Seven years ago, I wrote seven reviews of the terrific Wii U game Pikmin 3. I had played the game Switch-style before there was a Nintendo Switch. There’s a photo of this. I’m at the Daytona Beach airport, Wii U plugged into a wall socket and no TV in sight as I played Pikmin 3 on that system’s screen-embedded controller. I was ready to live in a world where home console games could be played on a Nintendo portable.
I was ahead of my time, folks,. Ahead specifically of October 2020. Finally, this month, we will all be able to play Pikmin 3 Deluxe, a not very different version of that 2013 game on a portable Nintendo device, the Switch. No wall socket required.
Should you play Deluxe?
It depends on your tolerance for Wii U ports, one of the most notable product categories in the Switch line-up and the proverbial answer to what a game company does if a game’s original release falls in as quiet a forest as the Wii U’s. The Switch is not even four years old and, with Pikmin 3, we’re up to the 10th Nintendo-published game to get a Switch port, 11th if you count New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U as two games (12th if you count Breath of the Wild!). And there’s another coming in the form of an expanded Super Mario 3D World early next year.
This is largely a good thing, as Nintendo’s Wii U games were largely a good thing, and keeping games accessible to new audiences should be the games industry’s norm. The catch is that Pikmin 3 Deluxe, from the half that I’ve played of it, isn’t very different from Pikmin 3, which itself was largely a refined recycling of the Pikmin games that preceded it. Longtime Pikmin players like me who’ve been yearning for something really fresh and new for more than a decade will need to yearn some more.
To the vast majority of the gaming world who missed Pikmin 3 back in 2013, these Switch ports might as well be new releases. For that crowd, Pikmin 3 will probably be terrific, as it already was the best Pikmin game.
Back in 2013, Pikmin 3 was a refinement of the great blueprint introduced in the original 2001 Pikmin and its iteratively improved 2004 sequel. The third game bridged a nine-year gap with tweaks, offering a new story and a new adventure with largely the same mechanics as its predecessors, in levels that looked similar to the older games and were populated with many returning enemies. As with the first two, players controlled tiny intergalactic explorers who landed on a pseudo-Earth and led a swarm of up to 100 little color-coded plant people called Pikmin in a quest to find loot and defeat bug-like creatures. Players could toss the Pikmin onto plants, pellets and the relatively giant-sized real-world items that would confound our little explorers. Some of this plunder could be harvested to generate more Pikmin, who’d sprout from the ground with buds on their head, ready to be plucked and marched into action. The whole appeal was basically that of commanding an ant colony to climb sticks, carry fruit, and beat up squirrel-sized insects. It was a distinct and delightful vibe that no other series offered.
Pikmin 3 changed a few things but was far from revolutionary. It put players in control of three new explorers, Alph, Brittany and Charlie, on a quest to rescue the earlier games’ protagonists Olimar and Louie. It let players split their squad among the three leaders and multi-task their way through the game’s treasure/puzzle/combat-filled maps. To the returning roster of red Pikmin ( fire-resistant fighters), yellow Pikmin (shock-resistant high-jumpers) and blue Pikmin (great swimmers), it added two more: Rock Pikmin ( glass-shattering bruisers) and Winged Pikmin (they fly!).
Pikmin 3 wasn’t designed to shock anyone. It looked familiar. You were still commanding swarms of Pikmin across more garden and forest floors, now with a snowy area added in. It played familiarly. Its levels were full of cleverly laid out challenges that required players to use the right Pikmin skillfully to overcome obstacles.
My biggest issue with Pikmin 3 seven years ago was that it wasn’t a very fresh experience. It was a safe sequel, one that got me daydreaming of Pikmin games set in urban environments or that in some other way would shake things up.
I realized in 2013 that I’d have been more excited about Pikmin 3 if I had skipped the first two Pikmin games. Pikmin 3 Deluxe, which I expect will dazzle any Pikmin newcomer, just makes me more restless that there’s not a new Pikmin game.
Deluxe is a faithful port of the Wii U game, offering the same adventure through the same levels against the same foes. One of the biggest changes is the addition of two side adventures. One is an epilogue, which I haven’t yet reached but I hope will culminate in the announcement of Pikmin 4. I’m sure it won’t, but if it does, expect a post. (Nintendo’s condition for letting people write about early copies of the game is that we not talk about the epilogue yet, which, given it’s an epilogue, fair enough!). The other is a four-mission prologue, which lets you control Captain Olimar and Louie during some adventures leading into the main game. These missions are as basic as they get, putting our heroes on familiar Pikmin maps and challenging players to find treasure and defeat enemies before a timer runs down. They are light on story, and easy to clear perfectly.
Deluxe also now features a Piklopedia, a feature from Pikmin 2 that serves as a humorous database of the game’s enemies presented in the voice of the lead characters. Pikmin games tend to have charming lore, as the games’ writers play with the ideas of the hero explorers marvelling, often inaccurately, about the relatively giant everyday objects they find. Even the largely forgettable 2017 sidescroller spin-off Hey Pikmin had some terrifically wrong entries, as Olimar tried to make sense of the label artwork on his haul of Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges. Pikmin 3 already had some of that in the form of a Fruit File in which our heroes try to fathom Face Wrinklers (aka lemons), Insect Condos (apples), and more.
Deluxe’s Piklopedia focuses on the game’s enemies, and as players encounter enemies and gain control of Alph, then Brittany and then Charlie, silly entries pop up for each one. Unfortunately, the trio doesn’t have many interesting things to say about most, as they mix battle strategies with the far too occasional ruminations about whether an Orange Bulborb is riddled with anxiety or why a Male Sheargrub doesn’t just sleep all day. My Piklopedia shows that I still need to unlock two more character-based entries for each enemy. Those will probably be Olimar and Louie’s. In Pikmin 2, Louie’s Piklopedia entries were all about how one could cook or eat each of the game’s enemies, and I hope he’s got a similarly entertaining schtick for this one.
The Switch port also adds campaign co-op, which adds to the handful of multiplayer side modes in the original release. I haven’t tried it yet, but I suspect that, like these other additions, it makes this the better version of a very good game, even if it doesn’t turn the package into a must-replay.
Ports are safe but essential to gaming history. Ports to safe sequels are fine, really, especially if you missed them. I’m still going to play to the end of Deluxe. It’s pleasing enough to do so. I miss the Pikmin experience that much and I do want to get to that new epilogue. If Nintendo has hidden some amazing twist at the end of Deluxe, if the epilogue really delivers, the joke will be on me. But I don’t expect much of that, and I’m pretty sure we’re in the situation we’ve been in with the myriad other Wii U ports to Switch. When it comes out on the 30th, prioritize it if you never played it. Be apprehensive if you did. Try the demo if you’re not sure, since they are charging a whole $60 for this port.
And, while we’re at it, let’s all dream together of a day when it’ll be safe to go to the airport of our choosing, sit on a bench without wearing a mask and just enjoy a game. That’s an experience I can’t wait to recreate, probably not in 2020, but hopefully in 2021.