Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Switch) Review
Pikmin 3 is such a strange little game. I played it when it first launched on the Wii U, and didn’t enjoy it all that much at the time but I found the Switch’s Deluxe version much more enjoyable. Ultimately, it hasn’t changed much in that time — it looks more or less the same, plays more or less the same, and is fairly light on new additions. But the few quality of life additions that have made it in, along with a little extra content here and there, have made the experience undoubtedly better. Despite that, the game’s (and the series’) underlying problems are still there, and they’re not easy to ignore.
But let’s start, as always, at the beginning. Pikmin 3 tells the story of three intrepid explorers from the planet Koppai — Alph, Brittany, and Charlie — who journey to the mysterious planet PNF-404 in an attempt to discover and retrieve a sustainable food source for their home planet. Upon entering the planet’s atmosphere, their ship is enigmatically pulled off course, throwing its inhabitants out of the ship to crash, separately, onto the familiar plant-creature-populated planet below.
What follows has you taking control of Alph, Brittany, and Charlie as they find their way to each other, find fruit to juice and bring back home, and ultimately get their hands on the Cosmic Warp Key, allowing them to leave PNF-404 once and for all. Along the way they’ll come across a few familiar faces here and there — you know who I’m talking about — but in all honesty, it feels like Pikmin 3 is a little bit light on story. Once you’ve gathered up your three explorers, there’s very little actual story beyond the general desire to collect fruit and take them home. It’s a little underwhelming, and very much on the shorter side compared to some other Nintendo games, clocking in at around 10-12 hours from start to finish. I do wish there’d been a little more substance here, with stakes a little higher and twists and turns to throw the player for a loop. The most exciting things to happen in the story are cameos from games past, and sometimes that’s just not enough — especially if you’re coming into Pikmin 3 Deluxe as a newcomer. Pikmin 3’s narrative is not particularly captivating to me, it’s not a compelling reason to move forward, it’s mostly just kind of… there.
For those that are interested in Pikmin 3’s story, however, the Deluxe port adds a little bit extra in the form of its new Side Stories. These missions tell the tale of past protagonists Olimar and Louie, and shows us what these veteran explorers get up to during main game’s timeline. These start slow, acting much the same as the main story’s earlier missions, but quickly ramp up into some of the more interesting scenarios in the game. Not from a story perspective of course, there’s really not much more to it in that respect, but from a gameplay perspective these side stories hit some really satisfying notes.
Speaking of gameplay, Pikmin 3 sits pretty firmly in the middle of the road here, as well — though it’s made much better in Deluxe, thanks to nicely refined controls and some small quality of life fixes sprinkled throughout the game. It’s absolutely the best way to play any Pikmin game, but that’s kind of where I come to a sharp point with Pikmin 3 Deluxe. To put it frankly, I just don’t think Pikmin games as a whole are very… good? Okay, that’s probably a little bit harsh, but hear me out.
What I love most about Pikmin is its environmental puzzles. They make up the bulk of your gameplay time, and they can be really challenging and interesting. Not always, but sometimes, at least. But the series’ — and in particular, Pikmin 3’s — combat is pretty sub-par. You rarely, if ever, feel like you’re actually in control of the situation, and you’re almost always fighting against the game itself more than the creatures you and your Pikmin are up against, particularly in boss battles. And that, I feel, is the Pikmin series’ biggest problem: its inability to commit to either puzzling or action leaves both feeling a little underdeveloped. That’s not to say any of the games are bad, least of all Pikmin 3 Deluxe, but I’ve no doubt they could be even better by choosing to focus in on the aspects that makes Pikmin, Pikmin, and cutting or refining things that don’t quite work. Like combat.
I feel bad being so negative towards Pikmin, because despite the bad things I have to say about it, it is such a fantastically charming series. Pikmin 3 Deluxe showcases this wonderfully, its art style a picturesque depiction of a miniaturised view of Earth, its characters packed with charm and lovability. The Piklopedia — a new feature in the Deluxe port and returning from Pikmin 2 — is filled with the adorable musings of the game’s explorers attempting to explain the intricacies (and in some cases, edibility) of enemies encountered in the world. Each and every Pikmin type has its own unique quirks, and all of them are cute as heck — from the ever-reliable Red, Yellow, and Blue Pikmin, to the newly-introduced (to 3, not to Deluxe) Rock and Flying Pikmin. It is a touch disappointing that Pikmin 2’s Purple and White Pikmin are relegated to the game’s side modes, but given the story mode already features 5 different types, and even managing just those can be overwhelming, it’s a completely understandable decision.
As for Pikmin 3 Deluxe’s new, Switch-exclusive content, there’s really not too much to talk about. The main addition here is a splitscreen couch co-op for the game’s entire story mode, which is a very welcome option that works reasonably well. As mentioned in my preview for the game, there are some sections where the narrow screen size can make seeing some vital objectives a little more difficult. Other than that, it’s possible, and even enjoyable, to play through the whole game with a friend or family member. This isn’t some Mario Odyssey-style Cappy mode either, player 2 can do absolutely anything and everything player 1 can. Deluxe also includes all of the Wii U version’s Mission Mode DLC, and new difficulty modes: Hard, and Ultra Spicy, the latter of which is unlocked by clearing the game on Hard (or transferring data from the game’s demo). Full disclosure, I haven’t had time to do a full run through of the game on a harder difficulty yet. That said, I did test out both Hard and Ultra-Spicy and they both seem to deliver on their promise, with stronger enemies and shorter days really providing a huge challenge.
There’s also a few smaller additions, like a new achievement system called Badges, which rewards you for completing particular tasks, like defeating a specific number of certain enemies, or collecting certain varieties of fruit. This doesn’t add too much to the game (and I can’t show them off), but it gives you cute little sew-on patches to work towards. They don’t do anything, but hey, it’s something to do. Aside from that, there’s little to write home about. Minor changes here and there, but nothing worth double-dipping for, in all honestly. If you were hoping for new Mission Mode missions or anything substantial, you’ll be disappointed — this is simply the best way to play Pikmin 3, little more and nothing less.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe, as a port, is excellent. It’s refined, adjusted, and perfected to the best degree it could be. As a game, Pikmin 3 leaves a little more to be desired; its combat could use a lot of work, and its puzzling elements (while good) could be improved somewhat too. But where it lacks in decisive game design, it makes up for in spades and spades of unbridled charm. It’s a strong base for what could be a wonderful Pikmin 4… maybe some day.
+ Wonderfully refined controls
+ Packed with tonnes of charm
+ Co-op story mode is a blast
- Combat could do with some work
- Not much in the way of new stuff
- Story a little bit too flat