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Pikmin 3 Deluxe does a fantastic, awful thing with 'infinite' lives - it makes you really feel every single one that you lose. I don't mean you, mind - should one of the player-controlled trio of Alph, Brittany and Charlie come a cropper, which isn't easy, then it very much is game over. Rather, I mean the plant-like lifeforms that assist the aforementioned crew of the crash-landed S.S. Drake, the ever-helpful Pikmin of this series' title.
Alph, Brittany and Charlie are on the Pikmin's home planet of PNF-404 in a desperate search for food for their fellow people back home on Koppai, where disastrously poor resource management has left the world spiralling into famine (no parallels to be drawn there, nope, none whatsoever). Thankfully, PNF-404 is rich in (mostly) delicious fruit, which is both great for the folks back home and for our boldly-going trio, as they must forage for sustenance while on the planet, too. Fail to find enough fruit to keep yourself alive, and you're no good to those you're out here to save.
The Pikmin - diminutive, delightful, multi-purpose and always ready to be thrown, quite literally, into any situation - help A, B and C to get fruit back to the Drake, but naturally it's not quite as easy as that. PNF-404 is also full of predators that will gleefully slurp up the Pikmin, and here's where those infinite lives start to bite, and where the real tension, and panic, of this game emerges.
Pikmin are plentiful, whatever the variety - each of which has unique abilities that are essential to overcoming certain obstacles, puzzles and enemies, like fire resistance, electricity conductivity, or they're actually rock hard. But Pikmin 3 tallies how many of these innocent natives have effectively been murdered by Koppai's saviours-in-waiting.
Once the sun sets on PNF-404, it is imperative that A, B and C have returned all the Pikmin that are active in the field, helping them with their tasks, to their home - a bulbous 'Onion' that ascends to orbit alongside the Drake when night falls. Any strays are gobbled up - and whether you only see these casualties on the end-of-day stats screen, or actually in the flesh as they're eaten (cue: a little Pikmin spirit disappearing into the air), it never fails to make you feel awful.
The panic that descends when you and your Pikmin are far from home when each day's countdown to sunset - and carnage - commences is uncommonly palpable. Don't let this game's cute exterior fool you - it's an experience of horrors as true and as terrifying as any title actively sold as such. And this great tension, this fear, is what makes you learn how to manage Pikmin 3's systems, its maps and the options afforded to you at the start of each day: a main objective, sure, but there's also fruit to keep stocked up, so the crew doesn't starve to death so very far away from home.
The Pikmin are used to solve puzzles - many of which necessitate a certain number of a certain kind of Pikmin to get the job done. But they're also your primary weapon against wandering nasties, which can spit water and belch fire, roll out a long tongue to lap up the Pikmin, and worse. Effective Pikmin control (in cooperation with time management, juice administration, and cartography study) is the only way to succeed, which best illustrates how Pikmin 3 is a strategy game through and through.
For example, there's no point tossing yellow Pikmin at a fiery foe, as they'll simply burn up. You need a red, fire-resistant breed for that job. An airborne opponent isn't likely to be that bothered by the heavyweight rock Pikmin, better used as a blunt-force instrument; instead, lug a handful of pink Pikmin skywards, as these winged allies can deal significant damage to anything else that flies. Every Pikmin is, essentially, a tool that serves a handful of functions per variety; but unlike a screwdriver or bottle opener, they're tools with faces, with little hands and little legs, and quite probably a soul.
Really work out how each Pikmin acts, and what acts it can perform, and soon you can take a focused, methodical approach to every map in the game. Start each day with a good gander at where you need to go in PNF-404's various areas - which range from an autumnal forest to snowy tundra - and you'll be able to plan a winning strategy. Gallop around blindly, never using the map, and you (and your Pikmin buddies) will be doomed. It's also essential that Alph, Brittany and Charlie cooperate with each other as well as the Pikmin - each crew member can go their own way on a map, working in tandem with a colleague or two elsewhere to achieve a common goal, like building a stream-spanning bridge from both sides simultaneously.
As the Deluxe edition of the original Wii U game, released in 2013, this version of Pikmin 3 comes with a handful of extras, comprising the complete package. All the Mission Modes are included - these are short, goal-focused challenges that can be played for a high score any time, with some subject to campaign progress - i.e. you can only take on a boss creature again if you've already defeated it in the story. Mission Mode also lets you play with Pikmin unseen in the campaign, such as the extra-strong purple variety, so if you're a botanical completist, you'll want to dip into these bonus features.
More interestingly, new prologue and epilogue levels have been added, in which you play as Olimar from the first two Pikmin games (both of which came out for GameCube, in 2001 and 2004 respectively), and his companion Louie from the second title. These 'Side Stories' are woven into the main campaign's sequencing - indeed, the game encourages you to play them this way - but they are still optional (although, you should investigate them). Not that these two characters are confined to the new content - just as they were in 2013, they're also in the campaign proper, interfering with Charlie and crew's progress.
Not that said progress doesn't already come with a price. The longer you play, the more Pikmin are lost (and if they're not, bless you, for being a better player than me), and so the burden grows. Salvation is great, obviously - but what's a reasonable cost? As the visitors from Koppai tear through PNF-404, are they not repeating the mistakes seen on their homeworld? Perhaps it's just natural for the Pikmin to be bottom of the food chain; so is marshalling them into attack patterns and taking down their predators not messing with nature itself?
Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how deeply you want to let the underlying message of Pikmin 3 Deluxe - treasure and protect the environment, and don't seek to upset its balance (also, please do not massacre your sweet little plant children) - take hold of you as you play. As the bodycount builds, so I'm reminded of another cute-looking game that masked a darker heart, Cannon Fodder. It had crosses on a verdant hillside, at least, to mark the dead - here, the fallen are just another digit on a results chart. It's up to you to interpret this particular numbers game, however you please.
As one of the Wii U's best games, Pikmin 3's arrival on Switch is welcome indeed. Already beautiful, its visuals didn't need much attention; and the controls, while initially a little fiddly, will click after a couple of days' exploration. It's great that more people will now play this compelling, oddly affecting strategic-puzzler (with a hefty splash of terror stirred in, no matter the low expense of the expendables) - and if enough do, who knows? Perhaps Nintendo will commit to releasing a fourth game - it was said to be pretty far along in development as far back as 2015. As certainly, when you get to the end of this game's story, you'll be wanting more.
Pros: beautiful looking, satisfyingly puzzling, really ratchets up the tension at the end of every in-game day (omg just leave my Pikmin alone, already)
Cons: controlling the Pikmin might take a couple of missions to click, that aforementioned tension might snap you before you see the story out
For fans of: Lemmings, Little King's Story, Cannon Fodder, older Pikmin games (obviously)
Pikmin 3 Deluxe is released for Nintendo Switch on October 30th. Code for this coverage was provided by Nintendo. Find a guide to our review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
Topics: Nintendo Switch
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