It’s been a long time coming, but Nintendo has finally pulled back the curtain on Pikmin 3, the long-awaited followup to one its most beloved GameCube titles. As the name would suggest, not much has changed since the franchise last reared its head some eight years ago, but as this demo proves, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to leave a good impression.
Right off the bat Nintendo introduces four new playable characters to take the stead of series protagonist Captain Olimar, whose mysterious absence will play an important role in the game’s story. Like the diminutive spaceman, these four new heroes must amass an army of the plantlike Pikmin and use their cumulative strength to salvage treasures (be they in the form of wild fruits or actual trinkets) for some quick cash. Players will be able to switch between these four characters in the midst of a level to accomplish this goal, using their knowledge of the area’s layout (and some impressive multi-tasking skills) to reap maximum profits from each stage.
The demo on Nintendo’s showfloor consisted of a tutorial level and a boss battle, but at the time of writing this I’ve only gotten my hands on the former. This brief area is immediately reminiscent of the Forest of Hope from the original Pikmin, a simple glade in which you can acquaint yourself with the game’s controls. Unlike most other Wii U titles, Pikmin 3 is primarily played with the Wii Remote (Plus) and the Nunchuck. Players use the remote to point where they’d like to throw their Pikmin, hurling and wrangling the little flowers with the A and B buttons respectively. Players can also lock onto an enemy or an object by pointing the reticule at them and centering the camera (by pressing the Z button), allowing you to send your army charging forward in a fit of adorable fury by shaking the Nunchuck.
While it may seem a little disappointing to learn that one of Wii U’s flagship titles takes very little advantage of the system’s unique controller, it’s easy to see why Nintendo retained the control scheme of the two Pikmin Wii remakes: it works. Aiming your Pikmin has never felt as natural and intuitive as it does with the Wii Remote, and you can easily– and quickly– target multiple objects around you without even taking a step. And it’s not as if Nintendo is completely ignoring the Wii U GamePad; players have the option to use it in place of the Wii Remote, offering a distinct method of control (and a unique view of the action) with its own benefits. Even if players decide to forgo this in favor of the (comparatively) traditional pointer controls, the tablet still displays an overhead map of your current area, which will surely come in handy when planning your next move.
The other big new feature of Pikmin 3 is the introduction of an entirely new Pikmin type– Rock Pikmin. As you can gather from their name, these Pikmin bear more of a resemblance to pebbles than they do plants, and their functionality is reflected in their appearance. As you travel around the planet, you’ll quickly discover crystallized treasures and obstacles strewn in your path. These obstacles are far too sturdy for traditional Pikmin to break, but flick a few Rock Pikmin in their direction and they’ll shatter with ease. Beyond that, however, Rock Pikmin behave very similarly to regular Pikmin (and can even help carry objects back to your campsite despite not owning a discernible pair of arms).
Of course, this is just a small glimpse at what Pikmin 3 has to offer, but I’m already very impressed with the title. The added horsepower of the Wii U has had a noticeable impact on the quality of the game’s visuals, making it one of the most stunning games on Nintendo’s showfloor. The pointer controls also make aiming your army of Pikmin feel considerably more natural than it did in its analog incarnation, adding a level of precision that could not be achieved with a traditional controller. And with the introduction of a completely new Pikmin type, it’s clear that we’ll see some new obstacles and puzzles interspersed among the environments. It may not make the best use of the Wii U GamePad, but that hardly matters; Pikmin is back, and it’s still a lot of fun.