What do you do when your little home world’s resources are tapped out and there’s a serious shortage of food? Well, we earthlings might wring our hands and notify cable news. But on Pikmin 3′s planet of Koppai, it’s time to take action. So this humanoid civilization sends a space crew of three—the stalwart captain Charlie, first mate Alph and brainiac botanist Brittany—to the outer reaches of their galaxy, heading for a green orb they’ve spotted and labeled PNF-404.
This hopeful planet is a place with just the right environment and food resources to support all those worried people of Koppai. But, oops, an unexpected accident upon entry into the planet’s atmosphere leaves the three crew mates separated and stranded on the alien surface.
These guys have a lot of work ahead of them and not a lot of time to do it. Each has to gather enough food to survive, find the others, locate the damaged ship, come up with a special cosmic-drive key for ship repair and somehow evade the planet’s many dangerous predators along the way. That’s right, as pretty as this place looks, there are multicolored monsters in the land! There are giant, drooling Bulborbs and fiery Blowhogs and big old Armored Mawdads, oh my.
Pick a Pikmin to Pack the Right Punch
On the other hand, our intrepid explorers gain some help that they didn’t expect to find in this exotic world. They’re befriended by a horde of tiny stick figure plant “people” that generally look like a cross between a wad of gum and a branch. These brightly colored things are called, of course, Pikmin. At just a whistle, large groups of the harmless fellows will rush in to gather around a calling crew member, ready to be useful.
Our spacefaring heroes soon discover that there are several different types of Pikmin. Red Pikmin, for instance, are great builders and diggers. And they’re fireproof to boot. Their yellow brethren can deal with electrified problems, and the blues are great at watery challenges. Got a crystal wall or a big foe that needs a little heavy thumping? Then send in the black rock Pikmin. Just, uh, pick the proper Pikmin up and quite literally throw them at the problem at hand.
As the game unfolds, players are faced with five massive global areas to unlock and explore. You have to manage which Pikmin type you call to your side and then work to find strategic paths around the puzzling obstacles blocking your way. But you have to plan wisely, because you can only maintain a total of 100 Pikmin at a time. And some challenges only reveal their secret with a certain number of a certain type of the little mud scratchers.
You also have to manage a ticking clock of sorts. Each “day” in this mysterious world only lasts about 15 of our Earth-bound minutes. So you must assess the obstacle before you, produce the right number of friendlies and get the job done before the sun goes down. The game as a whole has a time limit too. If the captain and his crew don’t figure out all the planet’s secrets in 100 days, it’s an unceremonious game over. Oh, and there’s always the task of making sure there’s enough life-sustaining fruit on hand to keep everybody up to par.
A Peck of Pallid Dangers After Dark
In spite of all the “fierce” foes living in the caves, waters or foliage of this fertile world, there’s not a lot of threat to gamers and their virtual space explorer selves. However, that’s not always the case for the poor Pikmin. If you toss the wrong leafy guy in the wrong direction he can be drowned or set on fire or maybe even gobbled up by a speckled beastie of some sort.
It’s not a bad or bloody end, but it’s still a little uncomfortable to realize that your choices left your squeaking friends crying out in pain or withering away as their ghosty blue essence drifts skyward. And that “Oh no, look what I did” feeling becomes especially vexing if you just happen to forget a group of Pikmin pals somewhere and then have to watch them panic at sunset as nocturnal monsters come out to swallow them down.
Think of it like Donkey Kong … if he had made friends with all those flying barrels. Or Angry Birds … if none of the birds were cheesed off.
Which means parents won’t have to be too picky about who plays Pikmin 3.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.