Hard to pigeonhole, easy to enjoy
Getting paid to play video games is a pretty sweet gig. Free games landing on my desk every week never gets old and my long-suffering wife is incredibly understanding when I hole myself up in the mancave for hours on end with the excuse of "homework". So far be it from me to grumble about the hard life of a game reviewer.
However, it's not without its challenges. One of the most difficult parts of writing these reviews is getting the message across. Explaining exactly what a game is about, especially to a general audience who might have never picked up a controller before, can be a pretty tall order at times.
Sometimes it's fairly straightforward, for a lot of games fit neatly into one of the rigidly defined pigeonholes that have made up the framework of the game industry for decades. Win the race, shoot the aliens, rescue the princess - not exactly the most difficult concepts to grasp.
Then you get a game like Pikmin 3, a game so quirky and distinctive that it is almost impossible to accurately describe what it's all about to someone who hasn't played one of the previous games in the series.
It stubbornly defies categorisation and doesn't really fit into any of the aforementioned pigeonholes. It's not jumpy enough to be a platformer, not quite tactical enough to be a strategy game and lacks the pace to be described as all-out action.
Usually you'd get around this problem by comparing it to similar games, but the usual "it's like X meets Y" comparisons don't really cut it when it's so unlike anything else on the market.
As you may have guessed by the number in the title, Pikmin 3 is the third instalment of a popular franchise launched on the Gamecube in 2001, continued on the Wii eight years later and now making its long-awaited HD debut on the Wii U. For want of a better explanation, it's an exploration-based, squad-management game - not the most succinct description, I know, but bear with me.
After crash-landing on a strange, alien planet, you emerge from the wreckage of your ship and find yourself surrounded by tiny, brightly coloured creatures called Pikmin.
The little fellas follow you around like lost puppies, seemingly only too willing to obey your every command as you fling them about and order them to gather resources, attack the less friendly inhabitants of the planet Koppai and help you locate the space junk that will allow you to return to your home world.
Different-coloured Pikmin have different abilities. Some are fierce fighters, others can access hard-to-reach areas and each has their own strengths and weaknesses.
Learning how to properly manage your team's talents and using the right Pikmin for the job is the key to success, and deciding when to sacrifice the few for the sake of the many is vital.
Like all the best Wii U games, Pikmin 3 makes the most of the console's unique tablet controller - displaying an interactive map of each area on the touchscreen and flashing through video messages from other members of your team, leaving your TV free to display the action.
It's possible to play the game on the gamepad alone, but by far the best control option is the wii-mote and nunchuck option.
If you've got an old Wii controller gathering dust somewhere, this is the ideal game to bring it out of retirement.
It gives you a level of precise control unavailable on the chunky gamepad. Using the pointer to direct your minions, means you can focus on more important matters than cursor placement.
Pikmin 3 is full of the charm, simplicity and focus on fun that are the hallmarks of all the great Nintendo games. The influence of the godfather of gaming, Shigeru Miyamoto, is clear to see.
As well as being visually stunning, it's a triumph of efficient design, with no pixel going to waste and every inch of the planet encouraging exploration and creative expression.
Although it is one of, if not the best game on the Wii U, it's not perfect and falls just short of instant classic status.
As well as being a little on the brief side, it's incredibly draining at times. All that multi-tasking and time management means that it's best enjoyed in short bursts, and preferably not at the end of a long day.
Pikmin 3 might not be the "killer app" that will make gamers rush out get Wii U just to play it (we'll probably have to wait for a new Mario or Zelda game for that), but if you already own the console, this is an absolute must-buy.
- Pikmin 3 (Wii U). Nintendo $88.
- © Fairfax NZ News