Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto said a while ago that Pikmin 3 is a game about cooking. It's not in the literal sense; you won't be julienning the titular creatures and tossing them in a stew. But just as simultaneously preparing several dishes in a kitchen requires deft multitasking skills, players must juggle three new pilots and their unusual friends. It's a busy, tense and occasionally frustrating process, but as with a good meal, the results are deeply satisfying.
Pikmin 3's crew is on a mission to find food for their home planet, Koppai. Their search leads them to planet PNF-404, a dead ringer for Earth that happens to be filled with delicious fruit. The team of explorers prepares to land, but their ship crashes in the process. The team is separated, and it's up to the players to reunite them, fill their ship's pantry with food, and help them make their way home.
Pikmin 3's core is familiar enough. You move your tiny astronaut around, commanding the pikmin, helpful little plant creatures, to pick up items, move obstacles around and battle less- welcoming residents. The game introduces a pair of pikmin types, but the chief change to the game comes when Alph, Brittany and Charlie are reunited.
The game does a good job of easing players into the transition, first teaching them how to gather pikmin with the tweet of a whistle and issue commands. The tiny creatures dutifully respond to the best of their ability. Direct them onto a pile of ceramic fragments, and they'll move in formation to assemble a bridge, holding the outsize chunks overhead like adorable leaf-cutter ants. Throw them on top of a marauding beetle, and they'll cling to its carapace, pounding on the creature until it shudders and dies. In past installments, players had to manage the troops with a single general. Now there are three.
Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to spread out on the map and explore a larger area, players may throw their buddies to otherwise inaccessible ledges. The world is dotted with fruit, and since the crew can't directly interact with anything in the environments, players need to learn how to prioritize and manage their tiny armies. All pikmin aren't created equally, which complicates matters.
The biggest challenge I faced was dealing with the default controls. The GamePad lacks the precision you need to interact with some of the enemies. Everything's fine when you're moving treats around and building bridges, but a battle against even some of the low-grade foes is unnecessarily frustrating.
Pikmin 3's control issues are buoyed by solid improvements to the series and easily accessible alternative inputs. It's adorable, and if you're a Wii U owner, consider this an essential game.
VIDEO GAME REVIEW
Platform: Wii U
Style: One-player strategy
ESRB rating: E10+