The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Gamer's Corner column [The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa]
(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 18--If you follow video game news, then you likely know how poorly the Wii U is selling. And if you don't, I'll fill you in.
According to Nintendo, the Wii U sold 160,000 units between April 1 and June 30, which sounds like a lot, until you do some comparisons. Nintendo's previous console, the Wii, came out way back in 2006, and sold 210,000 units in the same time period, despite its age.
I'm not surprised, and neither are the majority of hard-core gamers. I knew there would be a serious lack of software for the Wii U when I purchased it last year, and I didn't care. It's the only system you can play the latest Super Mario Bros. and Zelda games on, and that's pretty important for an '80s kid like me.
Nintendo is hoping a slow trickle of first-party software (which includes new Mario and Donkey Kong games) will bolster interest, starting with the recently released "Pikmin 3."
As you can see by the following review, Nintendo is off to a stellar start.
"Pikmin 3" available exclusively for the Wii U. Rated "E" for Everyone. $59.99
I stared at the "Pikmin 3" ending credits with dumbfounded disappointment Tuesday night, hardly able to believe one of the best games I had played all year was over.
As a lifelong gamer with more than 25 years of experience, I've been able to attune myself to a game's running time pretty effectively. I usually know when the end is coming, and if I've been playing a game for long enough, I'm usually grateful for a glimpse of the finish line.
Not so with "Pikmin 3." While I did have a hell of a time destroying the final boss (more than 100 adorable Pikmin perished in the battle), I thought his defeat marked the halfway point of the game. I had grand plans of rebuilding my Pikmin army from the scattered ashes left in the wake of the battle, but those plans never materialized.
Now I'm stuck with a bit of a dilemma. My first instinct is to recommend "Pikmin 3" to every Wii U owner who reads this column (all two of you), because you simply won't find a better game for the system. I wasn't lying when I labeled it as a surprise "Game of the Year" contender.
Problem is, my game counter read seven hours and 30 minutes after the final credits rolled. You can add another three to five hours I spent replaying sections of the game that I failed miserably at, but that's still a pretty short running time. I started playing late Saturday night, and had finished just three days later.
"I'm glad I didn't buy it," I blurted to my equally stunned wife, who watched the final battle with fascination.
What kind of recommendation is that? How can I tell someone to spend $60 on a stellar game that I rented and put in the mail before I even sat down to write the review?
Don't mistake my trepidation for denial of quality. From the moment one of the adorable Pikmin stares you in the face, your natural instinct will be to go out and buy this game. What master game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (the man behind Super Mario Bros. and Zelda) has managed to pull off with "Pikmin 3" is simply astounding. The game is equal parts adorable, stressful, mind-bending and awe-inspiring, and the simple controls ensure it is never boring or frustrating. I played as though I were in a fever dream, stopping only when my belly rumbled or I had to complete everyday tasks in the real world.
No wonder the game ended so soon. I was equally consumed when the first "Pikmin" game was released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2001, and the formula only has been perfected since then.
The player takes on the role of three astronauts from the fictional planet of Koppai, which is suffering from a food shortage caused by overpopulation. The astronauts become separated after crashing into a planet they name PNF-404, and make two interesting discoveries on their way to being reunited. The first is abundant fruit that can be used to feed their home planet. The second is a race of tiny plant beings known as Pikmin.
And when I say tiny, I mean tiny. The astronauts themselves seem to be no larger than the end of a human thumb, and the Pikmin are less than half that height. It can take more than a dozen to carry an orange back to the spaceship.
Best described as a mix of real-time strategy and puzzle solving, "Pikmin 3" is first and foremost a game about time management. There's only so much time in each day, and if you don't direct your Pikmin forces wisely, it's possible to starve to death.
It's the kind of stress that comes from a full-time job, only much more fun.
Since Pikmin are plant beings, they have to be planted and plucked from the ground, which is thankfully a near instantaneous process. You can control up to 100 of them at once, and the little guys can be directed to accomplish various tasks such as building bridges, destroying barriers and defeating enemies. The Pikmin come in five colors that signify their special abilities or immunities to hazards. Red Pikmin are immune to fire, yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity, blue Pikmin can run through water, pink Pikmin can fly and rock Pikmin can break through hard surfaces.
All the Pikmin can fight (the red ones are the best at it), and there's nothing more satisfying than watching a triumphant group of them lift a fallen enemy's carcass into the air and carry it back to the ship so it can be reprocessed into more Pikmin. The little fellas die just as fast as you can birth them, and I had lost more than 1,000 Pikmin by the end of the game.
Using these rather complex rock/paper/scissor rules, the player must navigate through beautiful forests and tundras rife with vegetation that is much larger than the Pikmin. It's kind of like watching a nature show about ants, especially when the Pikmin string themselves out in a line to carry construction materials.
While all these elements lay the groundwork for a good game, it's the execution that really puts "Pikmin 3" above the rest of the pack. You can use the three astronauts to create separate squads of Pikmin, and while one group is fighting a baddie (usually a giant bug of some kind), another can build a bridge, while the third group gathers fruit. This chaos is controlled through ingenious use of the GamePad screen, which allows you to set routes for the squads simply by touching and dragging the map.
It's a simple concept, but by far the best use of the GamePad I've seen so far.
This is all brought together by some of the prettiest graphics to come out of the Wii U yet, which automatically makes "Pikmin 3" one of the best-looking video games on the market.
It's just a shame that it ends so suddenly. The player is forced to think outside the box to defeat the impressive array of terrifying boss creatures (my favorite was the flying electric eel), but you never get a chance to put those skills to the test outside the battles.
I'm not about to lower my score just because "Pikmin 3" isn't as long as liked. If I had my way, the experience would have lasted 40 hours.
This may look like a kid's game, but don't be fooled by the cutesy plant creatures. "Pikmin 3" is serious business, and you may want to spare your children the stress of juggling multiple tasks by keeping the game for yourself.
Four out of Four Stars
(c)2013 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)
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