Positively a Real Learning Experience: Pikmin 3

Apartment Therapy Game Room Review

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Price: $59.99
System: Nintendo Wii U
Target: Strategists, Family Friendly
Fun Factor: High

Pikmin, the main protagonists of Nintendo's latest Wii U title, are adorable creatures promoting teamwork by combining each of their unique color-coded strengths to complete a variety of gaming tasks in the Nintendo universe. In Pikmin 3 it's the player's role to command an army of the insect-sized creatures to gather supplies, battle predators, and explore brave new worlds in an epic family-friendly fun adventure with a positive life lesson underneath its cute surface...

Command a loyal army of Pikmin

I'll be honest, I'm a huge Nintendo fan, yet this is my first Pikmin game. In this latest edition, the game introduces three protagonists: Alph, Brittany, and Charlie. Each has traveled across space from their planet Koppai in search of food and resources, crash landing on the planet of PNF-404 (which doesn't look too different from Earth from the perspective of an insect). The trio come across the native and plentiful Pikmin, creatures who help them gather up food and advance across the world using their unique characteristics. 

Red Pikmin are resistant to fire, yellow Pikmin can be thrown farther and are immune to electricity, rock Pikmin can smash glass obstructions, winged Pikmin can fly to lift objects over gaps and water, while blue Pikmin can swim. Levels are divided into days, each with a time limit. Effective time management is key to progressing along the story mode since each day requires use of a portion of the gathered food supply, adding an element of strategy. Luckily it's possible to go back several days in the event food does run out.

Despite the updated graphics, my initial impression of Pikmin 3 was this Wii U game shares more with the spirit and simpler gameplay of a Nintendo classic from the late 80's/early 90's than most modern day titles. The only real control players have is moving your character and guiding the crosshairs to throw Pikmin at enemies, across gaps, and at items...the Pikmin (usually) intelligently handle the rest. However, that's not to say the game plays itself; it's up to the player to micro-manage the small tide of Pikmin as a finite resource.

One aspect of the game I found challenging was keeping up with the number of Pikmin at my disposal. At the beginning, players start off with a small amount of Pikmin that can only be multiplied by bringing enemies back to base. Pikmin numbers can diminish for many reasons: being eaten by predators, squashed in Boss battles, separated from the group, or simply left behind at the end of the day. When this happens, players can really feel the full weight of their decisions, as with time, the loss of Pikmin carry an emotional attachment (a hallmark of creator, Shigeru Miyamoto's games). I couldn't help but think each and every time a group of Pikmin perished, I could have made a better decision, an emotional resonance reflecting the effective connection between game and gamer.

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No matter how big the foe, teamwork always wins

Controls
There are two options for playing Pikmin 3: the standard game pad or with the Pro Controller and the Wii + Nunchuck. Between the two I found myself using the Wii + Nunchuck more, as it's much easier and precise to point the Wii-mote at the screen and select where I wanted to throw Pikmin. Even so, this setup isn't perfect – in choosing this combination I lost accurate control over the camera view, tediously requiring me to direct my character where I wanted, and then press the camera button to face the correct direction. Still, it was much worse with the standard controller, as I had trouble aiming the crosshairs quickly. This standard controller did give me absolute control over the camera, but at too much of a cost in speed (which is vital as the game progresses). I wholeheartedly recommend to use the Wii control setup, which is more comfortable in regards to both physical comfort and gameplay.

Wii U Features
I was disappointed to discover Nintendo didn't use the Game Pad's touchscreen with Pikmin 3, seriously a missed opportunity. Other than acting as an in-game map, the secondary screen isn't essential to gameplay, and basically an afterthought feature. The game can be broadcast to the controller's screen, seemingly perfect for multiplayer action. But instead, multiplayer is only offered in split screen format (which admittedly isn't so bad with the average living room screen size).   

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Throwing is a vital move in Pikmin 3; throw Pikmin and teammates across gaps to explore new territory.

Multiplayer
With three characters at your disposal, I was surprised to find a co-op story mode wasn't made available. I imagined some great team work opportunities in the story mode, with players coordinating strategies in the same living room, using their Pikmin groups as teams to maximize productivity. Multiplayer modes feel tacked on, offered in the form of Mission Mode (co-op) and Battle Mode (versus). 

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An overhead view of Battle Bingo Mode

Mission Mode comes in three flavors of its own: collect fruit, defeat enemies and Boss mode. Players have 7-10 minutes to complete their selected objective together, dividing Pikmin between each other. After the short timed levels are completed, that's it, without any additional challenge offered. Battle Bingo Mode is more intense and satisfying, as players are pitted against one another to gather fruits or defeat enemies within a smaller arena; the main goal is to fill in four spaces across the  board before your opponent.

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Bring home fruit for provisions on this away mission in the backyard

Educational Value
In some ways Pikmin 3 feels and plays like a fast-paced educational game, inherently demonstrating the impact of how split-second decisions can make resounding and resonating differences later. Even though the Pikmin are virtual creatures there are notable real world parallel lessons taught, and feelings evoked with each challenge, making this game much more than its cute graphics may have you first believe. Pikmin 3 puts players in the position of an active leader who has to make quick and strategic decisions. Do you try to do as much in a day as possible? Do you risk taking as many Pikmin as possible into a battle, knowing many of them might not come back with you? I found it fascinating how much I learned about myself through the actions I was constantly making, while noting my attitude towards both success and failure throughout the game. 

The foundation of the Pikmin experience is: cooperating as a team will get you further along than by yourself. The game is also a fantastic tool for teaching organization and time management skills. At the start of the in-game day, players are faced with decisions of how to spend each day. Collect more fruit? Build up the number of Pikmin? Or expand further out into the world and discover uncharted territory? Educational games don't have to be about constant math problems or quiz games, and Pikmin 3 is an excellent example of edu-tainment at its finest.

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Travel to new areas including snow, desert, marsh, and tropical regions

Bottom Line
At its core, Pikmin 3 is a fast paced, micro-management strategy game similar to Starcraft or Age of Empires, but simplified with a purpose of making it accessible to anyone. I thoroughly recommend it if you have a Wii U or are interested in getting one, with Pikmin 3 a well polished and unique experience for any skill/style gamer, especially for players and parents looking to avoid realistic or graphic violence. As far as complaints, I find the multiplayer could have been utilized better for the long haul and once the story mode is over, as there is very little to keep you coming back. But as a single player experience, Pikmin 3 is a "must buy" for Nintendo fans.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend* 
Recommend 
Weak Recommend 
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This specific product was purchased by the reviewer for game review purposes.