More than any other medium, video games belong to an industry in which reboots, remakes, and returns are often in higher demand than original creations. When publishers and developers decide to embark on this highly-requested route, they run the risk of alienating existing fans of the franchise in their effort to revive it for a modern audience. It’s a tough row to hoe, but, when done right, it can be as gratifying as any other project. Pikmin 3 is the latest Nintendo series to be on the receiving end of a face-lift and, as such, the latest Nintendo series to either successfully recapture the magic of its past iterations or take a sharp turn in the wrong direction. Thankfully, based on the title’s most recent build shown to me at a press event in Chicago, it will lean more towards the former and far away from the latter.
Pikmin 3 is Pikmin; in the transition to Nintendo’s newest hardware, the Wii U, little is lost or gained. Players still control an avatar with a vast army of critters at their disposal, search for treasure buried deep within the game’s many maps, and fight through a wide array of lesser creatures and greater boss monsters. The main strides are made in the title’s presentation, a facet that has seen much of its improvement thanks entirely to the new, high-definition console that it is being released on.
Even on the Nintendo Gamecube, Pikmin offered up a consortium of aesthetic delights. Now, with the benefit of an improved resolution and high-definition visuals, it truly shines as it never has before; everything in the game’s world pops. A lone leaf jutting out of a sullen log, a desolate patch of land occupied only by Bulborbs (the franchise’s most common enemies), and a gently flowing stream are all simple concepts easily handled by even current-generation hardware, but, in the context of Pikmin 3, exemplify the leaps and bounds being made by the series in the jump to the next generation of consoles. Though it may not overwhelm in the way that many future titles are sure to, Pikmin 3 eases its players into a graphically-pleasing environment that is, thanks to this marked improvement, a joy to explore.
The only other major change demonstrated in my time with Pikmin 3 was in its apparent leap in production values. As was mentioned earlier, Pikmin has always been a franchise known for its calming, visual stimuli, but that inviting atmosphere operated outside the interests of similarly noteworthy categories important to any video game. Based on what little time was given to me to sample the product, I was able to see a vision of where the series looked to progress in respect to its handle on a more polished presentation. When taking on the boss-battle portion of the demo, I was instantly affronted by an introductory video highlighting the imposing physique of the creature in a way that held an uncanny resemblance to the packages played before boss battles in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and the many titles that followed it in the franchise. Bear in mind that this was only one confrontation and might not apply to the entirety of the experience, but it did highlight a burgeoning focus on making Pikmin seem more like a member of Nintendo’s inner circle than it has in past years.
The way in which the game plays remains true to the franchise with nary a change made outside of the additional Pikmin being thrown into the mix. This particular demo showcased Rock Pikmin, a new species that packs a heavier punch than the typical breed of units without being able to latch onto enemies as all of them have in the past. Much like their colorful brethren, Rock Pikmin have their own unique strategical ploy; using their hard, outer shell, they are able to break apart obstacles too tough for others to tackle. In the demo, this is demonstrated in two different ways: piles of rough material strewn about the map and the thick carapace of the given portion’s boss. Either way, the new critter offers up plenty of opportunities for innovation in the game’s design just as Purple and White Pikmin did for Pikmin 2.
When it comes to games for the Wii U, the most often question asked is how the title manages to integrate the system’s polarizing Gamepad controller. Though I was obviously able to see it elsewhere at the event, I was not able to use it as anything more than a mini-map application in my time with Pikmin 3 and was instead required to use the traditional Wii remote setting seen in re-releases of the first two games. What I did get to see of the accessory and its compatibility with the title seemed a little forced but, all the while, neat. While the player is on the field, it acts as a map that, just as those belonging to any other real-time strategy game would, displays placement of the user and any of the Pikmin mobs scattered about the stage. This was, in spite of its utility, little more than a novel distraction that could have been accomplished just as well with proper, on-screen interface. More interesting, though, was a feature enabled upon completing the demo’s treasure-hunting level; after time in the mode expired, the Gamepad transformed itself into a device that would instantly replay for the player their individual and unit movements around the map made during the session. As my nearest Nintendo representative emphasized, this makes for a convenient way of showing players where they could improve their performance so that they can go from merely fumbling through a section to speed running it like a professional.
It would be easy to look at Pikmin 3 and complain that it makes no alterations to an existing formula, but that would be the conduct of one who misses the point entirely; Pikmin 3 is Pikmin, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. To do so would be to betray a fan base that has long stood in the wings waiting for one more chance to embark on an adventure with a horde of adorable units tailing behind them. Though uninspired in the context of its franchise, it remains an innovative member of an industry that would certainly do well to see more of the game’s soothing visual framework.
When Pikmin 3 marks the franchise’s return on the Wii U, it will be doing so in the way that pleases the fans: as a Pikmin game – nothing more, and nothing less.