A Japanese speaker would pronounce Olimar as “Orimā,” which happens to be “Mario” scrambled. This is fitting considering that the original Pikmin was born out of the Super Mario 128 prototype that was spearheaded by Shigeru Miyamoto. The concept of this prototype involved over a hundred Marios scrambling on screen, all working together. This is the basis of Pikmin‘s core.
While Pikmin is not a 3D platformer; it is a kind of action game that involves strategy, micro management, and everything happens in a time limit. It is very esoteric game design that also incorporates exploration of a macro scaled environment, where players assume the role of a tiny alien who enslaves indigenous plant-like life forms called “Pikmin”.
After two main games, a 2D platformer spin-off, and a few representations in Smash Bros., the third mainline game released on the ill-conceived Wii U. Like most quality Wii U games, Pikmin 3 got a Switch port as Pikmin 3 Deluxe; which includes all DLC, gameplay enhancements and new content. Is Deluxe the best way to play Pikmin 3? Or has there been some concessions to the experience?
Pikmin 3 Deluxe
Platforms: Wii U, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: August 3, 2013 (Wii U), October 30, 2020 (Switch)
To the uninitiated, going into Pikmin 3 Deluxe will be like going to see the family friendly animated film Fern Gully, but then it turns out to be The Revenant. The game lures the unsuspecting with cute, round, and cuddly characters with lush setting, but going deeper reveals a harsh truth of the cruelty of mother nature and survival of the fittest.
Alph, Brittany, and Charlie are extra terrestrials from planet Koppai, seeking resources for their race’s food shortage. After crash landing and destroying a critical component of their ship, they are marooned on the Earth-like planet, PNF-404, and are unable to leave.
Thankfully, the indigenous life are easily enslaved, and will follow the orders of the heroes without question, even if it causes suffering or harm. The Pikmin are stupid and directionless. Any Koppaite can chuck these little devils at a dangerous predator and they’ll hopelessly try to beat threat into submission. Survival is a numbers game, and the more Pikmin at your disposal; the more effective they are.
The Drake crew will encounter many kinds of Pikmin. No matter what type of Pikmin they subjugate, it won’t matter unless they have a large quantity. Due to their small statue, moving an avocado is a herculean feat for these diminutive sprouts. The Koppaites will always have to assign several Pikmin to a task or two at any given moment.
The three Koppaites will rely on Pikmin to crumble barriers, fend off hungry threats, build bridges, and move structures to further explore what might be a backyard garden. Throwing is one of the main actions the player can do, and will often be required to split up the Koppaites to reach new areas by launching them up to an unreachable ledge.
Taking control of either Alph, Brittany, or Charlie and having to divvy up the Pikmin squad is a novel aspect of Pikmin 3. The team will have to work together in order to make the most out of the day before sun sets and the nocturnal predators come out. The game becomes a very deep strategic experience when having to manage all these different characters while harvesting fruit.
Collecting fruit is a life and death ordeal. In order to make the most out of a day, it may be worth taking a risk and venturing deeper into the Tundra for that mango… But it also may come at the cost of Pikmin lives. The fruit is utterly essential to the Koppaites and to the player, since running out means game over.
With every day that passes, so does the dwindling supply of food, creating a palpable sense of impending dread or unease. Pikmin 3 Deluxe does an excellent job at creating tension despite being a game that appeals to children. Thanks to meticulous animation and crafty sound design, the death throes of Pikmin are also effective at inspiring guilt.
The Drake crew may be indifferent to the deaths of the disposable Pikmin, but players who get invested in the game may come out of this feeling terrible for sending these little guys to drown or get stabbed. Nature can be incredibly scarring and penetrative to everything within it. It is without delusions of morality and is uncaring if the cute Pikmin live or die.
When trying to confront wild Bulborbs or a Shaggy Long Legs, gameplay revolves around a targeting and strafing control scheme. When locked-on to a target, any of the Koppaites can throw Pikmin onto their quarry like Zelda‘s z-targeting system. Not just any Pikmin will suffice, as some Pikmin are more adept at some things than others.
Yellow Pikmin can be thrown very high, dig the fastest, and are able to conduct electricity. Rock Pikmin are hard and can break shelled or glass-covered animals, as well as being heavy enough to weigh down flying enemies. Pink Pikmin are a perpetually flying type that is the weakest against ground enemies, but are unique for being able to carry objects unimpeded by ground obstacles.
No matter which Pikmin the team assembles, there is a limit of 100 on the field. This restriction demands thoughtful planning on which Pikmin type will be priority, and things to consider like how many of which type is available. Chances are that some will die, but no matter what, there are ways to get more.
Engaging with dangerous animals becomes necessary to build a bigger army, since Pikmin have no sense of self preservation. Like a swarm of ants, Pikmin carry dead animals back to their hive to process them. The dead becomes sprouts to be plucked by the Koppaites, which are immediately full grown Pikmin.
This circle of life and death is a critical pillar to Pikmin 3‘s cycle of survival. Sometimes you must sacrifice a few lives to potentially gain more. This cold aspect of life applies to the fruit, and also to the way the Koppaites interact with themselves as well.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe has a fair bit of puzzle design woven into its tapestry of survival of the fittest. Boss battles always require some lateral thinking and not a blind charge forward. Teamwork between all three Koppaites and the Pikmin will have them use the environment against some of the unusual boss creatures who resemble something from a Zelda game.
The action is stimulating, requiring flanking and keeping an eye open for enemy tells and patterns. Every enemy design communicates exactly what kind of strategy is needed. One look at the armored Mawdad, and it becomes obvious that Rock Pikmin would be best choice to shatter its carapace.
Battles will often have players quickly call back Pikmin back into formation, like a kindergarten teacher summoning the children. The little devils scurry back to whichever Koppaite is leader, and it is hard to not find them adorable thanks to their childlike innocence.
Some Pikmin may fall off a target and will try to get back up. Other times, some may become a victim. These little guys function like recyclable ammo, so ensuring as few casualties as possible is crucial to surviving a boss battle.
The setting of PNF-404 is very Earth like. The environments are divided up into bespoke biomes, each with a unique climate. Each map is large and festooned with different collectibles and fruits, often with cheeky shortcuts that connect distant areas back to the ship.
There are hints of human civilization long since passed in the environment, like the cell phone, cartons, and other odds and ends. The story of Pikmin 3 may be simple, but there is a darker subliminal story under the surface. There is a lore that explores mass extinction of the human race, and the possibilities the Koppai may follow in their footsteps.
Amidst the heavy themes of ecology is a basic but effective motif of greed. Several of the characters are terrible gluttons, and there is a subplot surrounding the Hocotate Freight company and huge debts. It’s a clashing of the modern day accounting number crunchers and the untamed wild, fighting for dominance over the lives of simple creatures.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe expands the story a little bit by including prologue and epilogue stages where the player assumes the role of Olimar and Louie. They do not add a lot, and are shot in a vlog style where Olimar speaks directly into the camera, recycling the same animations.
Why anyone would play these extra missions is for a Pikmin arcade style experience. Each mission is disconnected from each other, with set rules and requisites. Since nothing carries over and there are no consequences between each mission, the atmosphere is more easy going and less stressful.
Each of these stages have a different time limit, and Olimar and Louie are tasked with using Pikmin to collect gold and fruit for a high score. Passing the par score will unlock a new level; four for the prologue and another ten for Olimar’s Comeback.
Even though these side stories are much more laser focused and function more like mini time trial challenges, they highlight the strengths of Pikmin 3‘s mechanics. Each of these levels are condensed, and will have Olimar and Louie frantically scavenge whatever resources they can grab with all of the game’s mechanics in a single area.
Impressively, split-screen co-op is available for all story and side-story content, as well as the boss replay modes. While the lack of online co-op may disappoint, it is likely it was not feasible to have an online game calculate one hundred Pikmin without egregious lag. The only online function is the leaderboards, which is the least interesting online mode any game could possibly have.
Disappointingly, Pikmin 3 Deluxe makes no improvements to the visuals or frame rate boosts. When docked, Deluxe displays the same 720p image quality as the Wii U version. In portable mode, the 720p is wasted and the image sits around under 600p.
Pikmin 3 is not a bad looking game. It looks beautiful and very natural for the most part, but Deluxe adds no enhancements like detailed collision animation for when characters clip through leaves or ferns. Texture detail is the same as it was, and though some details have changed slightly, the level of quality has not.
The frame rate is still at 30 fps, but it is a solid lock. This might have been a compromise to enable the split screen co-op, but it is disappointing there is no option for a high fps mode. It is still a perfectly smooth and stable game, but being how much action goes on in Pikmin 3, the extra fluidity would have been preferable.
On the Wii U, Pikmin 3 had many control options, but none were as pinpoint accurate as using the Wii remote option. Sadly, the Switch has no Wii controller support. Pikmin 3 Deluxe regretfully loses this feature, and tries to compensate with gyro control options which are hardly a worthy substitute. The gyroscope is too jittery to be accurate, and requires recalibration all the time.
It is easy to get fooled by the cutesy and whimsical style of Pikmin 3. Right when it boots up there is an almost lullaby jingle that lures the listener into a false sense of security. Music as a whole is restrained and the game relies more on the ambient sounds of nature to draw the player into the world.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe‘s gameplay may be intimidating to kids at first. The constant time pressure and reliance on resources and emphasis on management can be stressful. Thanks to cleverly designed controls and appealing visuals, it is hard to not get captivated by its style and innovation.
There are not too many action games with RTS elements out there. Other than Overlord or Little King’s Story, the only other options are the Pikmin games. While it may not have the benefit of the Wii remote anymore, Pikmin 3 Deluxe is still an excellent experience and is a fine port of an overlooked Wii U classic.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.