This article was originally published on October 8, 2012.
Jumping into HD is a scary thing. Back when TV was making its first, tentative steps into the world of high-definition, everyone was worried about how real they’d look. Make-up would no longer cover the cracks on everyone’s withering faces, and there were constant fears that it would finally rip back the curtains on the squeaky-clean image they’d worked so hard to cultivate for themselves. The same could easily be said for games as well. When we have fond memories of exploring bewitching, cartoonish worlds that have survived just fine without pandering to the ever-so-slightly worrying trend of hyper-realism, a new level of detail could be an unwelcome change for certain franchises. Thankfully, Pikmin 3 does not fall into this camp, as this brand new world is absolutely gorgeous.
Fauna glistens with small droplets of dewfall, insects bristle as their crisp carapaces catch the sunlight, and the fat, bulbous pieces of fruit littering the opening tutorial are practically bursting with juicy goodness. The Pikmin themselves have a new, glossy sheen to them as well, but despite their somewhat simple appearance they never look out of place, not least because their flowery head-shoots have also had a bit of an HD makeover.
But it’s the Rock Pikmin, the newest additions to the Pikmin family, that really show off Wii U’s new graphical capability, as their multiple flint-like edges all react to the light in different ways as they clamber round the forest. Some surfaces are smooth and weathered while others are sharp and jagged, but they still hit the various crystal walls in the opening demo with an audible “clunk” as their brittle exteriors chip away at the surrounding scenery.
Yet for all their new-fangled effects and textures, they’re still the Pikmin we know and love underneath, and their large, flat, dotty eyes really remind us why they’re still so utterly charming after so many years of silence. It’s the way they flounder against enemies, beating them with their cute, miniature fists until they get thrown off again and return to your side; it’s the way they scurry back and forth building bridges with shiny fragments of stone, zipping along the ground like there’s nothing more important in the world; and it’s the way they wheeze and groan as they try to lift a huge, pithy orange that’s a hundred times their size. All of that’s here in spades, but what really sweetens the deal is the added precision now afforded by the use of Wii Motion Plus controls. It’ll be very familiar territory for anyone who’s played the New Play Control versions of Pikmin and Pikmin 2, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s simply nothing more adorable than watching your Pikmin whiz down these plant stems!
Of course, this does mean the GamePad’s at risk of being sidelined once again, but with the it doubling up as your map that also allows you to switch between various members of Olimar’s family, the good news is that you will be able to use both controllers simultaneously. We didn’t have much cause to use the map in our demo, however, as we only had one character to worry about in a glade that was completely self-contained in a neat little circle. The aim was to bring back as many pieces of fruit and bulborb carcass to the Onion as we could lay our tiny hands on, and every new haul added to our “Poko” currency counter that awarded us a medal at the end depending on how well we did. It’s not yet known whether earning Pokos will play an important part of Pikmin 3, but we’ll keep you up to date as the news comes through.
The second part of the demo, on the other hand, left the quiet fruit-collecting fest behind and dropped us into a fierce boss battle with a giant Armoured Mawdad. The trick here was to crack this huge centipede’s tough, crystalline exo-skeleton with our new Rock ‘Min and then send in our Reds to finish the job, but this beasty had quite a few tricks up his encased sleeve. The first was a vicious charge attack that ended in a swift dinner of gobbled Pikmin if any wayward victims were caught in his greedy mandibles. Handy, then, that our new lead character has a nifty dodge ability that sees both him and his band of Pikmin roll to the side in perfect unison whenever danger’s about to rear its ugly head. It took a while to master, especially since there seems to be a small amount of recovery time before you can initiate another one, but it brought a welcome sense of drama to the fights, as well as a greater feeling of control over your large army.
We lost a good number of Pikmin to this beast…
But this was really where the Wii Motion Plus controls came into their own, as the increased accuracy meant we could throw our Pikmin onto much smaller targets than ever before. Those mandibles, for instance, are just as vulnerable as the rest of the Armoured Mawdad, and breaking one of those means an easy escape if you happen to mistime your rolling dodge. The carapace itself also shatters with a gloriously detailed set of fracture lines when you hurl your Rock ‘Min at the rest of its body, but just be careful that they don’t get thrown off by the Mawdad’s second line of defence– otherwise they may well get distracted by the nearby mushrooms if they land too close to them.
And in the end, that’s what really sets Pikmin 3 apart from its predecessors. It may not have the high-octane energy of The Wonderful 101 or use the GamePad in hugely innovative ways like Rayman Legends, but it still retains that fundamental curiosity about itself and the world around it. The Pikmin were pretty inquisitive little creatures in the first two games, but now they’re brought to life with an even more faithful realisation of that child-like innocence and wide-eyed wonder we fell in love with in the first place. Many might say that strange little carrot dudes have no place in the real world, but they couldn’t be more wrong if they tried. We’re looking forward to this with bated breath.