There was something wonderfully perverse about Nintendo opening their E3 conference with Pikmin 3. At an event where increasingly disturbing violence was starting to make even hardened critics uneasy, the appearance of these little carrot dudes carrying fruit around felt like a riposte to all the gore. Why should HD be all about rendering realistic flesh wounds, when you can use that extra processing power for authentically textured satsuma skins?
If Pikmin 3 felt out of step with much of E3, it almost felt like an interloper in Nintendo's own conference, as the rest of the first-party showings proved to be less core-centric than we'd hoped. But perhaps that's why it felt so important: as Miyamoto, via regular event translator Bill Trinen, would point out, it's a game being developed "with the intention of helping people understand the kind of fun deeper games can offer."
Yet while it's undoubtedly a key game for Wii U, it's not necessarily the one to best communicate its differences. This is a game, remember, that was originally planned for Wii, and it shows in the default control scheme of nunchuk and Wii RemotePlus. It's a responsive setup that allows for pinpoint Pikmin-lobbing, even letting you to target individual body parts of enemies.
Hit the eyes of a Bulborb and you'll temporarily blind it, giving you time to nip around the back and finish it off. With no second analogue stick, swarming is out, but you can shake the nunchuk to charge forward in a group. There's even a new dodge move, handled by jabbing the d-pad on the remote.
However, this time it's not Olimar doing the plucking and chucking. Miyamoto says his fate is "a secret", but we'd bet 100 Hocotate Pokos that the four playable characters are relatives or friends of the diminutive spaceman, on amission to rescue him. Yes, while in Pikmin 2 you could switch between Olimar and Louie for a bit of multitasking fun, here you have a quartet of heroes under your command. And here's where the GamePad comes in. You'll be able to check the status of all four leaders at one glance, and switch between them by touching the screen.
Or you can use the GamePad as an alternative control scheme, with the right analogue stick controlling the camera and the in-built gyro sensor used for aiming. It may sound unwieldy, but it's a surprisingly accurate setup, particularly with the camera positioned directly above the action rather than the more traditional perspective.
At the end of each in-game day, you can watch a replay of your activities on the TV screen, using the Pad to rewind , fast-forward and pause the action. In theory, this should help you manage your time better, planning ahead and seeking out alternate routes.
If all this suggests a focus closer to the tight, time-limited strategic play of the original game rather than the more relaxed, explorative approach of its more content-rich sequel, you'd be right. Miyamoto admits both ideas were considered, but that he was "most partial" to the original's approach. He believes, however, that the ability to view the entire map at once from the touchscreen, rather than being forced to venture into the unknown, should make it more accessible. So will the new campaign be a race against time akin to the 30-day limit of Pikmin? Nintendo aren't saying, but while such a setup may prove divisive, this writer hopes they're bold enough to try it again.