Part of satisfying combat is not just a sense of accomplishment earned after an epic, high-stakes battle, but a genuine feeling of regret regarding the sacrifices you had to make to get there. I walked into the Twilight River area with 100 Pikmin on the sunrise of day 25, and by sundown, I came back with 49. As I snuck up on a large herd of Orange Bulborbs, a rare red butterfly fluttered across the stunning autumn woodland, bringing to mind the monarch butterfly.
Every autumn, millions of monarch butterflies migrate to the southern United States to spend their winter hibernating in the warm, coniferous canopies of Mexico. They use this same area to lay their eggs, depositing the next generation of monarchs on the leaves of the milkweed plant.
In response, the milkweed plant learned to secrete a glue-like substance when the veins of its leaves are pierced, effectively killing just over 50% of the monarch larvae by gluing their jaws shut. Gluttonous larvae will eat through the veins and die an ironic death of starvation; smarter larvae will sever the main vein at the stem, halting the release of the adherent, allowing it to cheat death once more.
So here we have two beautiful things, silently waging war against each other for the purpose of survival. I’m on day 26 in Pikmin 3, and my crew has washed the green from their thumbs with a steady stream of intense battles. I’ve only lost 58 brave Pikmin, but I sorely remember each and every departure. The indigenous life of PNF-404, home planet of the Pikmin and the setting of Pikmin 3, is no different than the monarch butterflies and milkweed. The autumn woodland I’m standing in is a cruel backdrop for the war for survival that takes place beneath its canopy.
In that sense, victory is a bittersweet affair in Pikmin 3…but it’s a totally fun affair nonetheless!
Compared to its predecessors, Pikmin 3 takes a much different approach to story, exploration, and combat. The story is split up into chapters. Rather than having each day correspond to a single chapter, progression is based on objectives you can choose to pursue or ignore at your behest. For example, you could go find fruit and build your army from dusk to dawn – or, if you’d like, you can hunt down a strange, unidentified signal coming from an unexplored area.
Getting to an unexplored area isn’t as simple as it was in Pikmin or Pikmin 2 either. In fact, each area reminds me quite a bit of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, at least in the sense that the overworld is just as puzzle-oriented as the dungeons. You’ll construct things, bounce across mushrooms, and use cranes to navigate the world around you. Sure, every now and then you’ll casually run into an open area only to see a Bug-Eyed Crawmad burst out of the ground and take you and your squad by surprise, but the real boss fights are in a league of their own. No, seriously, finding yourself wondering things like “is that Alexander from Final Fantasy?!” is not uncommon.
Following The Legend of Zelda, Pikmin function the same way as items like the hookshot or bow and arrow—each is tailored to a specific job. Red is immune to fire, blue to water, and yellow to electricity. Red Pikmin are good attackers, Yellow can conduct electricity and be thrown greater distances, and blue Pikmin can swim. Rock Pikmin pack a punch and can break up crystals, but they bounce off of enemies and attack at a slower rate. Flying Pikmin are the aces against flying opponents, and are easily, in my opinion, best suited for carrying things back to the S.S. Drake for storage and analysis. The new balance may annoy some people, but it makes for a more challenging, more puzzle-oriented experience.
The detailed overworld of Pikmin 3 can be used to your advantage as well. You can avoid the onslaught of a yellow wollywog by hiding beneath a patch of tall clovers. In some areas, you can deduce the presence of something dangerous by, say, finding mysterious, water-filled depressions roughly the size and shape of a hoof. Big fights are often alluded to by smaller versions of the same enemy, so you’ll be left to speculate what a full-grown phosbat larvae looks like. If you need to quickly avoid an attack, you can use the newfangled “dodge” command, sending your squad into a quick summersault.
Oh, and I’ve often found myself using the charge attack function, activated by holding Z on the nunchuk and then thrusting it forward, more often than I ought to. What can I say! There’s just something about a cavalry of charging Pikmin that delights me.
Pikmin 3’s story has taken me some unexpected places and delighted me with the surprise appearance of familiar faces. In my latest encounter, I fought the dreaded scornet maestro (a terrifying encounter indeed, considering the fact that bees are to me as snakes are to Indiana Jones), arguably the most brutal Pikmin boss since the Waterwraith in Pikmin 2. As the maestro sent a swarm of scornets to scoop up 51 of my Pikmin, I remembered once again that what goes on underneath this beautiful deciduous canopy is all to similar to the milkweed and the monarchs.
Food for Thought:
1. Did I forget to mention the secret files? Yes, they’re causing quite an uproar in the Pikmin community. Each file has a number, but Miyamoto remains ambiguous regarding its meaning. Perhaps we’ll see some DLC in the future?
2. Alright, I know I said the game was light on tutorials, but…well, they’re there. They’re optional, but they’re there. They come in the form of data files and give you tips on how to beat a boss, how to use certain types of Pikmin properly, and so on.
3. There comes a point about half-way through the game when you lose all of the juice you’ve collected (temporarily), and you’re forced to collect fruit for about three days while you progress to the next stage of the story. This is the only portion of the game I feel is immediately comparable to the first in terms of difficulty.
4. Don’t always expect to beat a boss in a day. Some of them are big, and they don’t fall as hard as you’d think.
5. I dearly, truly miss the Piklopedia.