Pikmin 3 is the latest game to be plucked from the Wii U library and ported to the Nintendo Switch, but does this gem earn its deluxe title?
There’s a sense that the Pikmin series is a favourite of legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The GameCube original was certainly a passion project, inspired by a line of ants working together in his garden and his desire to create a game based on the concept of teamwork. And when the Wii U needed a boost following its floundering launch, it was Pikmin 3 that kickstarted Nintendo’s 2013 lineup. The Wii U couldn’t be saved, but Pikmin 3 lives again in a sparkling new port for the Nintendo Switch.
That sparkle isn’t immediately apparent, however, so let’s get the technical waffle that must accompany every Switch review out of the way up front. Pikmin 3 in 2020 looks pretty much the same as it did in 2013. That is to say it runs at 720p docked, 576p in handheld, and at a steady 30 frames per second. Due to the game’s naturalistic environments, the lower-end resolution is never a problem and the game is often beautiful. The features that warrant Pikmin 3’s “Deluxe” subtitle are instead found elsewhere.
To begin, Pikmin 3 Deluxe is content complete. It includes all post-release DLC from the Wii U original, plus new story mode sequences that provide superfluous but charming bookends to the main adventure. Development partner Eighting has also added a slew of control and interface improvements that meaningfully enhance the overall experience.
In 2013 Pikmin 3 was a flag-bearer for the capabilities of the Wii U Gamepad. It was a neat demonstration, but the downside was the game played better with a Wii Remote and a Nunchuk – in addition to the GamePad for its map and touchscreen features. If it sounds overcomplicated, that’s because it was. Pikmin 3 Deluxe shows that – with a few changes – the game is perfectly playable on a single screen, and all the better for it.
Revised control options immediately make the game more accessible. The camera direction is configurable along the horizontal and vertical axis – take note, Super Mario 3D All-Stars – and there is an option to use gyroscopic aiming. One godsend of an in-game improvement updates the whistle button to pause Pikmin in the field, rather than immediately have them abandon their task. It’s one of several tweaks that make managing your vegetable minions that little bit easier.
The game’s difficulty has also been adjusted and now comprises of Normal, Hard, and Ultra-Spicy settings. Pikmin veterans should note that the original version’s Normal mode is Deluxe‘s Hard mode. The revised Normal mode now gives newcomers a forgiving entry point into a traditionally tricky genre.
Pikmin 3 still has a learning curve – it is a game with three swappable protagonists and 100 Pikmin creatures to direct, after all – but the removal of a second screen streamlines the entire experience. It’s even playable using a single Joy-Con, which is handy as one of the standout additions is the campaign’s new two-player co-op mode. It works beautifully, dividing the game screen in half without any loss in frame rate or performance, and providing lots of opportunity for collaboration and conflict on the couch.
All of these updates serve to make Pikmin 3 that little bit more approachable, and by reducing some of its complexity, the adventure at the game’s heart take can take centre stage. And what an adventure it is.
There’s a tendency for video games to adhere to the belief that bigger means better. The Pikmin series, and no more so than here, has always revelled in the delight of the small. It’s an adventure that takes place under our feet, in the undergrowth, in sun-dappled glens, in burrows and puddles.
The magic of Pikmin 3 is in its subtle refinement of the real-time strategy format. Despite marshalling the three protagonists – Alph, Brittany, and Charlie – and an army of up to 100 Pikmin, the action is never overwhelming. The game strikes the right balance between tension and satisfaction, between losing control or executing a strategy that literally bears fruit.
The blend of exploration, time management, combat, building, and resource management is familiar stuff, but Pikmin 3‘s exquisite locations and adorable character designs make it feel a world away from the likes of Halo Wars or Age of Empires.
That’s not to say the stakes aren’t significant. The future of an entire planet is in the balance as our intrepid – albeit slightly reluctant – band of tiny explorers attempt to collect fruit they require to feed their starving home planet.
That contrast of large and small has always been central to the Pikmin franchise. The fate of a planet lies in the hands of tiny heroes. Giant lumbering beasties are tamed by the resilience of a small army of selfless workers. And although Pikmin 3 is by no means narrative-heavy, the relationship of Alph, Brittany, and Charlie is a workplace comedy in which petty squabbles are set against the magnitude of their lifesaving mission.
Pikmin 3 is also notable for its strong – and frequently hilarious – writing, particularly in its Piklopedia and Pikminology databases. The flora and fauna descriptions are a true delight – lemons are called Face Wrinklers and cherries are deemed to be Cupid’s Grenade, for example – and its visual design appropriately evokes the TV and film adaptations of The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Outside of the campaign, there’s a generous collection of challenge levels spread across two modes that can be played in either single or multiplayer. Your mileage may vary with these, but they are a fun supplement to the generous campaign.
Pikmin 3 earns its Deluxe branding, then, not by being a complete remake, but by implementing tiny, Pikmin-like changes that add up to make a big difference. The game was a minor classic in 2013, and so it remains in 2020.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe Review
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Nintendo / Eighting
Release Date: October 31, 2020
Pikmin 3 is undimmed age and given a new lease of life on Nintendo Switch. A host of changes across content, controls, and modes make this deluxe edition the definitive one.