‘Pikmin 3 Deluxe’ review: navigating ecological disaster has never been this cute

Nintendo’s terrific take on real-time strategy is just as magnificent on the Switch

Nintendo is known for making wholesome games with meaningful morals, and Pikmin 3 is a prime example. The planet Koppai is suffering from famine as a result of a “booming population, booming appetites and a basic lack of planning”. It’s not lost on the Koppaites that they’ve brought this situation upon themselves, but the Anthropocene has started to threaten their very existence, so drastic solutions have been tempered.

Intrepid Koppaite explorers Alph, Brittany and Charlie have been sent to the surface of the mysterious alien planet PNF-404 to retrieve fruit seeds. If they make it back, their people will be able to cultivate sustenance and live for a while longer before their habits inevitably betray them once more. If they fail to complete their mission, the existence of their species is in immediate jeopardy.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe
Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Credit Nintendo

I think what I love most about Pikmin 3 Deluxe is that you can fail, and you most likely will. There’s only a limited amount of time in each day, roughly 15 minutes. Once that’s up, you have to head home, consume more of your limited supplies and cut your losses.

This means that only the most seasoned Pikmin players will be able to get all of the fruit needed in their playthrough to repel the famine. But there’s a certain beauty in accepting your relative fallibility within the ecological landscape you’ve been thrust into. Most games demand everything from us to proceed – Pikmin 3 just asks us to do our best. And by taking the stabilisers off, the game provides a teachable, hopeful lesson about the environment around us and our connection to it.

That connection starts with the Pikmin, strange little humanoid creatures who live in nests called ‘onions’. They’re frankly adorable, and I would die for them. Which feels reciprocal, because they would also die for me, and that’s pretty much their job across the course of the game. The Pikmin are much like the units you control in any other real-time strategy game, except, instead of burly orcs or iron-clad space tanks, they feel inherently vulnerable. You’re there to protect them as much as they exist to protect you. You’ll micromanage your little guys to harvest fruit, break down walls and mob the dangerous beasts that inhabit PNF-404.

It’s difficult to verbalise the terror that overcomes you when you first mistakenly lead a pack of Pikmin into certain danger. Whether it’s open water or the maw of a horrifying grub-dog Bulborb, you feel a duty to protect every single one of your cutesy troops because of the diligent service they provide. Yet, here they are jibbering in fear, their spirits floating off into the afterlife for your benefit.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe
Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Credit Nintendo

There’s always been a strange pseudo-horror element to offset the wholesome nature of the Pikmin series. Some of that is lost in Pikmin 3, merely by nature of the game’s detail, especially running in a higher definition on the Nintendo Switch. Even sticking with the 720p resolution, it’s frankly gorgeous to look at, but in the older Pikmin games, the lack of assets and draw distance meant that boss enemies were framed by barren caves or bathroom floor tiles. It was frightening to explore new areas, encountering creatures that feel ripped out of some art director’s nightmares.

That’s not to say thatPikmin 3 Deluxe doesn’t retain some of this spooky spark. Many of the game’s bosses are incredibly jarring. There’s a spider with a headbanger mop called the Shaggy Long Legs that looks like an extra from The Ring. I don’t even want to get into the rotten fruit colossi that is Quaggled Mireclops – a mere mention of its name makes me shudder.

The narrative in Pikmin 3 is a right laugh, and it’s got tons of charming dialogue and quaint interactions to make your heart sing as you explore this inimitable world. It also builds to a smashing, high-intensity crescendo that needs to be seen. However, I will say that since your ship is fine, there isn’t as much urgency as in previous games, and you lose the loneliness that made Pikmin so powerful with a trio of spacefaring pals.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe
Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Credit Nintendo

Your mission still feels like life or death, but something is missing when you compare it to Olimar and his indebted connection to his Pikmin pals. The fact he didn’t get to tell the Pikmin that he loved them when he blasted off into the stars in the first game inspired Strawberry Flower to write the devastating ‘Song Of Love’. This is the kind of emotional Pikmin content I’m craving.

As for what’s new in this updated version, there are brilliant new side stories which feature Captain Olimar and Louie from the previous games, as well as the Piklopedia, a massive catalogue of creatures that was missing from the original. You can also play through the campaign in co-op on the Switch, which in honesty is probably the preferred way to play.

Managing different captains can be quite tricky to get used to for inexperienced players, and at times I did miss the relative simplicity of just having one leader. I consider myself average at real-time strategy games, and the management aspect of Pikmin 3 Deluxe still got the better of me multiple times. For Pikmin and real-time strategy veterans, though, it means the game is plenty challenging, with a variety of difficulty options to suit every skill level.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe
Pikmin 3 Deluxe. Credit Nintendo

I loved figuring out the positioning puzzles and working out ways around certain obstacles so I could find each piece of loot. I’m a bit of a completionist, so working against the clock at a vigilant pace was very satisfying but just as gutting when I made a crucial mistake and had to head back to the onion to rally the troops.

Your Pikmin battalion ebbs and flows and this make battles enjoyable, tasking you with thinking on your feet to adapt to present danger. You might not have enough of a specific Pikmin type, so you’ll use the rest of your team as a buffeting guard to keep the beasts away so they can complete objectives. It’s heaps of fun when it gets frantic. The controls are intuitive on the Nintendo Switch too, so your poor fingers won’t be stretched or worn out through play, beyond a few chaotic boss battles which require rapid inputs.

I’ve enjoyed my time with Pikmin 3 Deluxe. It’s certainly the definitive version of the game, and easily the most accessible Pikmin adventure for kids and RTS-adjacent gamers who may not be familiar with the genre, but want a wholesome introduction to some of its most satisfying facets.

‘Pikmin 3 Deluxe’ is out now for Nintendo Switch.

Our Verdict

If you’re a Pikmin fan who missed this game on the Wii U, Pikmin 3 Deluxe is an easy recommendation. If you’re new to the series, there’s no better place to start. I would love it if Nintendo made the older games available on the Nintendo Switch to complete the story, but for now, this will suffice.

Hopefully, a full sequel is in the works, as there is no game quite like Pikmin. Wholesome real-time strategy is a salve for the soul amid the chaos of this holiday season’s releases, so definitely pick this up if you need a breather.

Pros

  • An inimitable world full of cutesy comrades and creepy critters
  • Intuitive controls made even better when splitting the workload in co-op
  • Cool extra features like the side stories and the Piklopedia catalogue

Cons

  • The trio of protagonists undo the patented Olimar emotional urgency
  • A bump to 1080p would’ve been nice
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