When Nintendo games guru Shigeru Miyamoto was a lad, he spent most of his time playing in the fields and forests surrounding the Japanese town of Sonobe. Famously, a mysterious cave he discovered in nearby woods became a key inspiration for The Legend Of Zelda series – but in the luscious Pikmin 3, it’s clear that Miyamoto’s deep-seated love of nature, wildlife and the great outdoors has also had a profound effect on the development team he now heads up.
Like previous games in the verdant series – which has sadly been absent from consoles for almost a decade – Pikmin 3 blends exploration, puzzle-solving and real-time strategy in an inventive adventure that will charm players of all experience levels.
Using plant-like creatures with unique powers that include being able to fly, break glass, survive electric shocks and swim, players can dispatch swarms of squeaking minions to tackle a variety of challenges such as hoarding fruit and fighting towering bosses. And as each leafy level gradually opens as you gain control of Pikmin whose powers give you access to hitherto restricted areas, playing the game is a hugely satisfying experience that never feels tired and keeps you constantly moving forwards to discover new wonders.
New in this third iteration is the opportunity to control three different heroes, each of whom can pursue different goals simultaneously or team-up to solve three-way puzzles. Cleverly, using the screen on the Wii U GamePad to move your colourful troops around the map is an intuitive way to keep tabs of your heroic trio as you multitask, while the engaging mission mode and two-player games will keep players coming back for more once they’ve cracked the cruelly short solo adventure.
But what’s most remarkable about Pikmin 3 is the sumptuous natural world it creates, where the squat heroes bumble around in the dense undergrowth, collect swollen fruits, and make you feel as if you’re a kid again playing at the bottom of your grandma’s garden. And as your flocks of Pikmin are beautifully animated, flowing through the levels in organic, ant-like teams, and are just too damned cute for words, even the hardest-hearted gamer will encounter moments of dewy-eyed guilt as they throw their flunkies into the jaws of a ravenous Bulborb, or leave troops stranded on the planet surface as their spaceship rockets off at the end of a gaming day.
Reviewed by David McComb