Blog Archive (The Orchard)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Case in Point: Pikmin 3

Starting today, I'm adding a new type of post to the Game Fruit blog. They will be called "Case in Point" posts, and will focus on a real life video game, examining it with the topics I've discussed in other posts. I will scrutinize games using the knowledge of what I've learned in Game Studies.


Pikmin 3 is a pretty good game. Upon its launch, it exemplified perhaps the greatest use of the Wii U's GPU. The game takes place in a colorful world that closely resembles earth in both character and  presentation. It's a pleasing game to look at. But, of course, graphics aren't everything. 

It's got alot going for it, this Pikmin 3. The story starts off quite compelling, particularly if you're a fan of the Pikmin series. Alph, Brittany, and Charlie are on a mission to an alien planet to collect food for their starving civilization. But just before their craft prepares to land...BOOM! Something goes "terribly wrong," as the narrator says in the opening cutscene. The three adventurers are separated, and you must control each one to have them meet together again.

Because of how the neatly the package is wrapped up, the player will be pleased just getting the hang of things in the start off: it's calm, realistic looking and sounding, and curious. Realism is beneficial to games, as if it holds some intrinsic value. When you apply realism to any aspect of a game (provided it's adapted from something good in real life), it prospers. I mean just think about it. Realistic graphics equals excitement and aesthetic goodness; realistic characters equals compelling plots; realistic controls equals and precision and easy-to-learn gameplay. In fact, let's talk about controls next.

This is one area where Pikmin 3 could have been better. If you've played Pikmin 2 for the Gamecube like I have, you would notice that Pikmin 3 isn't as responsive, as far as controls go. There is some latency involved when you press a button. I'm not sure if this is because you are using a wireless controller, or just because of how the game is programmed. Either way, this aspect subtracts from the heart of Pikmin gaming that I was used to, i.e. quick action (particularly when throwing pikmin). In fact, this fault--if you want to call it that--actually leads the player to take in more of the serene aura of the game, which is brought about by the realistic graphics and calmness that I mentioned earlier. So you may feel that the game is leaning more towards "casual" than you would if the controls were quicker in response. This wouldn't be an issue if I wasn't used to the controls of Pikmin 2. But nevertheless I am, and so are all the other Pikmin fans like me. So when you go to press the "A" button as fast as you can, you end up throwing a Pikmin only half of the time. The ambiguity of control that I felt had a negative effect on the gameplay.

There are a lot of little things that add up to make this game pleasing, such as the colorful personality of the pikmin and the mellow but delightful sound effects that create a mellifluous ambiance to explore in. Little pleasures like these helps one to appreciate a game; when they work together in unity, the results are exceptional. Everything in a game should be working together, really.


Once you get into the mission of collecting fruit, the game becomes quite engaging. It also helps that the fruit looks so believably real and that the environment and bugs look and behave likewise. Because the different bugs have different behavioral patterns, you experience a nice learning curve for a while. There is a significant amount of strategy involved with killing off these critters. And some are hardly critters...if you've never played a Pikmin game, you'll be surprised by the variety of bugs that you'll come in contact with. Some are big, some are small, and most all of them resemble a real creature here on earth. You'll also find "data files" in the game that give you bits of information. I found these pretty pleasing to collect--that was a bit surprising, considering that they're just little tads of info. But still.

Another disappointment with this game was that I seemed to be led along the path carved out by the storyline too much. There didn't seem to be as much freedom compared to Pikmin 2. In fact, the game as a whole seems to be more buffed and waxed--that is, generally more adapted to casual players. Unfortunately this means that, in turn, some of the features that non-casual players would look for are harmed or completely cast out. This need not be the case. But it is the case with this game, at least in part. Nintendo did well in bringing over various staples from the Pikmin series. But some things were changed or left out, and not for the better. I want you to notice something else here: I'm comparing Pikmin 3 to Pikmin 2. Obviously, games in a frachise like this are going to be judged greatly by their predecessors. A similar thing may occur if one attempts to make a video game that resembles another game. In fact, that game may be considered mediocre and looked down upon. I'd say that's generally not a good idea.

Now before you think this game is a bust, let me assure you that there is something to be enjoyed here. A lot of my disappointments sprout from the fact that I have played Pikmin 2, and so was expecting certain things from the third installment of the series. If I had never played a Pikmin game, I'd have better words to say. The Pikmin games are actually a unique breed of games, as far as I've seen. That trait alone will help a game's success. Newness is a good thing when it comes to videogames. Also consider that certain game institutions--like the red, blue, and yellow pikmin--are ideas Pikmin fans are already used to. It's almost as if we take them for granted, and so don't think too highly of them. Personally, when I play a game today, one of the main things I'm looking for is a new or uncommon experience. The Pikmin series in general brings this to the table.


There are two multiplayer modes beside the main story mode: Mission Mode and Bingo Battle. The former lets you control one or more of the three main characters as you aim to kill the most bugs or collect the most treasure (it's a battle against the clock). The latter pits you against a friend as you aim to get four in a row on your bingo card by collecting bugs to make the combination. Now, personally, neither of these modes really tickled my fancy. But I've heard several testimonials, if you will, from players who have really enjoyed the Bingo battle game mode, claiming that it's a lot of fun. What these two modes do is add some variation to the normal gameplay of Pikmin 3. They create a break in the normal collect-fruit-and-harvest-pikmin story mode that you'll spend most of your time on. Of course the story mode is quite fun; yet sometimes you just feel like doing something different. It's not just that these game modes offer a different form of gameplay, but also that different feelings result from playing these modes as do when you play story mode. A game has to feel different to be different; that is, it needs to seem like a different experience, not the same experience with a new shell.

I'm going to point out how I spoiled this game for myself. Yes, you read that correctly. Believe it or not, it's actually my fault that Pikmin 3 wasn't as fun as I wanted it to be. I didn't completely ruin the game, but I sabotaged it nonetheless. How did this happen? For one, I expected a lot from this game. This is the prodecessor to one of the best games I've ever played through. It's the game I've been looking forward to for years, soon after it's first official public reveal so many E3 conventions ago...and so what happened? I was disappointed because it didn't meet my expectations. Expectations that are not met automatically lessen the player's appreciation of a game. And that's true with most things, I'd say.

 Second, like I mentioned above, I had a standard with which to measure this game. Somtimes I would experience something while playing Pikmin 3 and would think how Pikmin 2 was better than this. There were certain tools and features I was used to in Pikmin 2 that I wanted to be in the third installment. Where was the ability to line up your pikmin like army soldiers like I could do with the C-stick on the Gamecube controller? Where are the cave levels that made Pikmin 2 so exciting? Third, I tried to make sure Pikmin 3 measured up to my expectations. This actually isn't surprising. I was disappointed and concerned at how the game would turn out, so I attempted to aggrandize it by trying to make the gameplay more intense; by trying to marvel at the new treasure I found; by trying to convince myself of how great the story was; by periodically making use of abilities that I really saw as useless (like the dodge whistle). And it didn't work. I've just accepted that there are some elements of the game I plainly dislike.

Pikmin 3 is, indeed, a pretty good game. Take a look at the congregated critic scores. Play it yourself if you want to. Even I agree that it's brilliantly crafted in many ways, and I enjoyed it for the most part. But my disappointments led me to focus on the bad parts of the game, and I wasn't as satisfied as I could've been due to my poor experiences. 

 Wrapping it Up... 

Things to Apply:
  •  Realism, which is applied in several areas in Pikmin 3
  • Unity in beauty in regards to how game elements work together
  • Variation in types of gameplay
  • Rarity/uncommon experience
  • Good Learning curve (for the most part), especially in regards to fighting bugs
  • Clever little pleasures placed here and there (constitutes the learning curve) 
Things to Learn From:
  • Controls feel a bit ambiguous at first
  • Not as fast paced or challenging as I would have liked (compared to Pikmin 2)
  • Limit of freedom to make choices  

Maybe I'll go back and try again with a fresh mind; without worry of what the game's like compared to others. Maybe I'll try one of the two extra game modes, and actually enjoy them. Perhaps if I take my anxious mind off of the apparent fallacies and try the game out with curious innocence--just wanting to enjoy the simple pleasure of playing--I'll find some good in gaming experience. Perhaps I'll actually enjoy myself. Sometimes a critic's score isn't just dependent on a game's composition and objective examination. Our heart, and the issues thereof, may cause us to see things differently.  -Amoeba of Light

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