: with unlimited days and large caves where time didn’t pass, any sense of tension was completely gone.
Pikmin 3 is the perfect Goldilocks-style compromise. You do have a limit, but it’s based on fruit. Every time you collect some fruit and send it back to your ship you’ll make some juice: each jar of juice lets you survive another day, and there are around 100 jars’ worth in the game, meaning there’s still a definitive endpoint you need to have beaten the game by, but it’s far more lenient than the first game.
At first, your three protagonists are separated, but before too long they’re reunited and can then be split into different groups. Although there are puzzles that make use of this mechanic, these are fairly straightforward and for the most part, you’ll probably find yourself preferring to keep everyone together in one massive group when you can. In theory, you could save time by splitting the groups up and sending them off to do separate things but it’s often more trouble than it’s worth as one group could be attacked while you’re busy focusing on another. There’s one hefty exception to this and that’s co-op mode, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Those who did play Pikmin 3 on the Wii U will notice there have been a number of changes to the controls in order to make things a little less fiddly. Before, you locked onto enemies and objects by hovering the cursor over them and holding down ‘ZL’ for half a second, at which point you’d lock on. You could then cancel it by pressing ‘ZL’ again. This was fine for the most part, but in sections where there was a lot going on it could sometimes make it tricky to lock onto the exact target you had in mind.
This time you lock on by simply tapping ‘ZR’, and tapping it again lets you toggle through other nearby targets. This means if you want to attack an enemy but end up locking onto the fruit they’re standing right next to, you can just tap ‘ZR’ to switch your focus to the enemy instead. The ‘charge’ action is no longer associated with locking on, either: now you can just hold ‘X’, point in the direction you want them to charge and let go.
There’s also a new menu you can bring up by holding the ‘Y’ button. This lets you switch between leaders or dismiss your Pikmin and divide them into groups. All of these changes make for a control system that’s better than it was before, but better doesn’t mean perfect, and it can still be a bit unwieldy to get used to at first, especially for those who may not be used to the real-time strategy genre (or are more used to a mouse in PC equivalents).
There’s also one major addition that will rankle some hardcore types, but it isn’t designed for them: the ability to bring up hints by pressing up on the D-Pad. If you’ve got no idea where you should be going next, a simple press will bring up a text box telling you what your next step should be, along with arrows on the floor to lead the way and help you find your bearings. No, it isn’t essential, and most gamers will be able to do perfectly well without it. But for people who are maybe less interested in exploring and more interested in making progress (or those who are genuinely stuck, of course), it’s a handy feature.
Finally, there’s co-op, which has been added to the main story mode for the first time and is a really nice addition to the package. You’ve got three captains to control at once and only one pair of hands to do it, so why not share the load with a friend or family member or (at a push) well-trained ape? The implementation isn’t 100% seamless – there are moments when you’re both running around as the same character and appear to one another as ghosts – but it’s fine and by no means a deal-breaker. When you’re not all ghosty-like, however, it’s an absolute joy. The initial drive is to go around as a group, but in reality, you’ll need to split up to make the most out of the limited time you have each day.
Functionally, it works in exactly the same way as it did in Mission mode on the Wii U, but now it’s for the whole’ story. Sometimes you may find yourself in a situation where only one person has stuff to do, but these instances are few and far between, and player two can even just behave as a support character, building the Pikmin numbers and grabbing fruit whilst player one attempts to push on with the story. You’ll need to come together at times, of course, but if anything that makes the struggle all the sweeter.
Accompanying the Story mode are Missions – this includes all the paid DLC missions that were released for the Wii U version – and a new option called Side Stories. Captain Olimar and Louie appear in the main game, and the Side Stories are split into two sections: a prologue showing what happened to them before the events of Pikmin 3, and an epilogue showing what happened after the end credits.
Nintendo has asked us not to spoil the epilogue, but the prologue consists of a number of missions that mostly fit a similar routine: you’ve got a time limit to bring as much fruit to your ship as you can, in order to score enough points to earn a medal. Get at least a bronze medal and you’ll unlock the next mission, but the fun is in replaying the missions and trying to clear them as quickly as possible in order to improve your rank in the online leaderboards.
So, that’s more or less Pikmin 3 Deluxe: the Story mode has improved controls and can be made easier or harder depending on your tastes, the Missions include all the previous DLC and the Side Stories add a little more longevity even if they aren’t necessarily ground-breaking. It would be remiss of us not to mention one other thing, though, and that’s the game’s performance: if only to pre-empt negative comments in the usual places.
It does appear that the game still runs at 720p and 30 frames per second, like it did on the Wii U. Now, this will obviously lead to instant “lazy Nintendo” comments but it’s worth bearing in mind a few things: firstly, there’s a lot going on in this game, with plenty of characters on the screen at once and a number of transparency and reflection effects at times. While it’s easy to just demand improvements over the Wii U version, without knowing exactly how the game was put together it’s impossible to know just how realistic that demand would be.
The more important thing to bear in mind, however, is that the game doesn’t really suffer for it, other than having a slightly soft look. This is a slow-paced game that doesn’t need to run at 60 frames per second, and there’s still enough detail there to be able to see what’s going on perfectly well. There are many games that would suffer from a 720p and 30fps presentation, but this isn’t one of them: it was a great game on Wii U with those specs, and it’s still a great game on Switch despite the internet deciding this is the next big scandal to focus on.
Would it have been nice to see a resolution or frame rate boost? Of course it would have – we’re a little disappointed too. But that’s all we are: a little disappointed. The way some people have been acting online it’s like Nintendo sent an army of Pikmin to their house and got them to carry their cat outside and launch it into a dumpster. Visual improvements would have been great, but it’s been improved in other areas and remains perfectly entertaining.