Out of all the returning franchises coming to the Nintendo Wii U, it feels like it’s been forever since Pikmin got a piece of the spotlight—eight whole years, in fact. That time on the bench doesn’t look like it’s hurt Captain Olimar and his critter crew too much, though, since Pikmin 3‘s looking quite good in high definition.
While I feel like I should note that Pikmin 3 was the only game I played at Nintendo’s San Francisco Wii U showcase that didn’t focus strongly on the GamePad tablet controller, I honestly didn’t miss it. Rather thanbeing centered around a dual-screen mechanic, Pikmin 3 just seems like an excuse for Nintendo to have a polished, sharp-looking core franchise that takes advantage of the Wii U’s graphical improvements.
However, that doesn’t mean that the GamePad isn’t supported in Pikmin 3. At E3 2012, several press members said that Nintendo shelved the tablet because it had been having problems during demos. (We did get to see a little bit of a map feature, though.) But while it’s a bit disappointing that the Wii U’s most marketed feature wasn’t part of the hands-on preview, the Wii Remote and Nunchuk more than sufficed.
Besides, considering how good the Pikmin look in HD, I’m not too concerned about whether or not I’m using the Wii U tablet.
Speaking of which, the graphics really are strong selling point for the game so far—environments are wider, much more detailed, and generally feel more “alive” than what you might have seen in Pikmin 2. Most of the textures in particular look really good up close; some creatures look tough and rocky, while others appear to be soft and gelatinous. In particular, the little Pikmin really stand out, especially the new rock types, as their shiny, boulderlike bodies reflect light the way you’d expect from real minerals.
Pointing the Wii Remote at the screen to fling Pikmin around feels incredibly natural, almost something that you could potentially do without any prior instruction. It’s a quick, accurate way to send the tiny titans straight to their intended target, and being able to corral them quickly with a motion-controlled, lasso-like field is immensely helpful for pulling aside wayward stragglers in an instant.
Out of everything in the preview sessions we had this week and at E3, I still think that the improved controls are best expressed in the boss battle with the Armored Mawdad, a giant caterpillar-esque creature with huge mandibles and a tough crystal shell.
It’s this boss battle where you have to make careful-but-frequent use of the new Rock Pikmin, which are specifically meant for breaking down tough surfaces like glass and crystal. In this case, I had to fling my boulder-shaped minions at the Mawdad’s shell, cracking it in sections to expose his meaty inner layer. Once that was exposed, my Red Pikmin could whittle down the big bug’s health a bit before getting shaken off.
For a Pikmin game, this boss battle goes at sort of a breakneck pace. Running around the circular pit to collect Pikmin is a necessity, but if you don’t watch your back, the Mawdad will ambush you, grab up your Pikmin in its mandibles, and stuff the poor guys down its throat. That’s were you’ll have to get a little frantic with the controls, either flinging your Pikmin out of harm’s way at the last minute or gathering them up to get them out of the line of fire.
It’s very action-packed, and with the speed that the Wii Remote’s sensor affords, it feels like you can direct your little army with much more speed and finesse than you could with a GameCube controller.
Fighting the Armored Mawdad wasn’t easy, either. While I beat him at E3, this second encounter wasn’t any easier, and due to a few errors and keeping my Pikmin crew out of danger, I ran out of time with just a sliver of the boss’ life left to go. Yes, Pikmin 3 looks like it’s going to be a challenging launch game for the Wii U, and satisfyingly so.