First of all, let’s talk about what’s definitely not happening. Pikmin 3 is definitely not a bad game. In fact, it’s a gorgeous, lovely game– a streamlined but still-sprawling composition of everything Nintendo does better than anyone else, and its first truly HD franchise effort (no, New Super Mario Bros U doesn’t count). This is a game of unabashed charm and character, but also one layered in systems and skill. Quite simply, it ain’t for Johnny Wii Sports. It’s just too complicated, too esoteric, too ‘video game’.
The elements that make Pikmin 3 great aren’t immediate. The initial buzz of the visuals or the hilarity of the little Pikmin themselves gives way to the strategy and multi-tiered puzzle solving that goes into unraveling each of its gloriously designed stages.
While not as harsh as the misguided original and its ’30 days to do everything or you’re screwed’ overarch, this is still a game that will punish the reckless and the careless, and is constantly fraught with an inherent tension. The balance of finding fruit in the world (the only thing that actually allows you to continue) against genuine progression (the only thing that gets you anywhere) never lets up. Mistakes are costly. It isn’t a kids’ game, even if it pretends to be one with every high-pitched squeak and wide-eyed wink.
It’s not going to inspire millions of people to jump out of their seats and buy a still-confusing new console, though, when there are more traditional and well-messaged next-gen beasts just on the horizon. No one game is. Not Mario Kart. Not Mario 3D World. Probably not even a gleaming new Zelda. What the Wii U needs now is not a one-hit home run, something that’s going to inspire the globe to invest. No, it needs consistency. It’s only ever needed consistency.
Despite sharing a name with Nintendo’s most successful home console, the Wii U actually has far more in common with the once-maligned 3DS. Both released with confusing, misjudged advertising, both initially appeared to have characteristics in common with their predecessors, and both are actually very different and very good machines.
What has turned the 3DS around in the public’s eye is a regular output of excellent titles – barely a month goes by now without a first-rate first or second-party game lighting up the machine and its community. It makes the 3DS feel like a hotbed for first class gaming. It has nothing to do with specs, competition or even third party support. This is all coming from Nintendo.
So, Pikmin 3 won’t be the game that changes the Wii U’s fortunes single handedly. That’s fairly obvious, even if it did spark somewhat of a spike in Japan. It might, however, act as a catalyst. More so than any other game on the machine, Pikmin 3 is indicative of Nintendo as a world-class development studio, and it’s likely to be the first game (with the potential exception of ZombiU) that makes those who don’t own a Wii U feel a little jealous.
Next month’s Wonderful 101 could be an important next step in establishing the Wii U. If Nintendo can release one game per month, or even six weeks, from now until the end of the year, its latest console will all of a sudden have a tidy selection of first-rate software to call its own. Donkey Kong, Mario 3D World, the most complete version of Rayman Legends and the gorgeous remake of Wind Waker is not a bad quartet. Couple that with a sub-£200 price point, and it might be enough to get people thinking about investing. It’ll almost certainly be enough to get them talking.
The thing is, though, we can prognosticate all day, but all that really matters in this case is the game itself. Nintendo has crafted Pikmin 3 with dutiful care and lavish attention – this is not a rush job from a company feeling threatened. Unlike some of its publishing peers, Nintendo isn’t scrambling for a quick buck. This is a long-standing company with genuine confidence; a time-tested fighter who doesn’t panic when they're down a couple of rounds. They just keep doing what they've always done, doing what has always worked.
That is what Pikmin 3 is. It’s what has always worked. It’s quality of the highest level. It’s dynamic music that changes genre depending on what’s happening on screen. It’s rain that coats everything in a sopping, glistening sheen. It’s hidden surprises, ingenious puzzles and taxing strategy perfectly blended together. It’s the type of game you bought a Wii U for. Only time will tell if anyone else will join you.