Like a group of space explorers is search of a hospitable new planet, Pikmin 3 is the latest in a long line of charming Wii U gems to land on the more fertile ground of a suped-up Switch port, and goodness gracious does it deserve it. Already a fantastic mix of adorable real-time strategy and tricky spatial puzzles, Pikmin 3 Deluxe makes the original even better with some enjoyable content additions and boatload of impactful quality-of-life improvements. The only problem now is that I’m nearly out of reasons to keep my Wii U at all.
For those who didn’t play it in 2013, Pikmin 3 sends three intrepid explorers hurtling toward the surface of an alien planet in search of fruit to feed their homeworld. There they have to befriend, grow, and command the lovable little creatures that can help them repair their ship and collect enough fruit juice to stay alive while they do it. It’s simultaneously cute and intense as you race both your own juice supply and a sun timer to efficiently multitask and accomplish as much as you can each day, slowly opening more areas up as you unlock new types of these adorable and handy pikmin. Here’s what we said about Pikmin 3 in our original review:
“Pikmin 3 is a delight. There’s nothing else like its gentle combination of exploration, strategy, and discovery, and it made me feel both empathy and responsibility for virtual creatures that most games would treat as disposable fodder. It transported me like few other games can, giving the feeling of being a stranger in a strange (but oddly familiar) world. It’s over too soon, but it leaves a lasting impression.” – Keza MacDonald, July 22, 2013
I agree with just about every word of that in 2020, and Pikmin 3 Deluxe proves just how well all of those strengths hold up. (I urge you to read that review in its entirety to get a full picture of what makes Pikmin 3 so great, since this review will focus largely on the Deluxe changes.)
Pikmin 3 Deluxe Screenshots
Strategically juggling control of three different leaders still makes this my favorite entry in the series (even if I do love the timer-free dungeons of Pikmin 2 dearly) and the fact that the entire campaign can now be played in split-screen co-op is a wonderful fix to a notable disappointment of the original. And while there aren’t really any noticeable visual improvements here – apart from the fruit juice not killing the framerate every time it flows – its cartoony style means everything still looks great nearly a decade later, even if it’s a little jagged around the edges.
One big addition is the inclusion of three difficulty modes: Normal, Hard, and Ultra-Spicy – though these labels are a bit misleading. “Hard” is actually pretty much the original game, while Normal makes tweaks like significantly extending the length of a day and lowering the health of enemies. That caught me off guard as a returning player (especially since Pikmin 3 already felt like the easiest game in the series), but having an option for those who dislike the time crunch is nice all the same. Ultra-Spicy, on the other hand, lowers the number of pikmin you can have in the field from 100 to 60 and cuts the juice you get from fruit in half. It’s certainly a trickier puzzle to multitask with a smaller party, even if it’s not necessarily a more interesting or exciting one.
But the largest departure, as with all of these “Deluxe” ports, is the amputation of the Wii U Gamepad’s second screen. Thankfully, Pikmin 3 Deluxe works so well without it that I doubt new players will even be able to tell something’s not as it was originally intended to be. The only thing I missed is that pulling up the 2D map takes over your only screen, which means the camera will no longer fly over wherever you’re looking for a 3D peek, but that’s no great loss. And while I was one of the weirdos who preferred playing with the stylus and touch screen, Deluxe has lots of different control options to pick from in its absence.
Frankly, the Pikmin series has now appeared on four separate consoles (we don’t talk about Hey! Pikmin) and it’s been a little tough to control on all of them. With Deluxe, you can choose to use the control stick to move your pointer directly, use Wii Remote-style gyro controls for freer aiming, or even a hybrid version where you primarily use the stick but then fine-tune your aim with the gyro, similar to Link’s bow in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I ended up spending most of my time using full gyro aiming with a Pro Controller, which worked great for the most part even if I did have to “recenter” the pointer pretty frequently (that’s bound to the right bumper, which at least makes it a snap to do).
But no matter which control option you pick, Pikmin 3 Deluxe will be easier to handle than the original thanks to a mountain of tweaks and quality-of-life adjustments. The most noticeable is the improved lock-on that makes maneuvering during combat a breeze, but the most exciting changes are much subtler than that. Things like how whistling quickly won’t immediately make a working pikmin stop what it’s doing, allowing you to safely gather nearby idle ones; like how pikmin will more intuitively group up with a nearby leader; like how the Charge command now only sends the type of pikmin you have selected at the time instead of the full group, or how Disbanding will keep just that color in your party, letting you manage your squad faster and take down enemies with elemental effects like fire or electricity more easily. Impactful changes like these are all over Pikmin 3 Deluxe, and it’s an extra step that makes every aspect of playing it less frustrating than any Pikmin has ever been.
It’s not just better – there’s also more to play here. Pikmin 3’s existing DLC comes bundled in like with most of these Deluxe ports, but there are also brand new Side Story missions that act as a prologue and epilogue to the campaign, remixing small sections of its existing levels – occasionally to the point where they are almost unrecognizable due to the addition of new walls or even all the water being drained away from a previously flooded landscape. These missions give you control of Olimar and Louie and feel a bit like more involved versions of the optional treasure missions already in the base game rather than an extensive add-on to the campaign itself.
Each one has a little bit of story flavor to set the stage and then a specific objective to complete on a short timer. Those brief tales are cute little cutscenes for the missions in the shorter “Olimar’s Assignment” Side Story, but I was sad to see they turned into solely text-based intros for the longer secondary one (which unlocks after you beat the campaign and Nintendo has asked us not to talk specifics about). But even with the thinner setups, these missions do a good job of offering more than the Mission mode does thanks to their clever objectives, like having to escort an object across a map or splitting Olimar and Louie up for the entire level. They aren’t super challenging – on the whole they’re easier than the included treasure missions – but they still provide a satisfying hit of fresh Pikmin cleverness and charm while we eternally wait for Pikmin 4.
Beyond that, there are a surprising number of other little added delights scattered throughout. Pikmin 2’s Piklopedia has made an unexpected return, letting you take a closer look at all the creatures you murder and mercilessly convert into seeds. A surprisingly extensive Badge system has also been introduced, with Badges given basically as in-game achievements to reward you for actions like collecting a certain amount of fruit or doing well in missions and Side Stories. Badges will even increase an arbitrary ranking as you earn more of them, if you’re looking for some Pikmin-based bragging rights. They are a neat addition, if a small one.