Pikmin 3: welcome to the garden of stress

Monday, 22 July 2013 18:00 GMT By Dave Cook

Pikmin 3 has VG247′s Dave Cook stressing out and going greyer by the minute. Find out why in his hands-on with final code and gameplay video.

Don’t let the cute appearance of Pikmin 3 fool you for a second. Miyamoto’s latest may have all the charm of a puppy hugging a penguin but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I also have a confession; I hadn’t played the Pikmin series until recently. Back when the original games launched I could only afford a PS2 so I sort of missed the whole GameCube thing. I’m up to speed now though.

So I went into Pikmin 3 as a relative newcomer and call it being totally unprepared or what have you, but it stressed me out every step of the way. I don’t know if it was the constantly ticking clock or diminishing food reserves, but I felt like death’s clammy hand was on my shoulder the whole time.

Check out my gameplay video to see a few examples of what I mean.

The format sees your band of astronauts descending to the Pikmin homeworld each day to complete missions and search for food. You then have until sunset to roam your chosen area and do as much as possible before nightfall. Your Pikmin chums will be gobbled up by bugs if you fail to herd them back to their ship in time, which is a slightly distressing thing to witness.

So there’s your first layer of potential stress. The second comes from your crew’s food reserves. As each day ends, astronauts Alph, Brittany and Charlie beam onto the S.S. Drake and fly above the planet to avoid the creatures swarming below. As each day passes your crew will drink a bottle of juice to stave off hunger.

This became a problem during an early mission in which Alph and Brittany get separated in a snowy garden. You have to switch between them and share Pikmin in order to collaboratively overcome puzzles and build bridges to reunite them. It made my balls ache from start to finish.

I had no idea where I was going, where bridge pieces were located, what Pikmin types each character would need to combat enemies and obstacles on their half of the map, and more. Although I managed to clear a few things I had to abandon Brittany before nightfall as she couldn’t reach the ship. This killed off all of her stranded Pikmin and consumed a day’s worth of juice.

Now I had about 30 Pikmin to my name and day’s worth of juice, meaning I had literally one attempt at the snow stage – any stage for that matter – before my campaign became buggered. I then noticed that you could go back to previous days and roll the clock back, letting you retry areas to get them done quicker and more efficiently, but it stressed me out.

It’s not that Pikmin 3 is a bad game, I have to stress that explicitly in BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS to make sure you know that’s not what I’m saying at all. This is a charming, clever experience that smells distinctly of Nintendo’s finest hours with that undeniable Miyamoto vibe running through every fiber of its being. My personal experience aside it’s actually brilliant.

It’s just not the kind of experience I personally enjoy, and I suspect I might just be utterly shite at it. But sod what I think seriously, because I understand that tons of people really love this kind of strategic pressure and in many ways the time mechanic is perhaps the game’s greatest underlying puzzle.

How do you work efficiently enough to beat the clock? Are there better ways of overcoming a problem? Could you have used your Pikmin more strategically? These are all tick-boxes in the game’s strategic thought process and nailing each of them requires plenty of trial and error, not to mention replaying areas over until you know the layout.

Pikmin 3′s cocktail of mechanics felt comparable to XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s time-sensitive layer. For one you have to be mindful of time’s span and your cache of resources, while the need to figure out where things are and what order to do them in reminded me of Dead Rising, which is another game I gave up on quite quickly.

I don’t consider these elements to be fun. To me they’re a headache, so I’m happy to throw my hands up and say that I’m just not that kind of guy. Deliberate lack of signposting aside I can’t really fault the game as it’s relentlessly charming and it’s one of the best-looking, cleverly-crafted games I’ve seen out of Nintendo in years.

While the puzzle layer irked me, I absolutely appreciate what it’s trying to do. You don’t just need a diverse mix of Pikmin types to pass obstacles, you also need to hurl your team-mates about to split the workload and to reach walled off areas of a region.

It’s a game that requires constant lateral thinking and a keen aptitude for multi-tasking to win and I really think many people are going to relish the challenge, and the picturesque world that frames it all. If that sounds like you then there’s no reason to doubt that Pikmin 3 will yield much enjoyment.

Sadly, that’s just not who I am.

What do you make of the above? Am I being utterly lame or is Pikmin historically an enjoyably stressful experience? Let me know what you think below.

Pikmin 3 launches on Wii U exclusively across Europe from July 26, and across North America August 4.

Latest