August 12, 2013

Pikmin 3

I have played the first two Pikmin games multiple times. They are outstanding, and if you ever have the urge to try them out, I encourage you to do so. The second expanded from the first (by a lot), but sometimes it felt like there were ideas all over the place, fighting one another instead of meshing together. It was like a test run for something down the road. That something is Pikmin 3.

The game is excellent. There are three modes: Story, Mission, and Bingo Battle. Each will get separate coverage.

Story Mode:

The story is pretty predictable. A planet is running out of food, so three inhabitants go to find more to bring back. They crash on the way down, encounter the Pikmin, and utilize their help to recover food. It all happens to be fruit. Gathering the fruit gives you juice, which sustains you for as long as you have it, which re-introduces the urgent time factor to the series (hooray!). The gameplay mechanics are slightly different than Pikmin 2. Instead of two crew members to control, you now have three. While it seems daunting at first, the game introduces them one at a time, so you feel comfortable for when the next one comes on board. Crew members are also able to perform certain functions without the player actually watching them. To say the multitasking element has taken a step up is a huge understatement. I have stopped time and time again to marvel at how much is going on at once, all seamlessly. It's like the most effective anthill ever.

In glorious high definition. The whole game is beautiful to look at.

The Purple and White Pikmin are gone (in this mode), and are replaced with Rock Pikmin and Pink Pikmin. Rock Pikmin are made of rock, and can be thrown to damage enemies or knock down sturdy walls that other Pikmin cannot. They do increased damage, but can't latch on to things. Pink Pikmin can fly, which means they can carry things back to the Onion/Ship without having to navigate winding paths, avoid water, etc. The ever-reliable Red, Yellow, and Blue are also present. The Rock and Pink are cleverly introduced early on, so you are forced to learn to use them effectively. In Pikmin 2, it is possible to pretty much discard the Purple and White, and only use them for very specific occasions. I'm glad it wasn't really the case with Pikmin 3. The whole gameplay experience has been refined to an almost insane degree.

The biggest differences, curiously, are the small things. The first two games had very similar mechanics, and not much changed in terms of control and action/reaction. However, there were many things I wished Pikmin 2 would have fixed, and I thought that Nintendo (smart people that they are) would have realized this. If you've played either 1 or 2, you know what I'm talking about. Here are some examples:

  • Your Pikmin stupidly walk off a narrow path into the water below and drown
  • You start throwing the wrong color because you're just mashing "A" to throw as many as you can, and the color you didn't want to throw start to get thrown. Hopefully it's not a bomb rock-holding Yellow
  • You're heading for a big battle, but your huge group of Pikmin fall off a ledge on the way and you have to double back to go retrieve them
  • You manually select "End This Day," only to realize a split second later that you left 40+ Pikmin out in the field, so they all die

There are many, many more. Alone, one of these irritants doesn't cause much trouble. But when they're all stacked on top of one another, it gets to be pretty annoying. You're distracted from playing the game because you're simultaneously trying to play a secondary game. It's called "do little things you shouldn't have to in order to make your dumb Pikmin not die or get lost."

Pikmin 3 fixes nearly all of these inconveniences in one fell swoop, as well as adding small improvements along the way. I couldn't help but grin in my first few hours of playing, because the fixes were so blatantly obvious. You know Nintendo really thought in-depth about how to truly make the gameplay flow. I was disappointed that Pikmin 3 didn't come out as early as was planned, but I know that if it did, many of these things would not be fixed, so I was happy to wait.

Hey, look! A narrow path with RAISED SIDES!

Here's a list of things I noticed, most of them immediately:

  • All narrow paths and bridges (with water underneath or not) have raised sides, so Pikmin can't fall down by mistake
  • Pikmin all come out of one Onion, meaning you can set up your squad all at one time instead of walking to multiple Onions every day
  • The Hot Springs launch the Pikmin as well as the player character
  • The "Go Here" function allows one crew member to take their squad to a location while you're working with another crew member somewhere else
  • Nectar lasts for a set number of Pikmin, instead of one wasting it by mistake
  • You can push "A" once and pluck all Pikmin in the vicinity
  • When you're throwing Pikmin, they don't have to clumsily cycle through a line. They get thrown instantaneously, and a counter marks how many you have left of each color
  • The speed at which the Pikmin exit the Onion is much faster, and they do it in a group, not a few at a time
  • The Onion provides a circle that the Pikmin will be "safe" in at the end of the day, so if they transported something, they'll go inside at nightfall
  • You can find a suit upgrade that allows you and your squad to basically kung fu flip to the left or right, making dodging fast/large enemies a breeze
  • You can switch which Pikmin you'll throw before you actually throw. You don't have to try and switch while you're already holding a button down
  • Pikmin follow you in a long column, not as a mass group circle
  • There is a cursor lock-on, which allows your Pikmin to mass attack all at once if you choose, as opposed to trying to manipulate the C-Stick to make them attack as a group (usually resulting in half of them dying without even realizing they're supposed to engage the enemy)
  • The "End of Day" warning shows you how many Pikmin are still idle or working in the field
  • Any Pikmin can carry a bomb rock
  • The cursor is able to lock on to objects and enemies, and highlights said objects even when not locked on, eliminating weird perspective issues when trying to throw Pikmin
  • If you choose to manually select "End This Day", the game will notify you that you have Pikmin in the field that will perish, and ask if you are sure

If you look at them all together like that, it really shows how big of a difference it makes overall. It's the little things that count, and Miyamoto is no stranger when it comes to attention to detail. I cannot commend him enough for making sure that the game was as good as it could be.

The ideal control scheme is Wii Remote + Nunchuk + GamePad, which sounds weird at first, but works out really well. You control everybody with the Wii Remote + Nunchuk, and the GamePad displays your map. You can scroll around the map from a bird's-eye view to scope for enemies, fruit, and obstacles. Since the stages are so large, pre-planning is especially important. As stated earlier, you can tell a crew member and their squad to go to a certain location and await further orders, while you are actually controlling a different crew member. Some areas require you to throw a fellow crew member up onto a ledge, kind of a leapfrog effect. None of the strategy element has been lost in this third installment.

The GamePad also has many other functions. You can use it to view how many Pikmin are in squads, working, or idle. You can also locate them on the overhead map. You can check enemy and fruit information, as well as informational logs by the crew. A nice feature is the ability to snap pictures at any given moment. You pick up the GamePad, and the view goes first-person, so you can really see how gigantic everything looks to a crew member. You can upload snapshots directly to Miiverse with captions as well. Naturally, Miiverse is exploding with posts. I really think Miiverse has so much untapped potential, and I just know that Nintendo can figure it out in the end. Fingers crossed.

You are also able to play with the GamePad alone, or even the Pro Controller. I feel that so much would be lost with both of these setups. Using a standard controller setup for Pikmin is archaic and just awful compared to the Wii Remote. I played Pikmin and Pikmin 2 on both the GameCube and Wii, and can confirm that the Wii Remote-controlled version is far superior. Even the Non-Wii MotionPlus Remote works for Pikmin 3! No reason not to use it.

The story itself is unexpectedly short. I played through casually in 30 game days. Going back to find all the fruit using all Pikmin colors will not take much longer. It was definitely longer than the first Pikmin, but far shorter than Pikmin 2. Though I did find Pikmin 2 to be way too drawn out and needlessly repetitive, so I think Pikmin 3 is a great length.

Mission Mode:

You have three options in Mission Mode: Collect Treasure, Fight Enemies, and Battle Bosses. Each is self explanatory. I found the Mission Mode challenges to be way more strategic and have a higher difficulty level, solely from the fact that you have a short-ass time limit. There's no time for exploration, it's all business. Utilizing all your crew members to constantly work is vital. My brother walked by and noted how insanely efficient all the Pikmin were working, and how I looked like I was under a tight deadline multi-managing the whole thing. Both observations were true.

You get a medal for how many enemies you defeat/treasures you collect/etc. The elusive platinum is only obtainable by defeating every single enemy or collecting every piece of treasure. Needless to say, it comes down to those last thirty seconds, when you're screaming at your Pikmin to get that last damn strawberry to the ship, or running frantically around to find that last stupid-ass butterfly that you forgot to kill with one measly Pikmin.

The difficulty also means that you usually need to play each area at least twice to learn how to maximize time efficiency. You can obtain a medal for both solo and co-op play. This is where the co-op play really shines. Two players cannot just do their own thing. You're playing between three crew members, meaning when you switch characters, you might be controlling the one your partner just left. It really takes a lot of teamwork and communication to get those co-op medals. There are five areas for collecting treasure, five areas for battling enemies, and six bosses to fight.

Some look dumber than others.

Purple and White Pikmin also make a reappearance in the Mission and Bingo Battle Modes.

Bingo Battle:

The mode Miyamoto was pushing from the beginning, Bingo Battle is very entertaining and fun. You have a 4x4 card, each square filled with an enemy or object. If you bring back the object to your ship, it gets crossed off the list. Form a line, and you win. Simple, right? Actually not, since you're battling against another player, who also has a card. It isn't the same as yours, but they can still pick up your items to prevent you from completing a line. Strategy plays a big part in this mode. Do you wait until your opponent kills an enemy and then rush in and steal the kill? Do you leave them to do their own thing and try to win on your own? Do you have your Pikmin kill your opponent's Pikmin to prevent them from creating a sizable force? Depending on the stage and objects you need, one strategy will not work all the time. Flexibility is a must. Different events happen on different stages as well, especially when someone is close to completing a line. There are 20+ Bingo Battle stages too, all with their different strategic elements (e.g. water), so it doesn't get old.

Good vs. Bad:

Many of the improvements or positive changes were already pointed out. However, no game is perfect, and there were a few things I did not like, or felt like they could be better:

  • You lose a lot of camera freedom. Your only camera action is to re-center the camera behind your character. No more zooming in/out or changing perspective
  • The enemy variety, which was one of my favorite parts of Pikmin 2, is pretty much gone. The quantity of enemies is much less as well. For the stages being so large, I wanted more threats. The Piklopedia was such a huge plus, and I was sad that it was also discarded in this installment
  • After building a bridge, instead of waiting on the completed bridge, Pikmin walk back to where they got the fragments and wait. It could potentially be very far away from the completed bridge
  • The last stage was messy and felt thrown together. For as gorgeous and well-planned the other four locations felt, the fifth was not up to scratch. The fact that it was so linear made it feel very out of place
  • The last boss fight felt like there was no strategy. It was pretty much reduced to "throw a crap-ton of Pikmin without thinking about it," whereas previous boss battles took a little more strategy and felt less disorganized
  • There weren't as many bosses, which again took away some of the, "How am I going to beat this thing?"
  • In Pikmin 2, I felt the Purple and White Pikmin were more of a gimmick. The Rock Pikmin thankfully avoided this classification. But I felt that they could have done more to really make me feel like the Pink ones were more useful than just, "They can fly."
  • Although there are some suit upgrades, I really missed having the "blowing the whistle makes Pikmin sprouts pop up" from Pikmin 2
  • Some would say they miss the underground segments, but I don't. It would mean that Purple and White Pikmin would have to be there, and I think seven colors would be too much. Those underground segments dragged on after a while too
  • Yes, I wish I could have played it in March instead of August, but I know that it wouldn't be as polished, so I'm grateful


Overall, it's a damn good game. And even though it's falling in the standings, I think once the Wii U's software library bulks up, it's going to be something more and more people discover and enjoy. It's definitely strategic, and you're going to have to think it you want to survive and recover everything, not to mention play any of the multiplayer modes. The challenge factor is perfectly balanced.

Absolutely worth it.

Special When Lit

Worth it.

Special When Lit is a documentary about the pinball phenomenon. Being a pinball enthusiast myself, it was a great look into the industry from the inside.

It covers the origins of the game in the late 1700s all the way to modern day, often with interviews and footage of key people involved. Designers, top players, collectors, pinball arcade owners, programmers, and other notables have a lot to say about their experiences over the course of many decades.

It's very cool that designers of some of the most famous tables give some of their time to just talk about what it was like back in the day, the feelings they would have seeing a table complete, and their process for designing something from scratch. The interviews from players were also interesting, and most of them talk about how it's mentally and physically exhausting, and how it truly is a game of skill. Although some of these people are very old, many of them still congregate at expos and large tournaments.

I've watched some arcade game documentaries, and was afraid Special When Lit would fall into focusing too much on the eccentrics. Thankfully, it didn't. Those people make up a tiny part of the whole documentary. Not to say there aren't some strange people out there, but to try and lump all players into that stereotype of the "pinball-playing weirdo nerds" is stupid, and I'm glad this film avoided doing so.

I was also afraid that Stern would get most of the coverage. Stern Pinball is presently the only company still making pinball machines, and I didn't want the whole film to turn into a giant commercial for them. Luckily it didn't. It covered the company, what they do, and moved on. I feel most of Stern's tables lack the magic and intricacy of previous decades. Not having any competition is an easy way to become lazy, and at times I think that's what happens. It's also kind of lame how nearly all Stern tables are made to promote current movies (of the time). Transformers, Avengers, Avatar, Iron Man, Shrek, Lord of the Rings, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Terminator 3 are just a few. Very few of their tables (and none of which are currently in production) are original or non-Hollywood promotional games. I understand that they have to make money, it just sucks overall.

It was cool, though, getting an inside look at the factory, and seeing that all tables are put together assembly style, and by hand at that. One person does their tiny thing and passes it on to the next person, and on and on. Bally, Williams, Gottlieb, Midway, and others got just as much (if not more) coverage than Stern, which I feel is appropriate, because all of the legends worked for those companies, and they really paved the way for the future of the game.

Tournaments also get a decent amount of coverage. It's great to watch super-skilled players actually play, as well as hear what they think about, how they get into the zone, and how it's a transcendental experience for them. Yes, some of them have weird habits when they play, but I think since they're the greatest players in the world, there's no problem with that. I like that the focus of the whole film isn't building up to a single tournament, because people would say, "Well, I don't really care about pinball, so why would I care about a tournament of wackos that play?" The focus is on the people creating, playing, and with highly informative inside knowledge of the game itself.

I enjoy pinball a lot, and really lucked out in having gone through my childhood right at the resurgence in the early 90s. My fondest memories are with the digital age machines, such as The Addams Family, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Twilight Zone, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Super Mario Bros., and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Being a kid, I didn't really appreciate or know the history of the game. I was also only able to play when my parents and I would go somewhere that happened to have a machine or two. I also didn't realize as a kid that the game as I knew it went back to the 1950s.

Although pinball is still around, it's definitely something you'll have to take time to find as opposed to walking into various businesses and them all having tables at the ready. The history of the game and the scope it had is immense. It is a huge part of our culture.

It was interesting to note how bitter some of the interviewees seemed towards video games, since they totally stole the thunder of pinball. They are also resentful of console gaming, and there's a smug sense of satisfaction present when they're talking about the crash of 1983. Video games "just couldn't stand up on their own, but pinball is forever." The documentary avoids talking about the Nintendo revival or anything past that, however.

Still, I can't really compare the two because they're so different. I love having a pinball machine in front of me. To have that huge mechanical machine, blanketed with lights, roaring with music and sound, begging you to challenge it, there's nothing else like it. Special When Lit is definitely worth watching.