Nine years after its last sequel, Pikmin 3 ably reminds us why fans of this unique strategy/action hybrid still have such fond feelings for the franchise. Those years of nonexistence haven't led to some radical shift in style, mechanics, or even progression, mind you. Instead, the time spent crafting Pikmin 3 for Nintendo's Wii U console has resulted in a game that feels almost exactly like what a modern Pikmin game ought to feel like. It takes elements from both its predecessors, tweaks some concepts and ideas, adds a few new flavors of Pikmin, and boosts the visual fidelity to expected degrees of quality. Pikmin 3 is exactly what you think it is, and that should be just fine for any fan of this series.
One thing notably different from previous Pikmins is the absence of previous protagonist Captain Olimar. Pikmin 3 takes place some time after the previous games, and instead tells the tales of three new explorers named Alph, Brittany, and Charlie, who have come to the Pikmin homeworld in search of a new food source for their ailing planet. Expectedly, they crash land and end up separated, but as the game rolls along, you'll eventually reunite them and end up controlling each of the crew members in concert.
And you'll control those adorably, vacantly helpful Pikmin too. Initially, you'll have just a few at your disposal, but it won't be long before you're commanding large swarms to break down walls, attack killer creatures, and haul both their carcasses and other found objects back to your ship for absorption/study. The main objects you'll be looking for are various fruits, the object of your mission and also your key to survival. Pikmin 3 is broken out into different days, and at the end of each day, you and your Pikmin must retreat back to your landing site to avoid any nocturnal predators. Any Pikmin left straggling behind are mercilessly devoured by the aforementioned predators, and if you fail to grab fruit, you'll start draining your ship's stores of sustenance. A jar's worth of juice is used each day, so collecting fruit to distill into drinkable stores is vital to your survival.
This is one of the better ways that Pikmin 3 strikes a balance between the designs of the previous games. Pikmin had that hard-stop limit of 30 days to gather all your ship parts and escape the planet, while Pikmin 2 went fully in the other direction, creating a somewhat breezy, if occasionally listless experience. Here you have as many days as you need to complete your journey, but each day blows by at an occasionally startling clip, and running out of juice is a concern you must be mindful of.
Odds are you won't run out of Pikmin, so long as you don't simply toss them to the slaughter on a regular basis. Plus, there are myriad types of Pikmin to "collect," if that's the right word. Previous subspecies, like the red, yellow, and blue varieties, are joined by rock Pikmin (whose hard outer shells make them ideal for cracking particularly tough surfaces), and pink flying Pikmin, which don't enter until far later in the game, but have the delightful distinction of being able to simply fly past most major obstacles (though definitely not all). There are white and purple varieties, too, though they're relegated to the game's offline only multiplayer mode.
That multiplayer mode, incidentally, is also a pretty solid addition. The mission mode (which features short maps with specific objectives, and can also be played solo) is decent enough, but really the bingo battle mode is what sells it. Here, each player is given a specific "bingo card" that includes particular enemies and fruit types that have to be brought back to each player's home base. Though the fact that it's only a splitscreen mode limits its appeal a bit, this is one of those modes that's exciting enough to make it absolutely worth dragging a friend over for.
If Pikmin 3 has any particularly noteworthy flaw, it's that it doesn't offer up a single control scheme that comes without caveat. Presumably, most players are expected to use the GamePad to control things, which certainly has its advantages. The GamePad screen acts as a map, for instance, which is incredibly useful as you go back to explore environments and look for any areas you might have missed. It also features camera control via the right stick, which allows you to keep from getting boxed in by large enemies (except in the rare instances where the game just decides you don't get to have camera control). The one thing it doesn't do very well is allow you to round up Pikmin quickly and efficiently. That's something the Wii Remote control scheme does much better, though that obviously lacks both the advantages of the GamePad.
In either situation, Pikmin 3 mostly handles admirably. I found myself running into some issues with boss fights early on, mostly as I tried to keep my Pikmin together and maintain target locks on the enemy, which can be more of a chore than it ought to be. To be fair, boss battles have never been my favorite part of Pikmin, and while the ones offered up in Pikmin 3 are generally well-designed, they didn't change my mind on the subject, either. I prefer the more leisurely parts of the game. I like taking in the colorful, sumptuously realized visuals, tackling the Pikmin-oriented world puzzles, and collecting thing after thing. All of these aspects of Pikmin 3 are well done, to the point where I found myself easily getting lost in the campaign, while not actually getting lost trying to navigate the campaign, if you know what I mean.
For these reasons, Pikmin 3 is an easy recommendation for any Wii U owner, and not just for lack of available games as of this writing. Even with a stronger library of competing titles, Pikmin 3 would stand out due to the sheer craft and attention to detail paid to each aspect of its design. Yes, it's most certainly "just" more of the Pikmin we came to know during the GameCube era, but after nine years on the shelf, coming back to a Pikmin game this solidly designed quickly reminded me why I had such affection for this series in the first place.