Pikmin 3 [Wii U, out 26 July] is a savage and heartbreaking tale of woe, heroism and despair, and also probably the most fun strategy game you'll play this year. It's also by some distance the best non-Mario game on Nintendo's Wii U -- clear evidence that the troubled console is far from finished.
As with the previous two games in the long-absent Pikmin series, your task is to take control of a gang of up to 100 small, totally loveable plant-like creatures - five types, each with different abilities from fire-resistance to flight - and marshall them through a stunningly realised Honey I Shrunk The Kids game world, in order to explore new areas and defeat enemies.
In the game - which features both a story mode, an endlessly replayable 'Mission Mode' and a two-player 'Bingo Battle' mode - you'll spend most of your time rounding up your Pikmin with a whistle, and flinging them at different targets with a simple button press. Neatly the game's AI knows what to do from there - if there's an enemy nearby, the Pikmin will attack. If there's fruit, they'll load up and carry it home. It makes for a simple control system. Mechanically it's a bit fiddly at first on the GamePad, but the second screen mini map you get with that scheme makes up for it. If you like you can also use the Wii Remote and Nunchuck, which is more immediately intuitive.
Not only do you have to defeat monsters and navigate the game world, however. This time you also have to manage your resources by gathering enough weirdly named lemons and kiwis in order to provide for your crew of three alien generals' daily rations, and eventually take back to your starving home planet Koppai. And with every 'game day' elapsing over a set, and quite short, period of time, you have to make sure you have enough. At first it's a bit of a struggle, but eventually you'll have a decent enough buffer to start making progress elsewhere.
Graphically Pikmin 3 is beautiful, fast and full of stunning details. The practically useless but utterly charming 'Pikmin Camera', in which you use the GamePad to view your little guys from ground-level, is a particular highlight. And the story mode is full of enough tasks, quests and intricate levels to hold your attention for hours.
The only downside is that the Pikmin are just too loveable - and their tendency to get eaten, drowned, burned, lost and crushed is pretty downbeat. It gives the game a dark humour which seems a bit out of place, and while it's not hard to replace your Pikmin, and the game's imprecise mechanics and very tough bosses demand that you learn to accept their hardy sacrifice, for kids - and even this reviewer - it made the whole experience a little too stressful. Embarrassing? Maybe. But true.
Despite that, if you own a Wii U, Pikmin 3 is an essential purchase. And if you don't have a Wii U - and you think you can take the emotional strain - it might be worth thinking about picking one up just for this. It's not a perfect game, but it's one that you can't - and wouldn't - find on any other system. And it's so replayable, you could easily still be enjoying it by the time Mario Kart 8 finally comes out next spring.
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