File picture: Reuters/Phil McCarten
File picture: Reuters/Phil McCarten

'Pikmin 3 Deluxe' loses some of its original charm

By The Washington Post Time of article published Nov 4, 2020

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By Michael Thomsen

"Pikmin 3 Deluxe" opens on a note of exhaustion. The inhabitants of a planet named Koppai have almost run out of food, the opening monologue tells us, due to "a booming population, a booming appetite and a basic lack of planning." After sending out a fleet of scout ships to scour the galaxy for planets that haven't yet depleted their ecosystems, only one shows any promise, the lush and Earthlike PNF-404. With the future of their species at stake, three diminutive astronauts - Brittany, Alph, and Captain Charlie - set off in a treehouse-sized spaceship, hoping to filch every last piece of fruit they can find on PNF-404's surface.

The catch is that the Koppaites are too tiny to actually scavenge anything themselves. Instead, have to rely on Pikmin to do the dirty work for them. Part mandrake and part pack mule, Pikmin are sprout-sized creatures with bulging white eyes and no mouths, who spend their days lolling on leaves of grass or burrowing under the PNF-404's topsoil to nap. They can travel in swarms of up to 100, and come in five varieties: Red Pikmin are flame resistant fighters; Blue Pikmin can swim underwater; Yellow Pikmin conduct electricity; Pink Pikmin can fly; and Purple Pikmin are made from an onyx-like material that makes them useful for shattering glass barriers. They're also capable of pooling their collective strength to pick up and carry the building-sized pieces of fruit scattered across PNF-404 with antlike efficiency.

"Deluxe" is a straightforward rerelease of the original "Pikmin 3," which arrived on the Wii U in 2013 from makers Eighting Co. Ltd./Nintendo. In addition to the original story mode, the "Deluxe" version includes two new difficulty options for experienced players, a two-player co-op mode, and 14 extra side story missions featuring Olimar and Louie, the respective heroes from "Pikmin" and "Pikmin 2" who have ended up on PNF-404 at the same time as the Koppaites. These extra missions sound promising, but they are little more than scrambled combat arenas, mostly set in the same maps used in the main story mode. They're mildly diverting, but rarely as clever or demanding as the Mission stages that came included in the original game seven years ago.

The most consequential change is the new control scheme to account for the Switch's input limitations compared to the Wii U, something that feels more like a subtraction than addition. The original game was tuned for a control setup that initially seemed ludicrous and jumbled, with the Wii remote and Nunchuk used for movement and aiming, while the Wii U gamepad, placed in one's lap or propped up on a coffee table, displayed a map that players could use to plan out their days and draw routes for secondary characters (two of the three astronauts that weren't under direct control).

Switching between the two control layers was cumbersome and confusing, but after a few hours it began to seem like an unexpectedly elegant design. The precision of the pointer aim gave the game a methodical pace that quietly favored parsimony and careful deployment of just as many Pikmin were necessary to get the job done and no more. The secondary map screen on the Wii U gamepad would shift the TV to an overhead view that made it possible to compare the actual game world to the map, which let players scout routes in advance, to minimize the chances of an unexpected enemy encounter while controlling another character.

Playing without either of these options in "Deluxe" somehow feels even clunkier and shallower than the original. In place of pointer aiming, the "Deluxe" version defaults to a lock-on system that forces players to repeatedly tap a shoulder button to cycle through targets. In areas with more enemies and objects on screen, cycling through targets creates real confusion and the lock-on often jumps between targets, and I started to feel like I was spending more time overcompensating for the interface's unreliability than I was playing the game. When I finally finished the game, I was convinced that the ideas behind "Deluxe's" control scheme aren't bad, they just weren't meant for a game with the kind of level layout and pace of the original "Pikmin 3."

Despite the ill-suited controls, "Pikmin 3" still has many vestiges of its original charm. There's a sense of teasing wonderment in the way the Koappites rename each unfamiliar piece of fruit. Cherries are Cupid's Grenades; cantaloupes are Wayward Moons; red grapes become Dusk Pustules; peaches are dubbed Mock Bottoms; and plums, Lesser Mock Bottoms. Likewise, unlocking all the game's secret nooks and caverns in search of those fruit can often be enchanting. A newly acquired type of Pikmin in one area can be brought back to another to break down an electric fence, or lift up a line of bamboo stakes, opening a path into an area with even more secrets to dismantle. It feels like unfolding an elaborate piece of origami step by step, a sequence of secret creases that show how easily a humming bird or dragon can become an ordinary piece of paper again.

For me, playing "Pikmin 3 Deluxe" felt a little bit more like playing with a creased up piece of paper.

The Washington Post

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