Pikmin 3 Deluxe Review: Pint-Sized Powerhouse
Imagine that you and your co-workers live on a distant planet with a population that’s growing fast — too fast. The planet can’t support your species for much longer, so it’s up to you to find a new source of food to keep the ecosystem from falling apart. Fortunately, a nearby planet seems to hold the key, with abundant natural resources just waiting to be plundered.
It’s not hard to imagine the scenario because in all likelihood, you've played a video game or two. In any other game, though, you’d expect to see this scenario as the backbone of some gritty, dark commentary on environmental exploitation.
Instead, Nintendo turns it into Pikmin 3 Deluxe, a charming mix of Louis Carroll fantasy and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, with, of course, a dollop of heartbreak on top.
It’s one of the Nintendo Switch’s strongest and most focused strategy games and a must-have for those who’ve never experienced it before, but it's a bit of a harder sell if you played the Wii U original.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe Review: Pint-Sized Powerhouse
There’s probably a thousand ways for your Pikmin to die, and you’ll probably subject your Pikmin to every one of them, assuming they don't do it themselves.
Pikmin 3 begins with a crash. Alph, Brittany, and Charlie, explorers from Koppai, experience a ship malfunction and wind up scattered across planet PNF 404. Your main task in Pikmin 3 is finding enough fruit to survive — and maybe even take back home — plus figuring out how to restore your marooned ship’s missing capabilities.
That means lots of exploring, and PNF 404 is a joy to investigate. It has the same juxtaposition of the everyday and the fantastical from the first two Pikmin, where tin cans are mountains and giant flip-style cell phones power spaceship communication features.
What’s even more impressive than the lovely HD visuals (even in handheld mode) is how the formula still sparks a sense of magic and wonder despite being three games and a re-release old by now.
And in the midst of admiring the scenery, the googly-eyed mushroom monster lumbers out and eats your Pikmin, the electrified sheep thing fries them, the hover frog flattens them, and/or the poor little critters just drown…
There’s probably a thousand ways for your Pikmin to die, and you’ll probably subject your Pikmin to every one of them, assuming they don't do it themselves. Pikmin are mostly smart critters, but they're inclined to be a bit dense sometimes.
The Pikmin give as good as they get and show no mercy to their would-be murderers. It's all very National Geographic in a way we don't often see in video games.
If it weren't already obvious, the threat of the natural world and its voracious inhabitants is powerful incentive to plan well. Losing just one Pikmin from a strategy gone awry or, horror of horrors, because you left behind a small platoon of them is a pretty big gut punch. You’re supposed to protect your smol plant children!
Pikmin 3 goes a bit further in making you care about your plant comrades than usual. Pikmin, as a series, always teeters a bit close to the edge of environmental exploitation, especially Pikmin 2 and its “cash in the planet” theme.
True, you’re still using Pikmin to get what you want in Pikmin 3. But the trio shows more concern for the Pikmin’s well-being, even going out of their way to rescue a trapped Onion just because they can’t bear to see the Pikmin get eaten. This ultimately makes Pikmin 3 feel more like a partnership between the humans and their plant minions, instead of an interstellar pirate raid on a vulnerable culture.
Fortunately, Pikmin 3 also gives you even more options to work into your strategies and keep the wee ones out of harm. Rock and Flying Pikmin, the two new(ish) headline Pikmin types, offer their special strengths to vary how you approach certain obstacles.
Rock Pikmin, for example, can survive getting smashed by heavy objects, while Flying Pikmin can avoid certain enemy attacks more easily.
The game does a stellar job with its difficulty balancing, as puzzles and enemies exist in the Goldilocks zone.
Pikmin 3 has plenty of unique enemies and puzzles only these newcomers can solve, like crystal-crusted enemies only Rock Pikmin can shatter or gates Flying Pikmin need to lift for you to progress.
Speaking of progression, you could describe Pikmin 3 as a Metroidvania of sorts. Even at the initial crash site, you’ll get tantalizing glimpses of areas just out of reach — well, until you’ve got the right Pikmin and the right squad, at least. That sense of not quite being finished helps break up the linearity of exploration and make the game’s five stages feel a lot more involved than their number would suggest.
In most cases, you’ll need more than just the right Pikmin to get the goods. You’ll need your fellow Koppaites too.
Your first task, along with finding enough fruit to avoid death by starvation, is actually reuniting with your crew, and it’s a handy way to introduce one of Pikmin 3’s best features.
Pikmin 3 expects you to make good use of your crew once they’re all assembled. Each map requires a smart division of labor between the three protagonists. As simple as it sounds on the surface, it adds a remarkable extra layer of strategy to every day and how you divvy up the Pikmin.
As always, you can only have 100 Pikmin in the field (less than that until you find Charlie). Most of the puzzles that make you split your team involve specific dangers plus obstacles only the right Pikmin can break through.
Getting the right mix where both, or all three, squads make it out unscathed sometimes takes a bit of trial and error, and that goes double if you’re playing on Ultra Spicy mode and its stricter cap on Pikmin numbers.
It’s never too much, though. The game does a stellar job with its difficulty balancing, as puzzles and enemies exist in the Goldilocks zone.
They’re just challenging enough where you feel clever for figuring them out, even if it took restarting a few days to get there, but not too hard to pose a barrier to enjoyment. If you do get stuck, Pikmin 3 Deluxe even adds some handy hints to point you in the right direction.
Pikmin 3’s run time also sits comfortably in the Goldilocks zone, lasting between eight and 12 hours depending on how you play. There’s enough creativity and fun here where a longer game would be nice, but it also ends before any of its components start feeling stale.
Pikmin is one of Nintendo's most inventive franchises, and Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the best of the bunch.
If that sounds too short, Pikmin 3 Deluxe adds a few nice bonuses to round off the main gameplay. Mission mode from the original was changed to Side Stories. These are a few extra stages following Olimar’s trek through PNF 404 that you’ll unlock by progressing through the main story.
In the Side Stories, you’ll try and gather every piece of fruit on a condensed version of one of the main maps. Time is short, and you have to make the most of your limited Pikmin squads to get the job done. They’re short, even if you replay to earn a higher score. But it’s a fun way to shake up the gameplay nonetheless.
There’s a brief new epilogue after the main story (where else?) that shakes things up even further. And finally — finally! — Pikmin 3 Deluxe adds co op gameplay for the main story. It’s an excellent inclusion that makes perfect sense given the game’s structure, and it’s surprising story co op multiplayer wasn’t a thing before now.
That’s about it as far as new content goes. Enjoyable it may be, but possibly not enough to warrant a second helping for longtime fans, especially for the price. Everyone else who missed it on the Wii U should definitely give it a try.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe Review — The Bottom Line
- Excellent level design
- Smart strategy gameplay
- Unique mix of the whimsical and brutal
- Side stories offer a fun diversion from the main story
- It has co op story mode!
- Not too much new for being deluxe
- AI is occasionally dense as a brick
Pikmin is one of Nintendo's most inventive franchises, and Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the best of the bunch. There might not be a whole lot of extra added to the Switch version, but what's there make this one of the most enjoyable experiences on the system.
[Note: Nintendo of America provided the copy of Pikmin 3 Deluxe used for this review.]