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Pikmin 3 basically returns to the roots of the first game, and what I liked about it, while expanding upon it. Gone are the long, punishingly difficult tunnels from the second game. Back is a sense of wonder and newness, as a new set of heroes encounter the adorable ant-like aliens for their first time.
Pikmin 3 may take flak for only having 5 levels, but these 5 levels are massive despite the strict daily time limit. Each level expands considerably in every direction, with very out-of-the-way places and challenging routes to discover. But discovering them often rewards the player with shortcuts that allow them to return to the new area more quickly: a bridge that can be built across water or a cliff, a ramp that allows for easy reach of a previously unreachable cliff, and more. Essentially, the levels become more and more open over time, making the game’s 12-minute time limit actually quite reasonable.
The time limit is one of the defining features of Pikmin, and I always liked it. It gives you a reason to see how much you can accomplish at once, and forces you to try to plan out your day. Now there’s an additional in-story time limit: a food supply that gradually decreases with each day. Collecting fruit increases that supply, while also giving you another reason to try to make each day as fruitful as possible: if you don’t, you eventually die. The “go here” function that lets you command teammates to specific areas makes getting more done easier, though I mostly tended to stick my entire team together as one and rarely used the feature.
A nice “toy” added to the game is the ability to take photos from ground level. Considering that you’re the size of a coin, this basically gives you an ant’s eye view of our massive world through that camera lens. Flowers, streams, lily pads, ivy, never looked so beautiful than when they tower over you.
Finally, the use of specific missions in the game’s narrative does a nice job of driving things forward. At all times, you have a mission – rescue someone, collect a specific part of your ship, recover stolen food, etc.
Ultimately, after I gave up on Pikmin 2 out of frustration with its caves, Pikmin 3 brought me back and kept me hooked.
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