The longest playtime that we had with any single game at E3 was with Pikmin 3. Our 10 to 15 minutes with Pikmin 3 afforded us a better than average taste of just what Nintendo has incorporated into this apparently relatively early build of the game. Being a Wii U game, I’ll start off by discussing what the new system has inherently brought to the table for the Pikmin series.
The most obvious upgrade that Pikmin has received is a shiny new coat of paint courtesy of the Wii U’s increased horse power. While it looked nice, as I suspected from the peek at the game we received during Nintendo’s E3 press conference, Pikmin 3 still has a ways to go before I could call the graphics “impressive” or “amazing”. The GameCube iterations of Pikmin always looked like they were trying to be as photorealistic as possible (at least when considering their environments and items), the Wii U version, while obviously benefiting from the HD resolution insofar as aliasing and texture resolution are concerned, seems to be trying to look more like the GameCube versions than taking full advantage of the Wii U’s copious graphical powers. It more or less looks like the screenshots you see of the Dolphin Wii/GCN emulator running on high-end computers (ie. very little if any aliasing) than a AAA game you would see running on an Xbox 360 or PS3. To me, this is just evidence that Nintendo is still out of their depth as far as making truly graphically impressive HD games are concerned. While I do hope that Nintendo is able to bulk up the game’s graphics to an acceptable level for this generation of gaming (let alone the next generation) before the game’s release, history tells us that this is unlikely, so the most we can reasonably expect from Pikmin 3 is having it look like an up-rezed Wii game. We’ll just have to hope that Nintendo’s unannounced first party titles for the Wii U do more to graphically take advantage of the system’s specs than the ones that we have seen thus far.
The other improvement that Pikmin has seen thanks to the Wii U of course comes from the GamePad controller — which I wasn’t allowed to use to the control the game. The GamePad was sitting on a stand in front of the TV giving me an overhead view of the map showing where my Pikmin and various items/enemies were located while I was forced to used the Wiimote/nunchuk controller combo to scoot my non-Olimar character and his minions about. Using the Wiimote, I found that I never really had the opportunity to glace down or use the GamePad in any meaningful way since I wasn’t holding it in my hands and it was more-or-less too far away from me (at about 4-5 feet) to be of any constructive use. The only interesting feature of the GamePad that we were shown with Pikmin 3 is that after you complete a level, the screen on the GamePad can be used to scrub back and forth while watching an icon-based replay of your play through of the level so you can “analyze” where you perhaps could improve your time or score on that level.
The Wiimote controls for Pikmin 3 are essentially the same as the New Play Control method offered on the Wii versions of Pikmin and Pikmin 2. I’ve never played the Wii version of the Pikmin games, so I was rather upset to find that your Pikmin control under this control method is restricted to throwing the Pikmin, sometimes upwards of a hundred at a time, one-by-one at whatever thing you want them to attack or carry. When playing on the GameCube, I exclusively controlled my Pikmin by employing the C-Stick to move them fluidly as a group toward whatever I wanted them to interact with. In Pikmin clones like Overlord I/II, this is the only way that you have to control your followers, and rightly so. While this method of controlling Pikmin is very sorely absent from the Wiimote controls for the game, I still expect them to include this method when you’re playing the game using the GamePad or Controller Pro — if they’re not, I could not see myself enjoying this game as the “throw your Pikmin one-by-one at stuff” method is supremely tedious and perhaps even game-breakingly bad.
The game’s mechanics, apart from the disappointing control method available to me in the demo, were mostly pleasant and largely unchanged. You still parade your Pikmin minions about and have them attack/carry/build/break things in the standard Pikmin fashion, but one thing that I was upset to note is that (at least in the game mode we were shown) time limits for levels (a much disliked feature from the first Pikmin game) seem to have been reintroduced. This strikes me as odd as the evolution of the level time limits into a day/night system was one of the most touted features of Pikmin 2. Seeing a step backward of this magnitude, bringing the focus off exploration and back onto arcade-like score challenges is discouraging to say the least. There are rumours around the web that what we were shown at E3 was a level from a time-challenge mode to be featured in the game, and I very much hope that that is the case. Arbitrarily throwing a time limit back on Pikmin’s main story mode after the series has already progressed beyond such things would be a mistake, plain and simple.
You were only able to control two types of Pikmin during the demo: Red and Rock. The red Pikmin were their usual good fighting/carrying selves and the rock Pikmin felt like a nice and natural addition to the Pikmin family. The rock Pikmin were used to break down harder barriers and stun enemies (or break their protective shells) to allow the more offensive red Pikmin to do their jobs more easily. I also used the rock Pikmin to carry broken pieces of pottery to build a shortcut bridge over water back to the spaceship, but in retrospect I could probably have used the red Pikmin as well. There were various gold items (as well as just plain simple gold) strewn about the level that would give you extra points if you collected them, adding to the arcade-like feel of the demo. At the end you were graded with a bronze/silver/gold medal on the value of the various things you collected during your limited time on the level.
So, while still obviously a fun game, Pikmin 3 left me with equal parts anticipation and concern. I’m concerned about the inclusion of time limits in the demo, as well as the apparent inferiority of the Wiimote controls and how the game doesn’t graphically look nearly as good as it could considering the Wii U’s purported capabilities. I’m excited for the prospect of playing a new Pikmin game in general, particularly one that doesn’t necessarily require me to use my TV all the time, and one that will look and perform better than those that came before it. Hopefully Nintendo will listen to the reservations held by many of the media that were fortunate enough to get an early demo of the game and we’ll see an awesome Pikmin game that is graphically astounding and that both controls and plays superbly by the time it releases (possibly even for the Wii U’s launch). We’ll keep you updated as more info on both Pikmin 3 and the Wii U comes out in the coming months, you stay tuned for more coverage.
You can see a video of a good portion of our playtime with Pikmin 3 in our E3 2012 Wii U Video Roundup.