Pikmin 3 is a galactic epic worthy of the highest space opera, but it takes place at the scale of pencil erasers.

In Pikmin 3 you take on the role of three tiny explorers tasked with finding a food supply on a faraway world. When you crash-land on the planet of the Pikmin, you use the help of the little plant-men to gather the giant fruits of their world, along with the missing crew and bits of your ship. It’s pretty much the stock plot of the first two games, which comes up in-story, but nobody’s here for the gripping original character drama. You’re here for the cute plant things. And the sending of those cute plant things to their horrible little deaths.

The game plays out in days, each about twenty minutes long, where you must gather fruit for your crew, produce more Pikmin, and solve puzzles to advance the story. All at the same time. It’s a wonderful kind of multitasking play. It lends itself to bite-size chunks of play and never really feels like it’s on a time limit, though technically it is. Previous games in the series had a real limit, and made you worry about the clock, but Pikmin 3 is far less concerned with the grand scope of a looming deadline – because your only limit is how much fruit you can gather to convert into juice. The story is easily long enough, clocking in at about thirteen hours with an extensive playthrough by a skilled player, maybe 17 for someone who takes their time.

Other than a far less restrictive game clock, very little has changed since Pikmin 2. It’s been nine years, but the gameplay is still incredibly fun and approachable. The controls are what make the game: they’re easy to use and accessible, allowing you to get right to the interesting strategy and tactics. While older Pikmin games could occasionally be frustrating due to the lack of precision on the controllers, that won’t happen here at all. And since there are three control schemes, GamePad, Wiimote, and Pro Controller, you’ll figure out a way to play that works for you. Off screen play on the GamePad is present, as well, and is very functional. You lose a bit of the precision you have with the Wiimote, but playing snuggled up in another room is its own reward.

The new Pikmin, Rock and Flying, add enough interesting strategy that they don’t feel like unnecessary or strange additions. Rock Pikmin do extra damage when you throw them – you can now literally stone some monsters to death – but can’t grasp things very well with their stubby arms. Flying Pikmin are like gnats, and can’t damage much, but can easily carry fruit or parts home to the ship over obstacles that other Pikmin can’t traverse. It’s a good sign that neither of the new guys felt gimmicky, like Pikmin 2‘s white and purple Pikmin did, so you consistently bring them along for their utility.

More than anything, the game is just enjoyable to play. The creature design is as inspired and whimsical as ever, from flaming slugs to crystal-armored centipedes. You’ll find yourself cracking a smile at some particularly strange use of a clipboard somebody left lying around, like when your Pikmin turn it into a makeshift bridge, or when your explorers decide to name a lemon they found a “Zest Bomb.” Maneuvering your horde around, dodging attacks, and figuring out how to defeat each new monster is a thrill, and encounters are just hard enough that sometimes you have to retreat, get more Pikmin, and start fresh. The only thing that keeps Pikmin 3 from being as good as possible is the ending, which, without spoiling anything, is a chase-like sequence that feels out of place compared to the lackadaisical, mellow pacing of the rest of the game.

The game’s strategy is flexible enough to accommodate all kinds of players, though there’s no real difficulty measure, you can judge how skilled you are by how quickly you take on challenges. If you’re the type to pull maximum efficiency out of each in game day, then swapping between the three characters, giving them programmed routes, and retrieving all the fruit in minimum possible time will be great for you. If you’re not a hardcore strategist, then, well, don’t worry. Take your time and you’ll probably finish before everyone starves to death.

Sadly, the puzzles aren’t particularly difficult. They’re fun, sure, and very satisfying to execute once you’ve figured them out, but none of them are particularly hard to do. You can pretty easily breeze through all of them without getting stuck or stalled, and your only slowdowns will be when you make a mistake and run out of time during a day to finish the puzzle you were working on.

As a sideline to the main story, Pikmin 3‘s mission mode allows you to hone your tossing skills by attempting set challenges with certain numbers of Pikmin at your disposal. They’re challenging, and puzzling, set scenarios where repeated play is both rewarding and enjoyable. You’ll often find yourself trying a new strategy on the same map, attempting to shave just a few seconds off of your completion time or up your score. Playing co-op on the mission maps is awesome, with great moments for working together, and makes you wonder why there wasn’t a co-op story campaign.

Similar to mission mode, the multiplayer Bingo Battle is a strange event where you don’t necessarily compete directly with your opponent, but you do have to compete for limited resources to fill out your score card before they do. It’s surprisingly fun, probably more fun than it has any right to be. While it’s not endlessly replayable unless you’re a real Pikmin enthusiast, it feels like added value or icing on the cake.

Bottom Line: The ending may not be the best thing ever, but it can’t tarnish the incredible enjoyment you’ll get out of Pikmin 3. This is probably the best game yet on Wii U.

Recommendation: There is absolutely no reason a Wii U owner shouldn’t buy Pikmin 3. Armchair puzzlers, tacticians, and lovers of all things cute will be hugely rewarded, as will those who play with their loved ones or family.

[rating=4.5]

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