Keepin’ It 100: The ‘Pikmin 3 Deluxe’ Review

Charming & chill, or intense & hectic — your choice.

Yo! Welcome to Keepin' It 100, the series that takes a completely honest and comprehensive deep dive into games. It’s hard to spend what little free time you may have during the week on trying to 100% a game, so why not chill and find some random dude on the internet who wrote about it instead? Today we’ll be discussing one of the best titles to come out of Nintendo in 2020: Pikmin 3 Deluxe.

All screenshots courtesy of Nintendo.

The joy in a real-time strategy game comes from the satisfaction of delegating tasks to different units across an expansive map that are all working towards a shared goal, but only Pikmin can make you care enough about those units to shed a tear when you lose one to a rampaging Bulborb (rest easy Red #2157, taken too soon). There was a moment while playing Pikmin 3 Deluxe, the updated Nintendo Switch version of 2013’s Pikmin 3 , when the game’s RTS systems began to click for me. The sun was crawling across the top of the HUD — the mechanic by which the game establishes your time limit for the day — and I was spreading the game’s three protagonists across the map, making sure each character was being efficient (and safe) at all times. Brittany would collect bridge pieces, Charlie would hang around the Onion to swap out Pikmin types as needed, and Alph would go find the next piece of juicy fruit. Splitting all three of the captains into individual squads proved to be the deciding factor behind whether or not I was able to effectively collect enough fruit and data files to keep a steady pace as I completed each day. It’s important to note that the game never requires this level of commitment out of the player in order to progress ; one could follow the very conspicuous signals (waypoints) broadcasted on the map all the way to the campaign’s finale and still leave with a satisfying experience.

It’s this dynamic complexity that elevates the experience in a satisfying way, making sure you get as much out of the game as you put in. The game finishes once you (7-year-old spoiler warning) save Captain Olimar from the shapeshifting monster straight outta Earthbound, but the number of days it takes you to do that is completely dependent on how much time you spend exploring and/or gathering fruit. You can take the world in at your own pace, giving the game’s five distinct environments an opportunity to immerse you in their beauty. While there aren’t any crazy visual upgrades from the original Pikmin 3, the game looked so good already that not much needed to change for Pikmin 3 Deluxe to look as great as it does. Where most collect-a-thon games would start to feel repetitive and flat, the world of PNF-404 is able to maintain a sense of wonder and ambiance that manages to leave you satisfied at the end of each day.

While PNF-404 can be a magical place and feel peaceful to explore, it can also be unforgiving and cruel, depending on which of the game’s three difficulty levels you choose: Normal, Hard, or Ultra-Spicy. You’ll earn a different badge for each difficulty setting you complete the game at, but you can automatically earn all 3 badges at once if you play through Ultra-Spicy difficulty from the jump. That’s no easy ask though, Ultra-Spicy is where your multi-tasking skills will be put to the test. You’ll have a mere 13 minutes in a day (as oppose to the 18 minutes on Normal difficulty), be limited to 60 Pikmin on the field (instead of the usual 100), and if that wasn’t enough you also have to deal with fruits yielding less juice. Ultra-Spicy is a test of how well you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each Pikmin type, and how well you can move those different Pikmin around in three separate teams to find enough fruit juice to survive another day. Mastering this multi-tasking approach is key to hoarding plenty of fruit juice early on and earning one the most time-consuming badges: ‘Efficiency Expert’.

These badges are a new addition to the Pikmin series and act as the game’s form of achievements. Gotta love a good achievement system. There’s a healthy mix of difficult and simple badges to collect, each with a straightforward description that provides you with just enough direction without holding your hand. Earning more badges increases your badge rank and completion percentage, each badge category with 100% completion gets this dope little crown that just feels good to look at. But when that small dopamine hit wears off you realize you didn’t really earn much for your trouble. Each of the badges have reasonable completion criteria and don’t drag down the experience, providing a satisfying avenue for engagement with the rest of the modes once you’re done with the main campaign.

There are four distinct modes in Pikmin 3 Deluxe: Story, Mission, Side Stories, and Bingo Battle. Story mode takes you through the main campaign where three explorers try to escape a planet they’ve crash landed on while trying to bring back sustainable sources of food to save their own planet from famine. The writing is enjoyable, the visuals are beautiful, the soundtrack sets the vibe in a satisfying way, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Mission mode asks you to complete specific objectives as fast as you can, which can get pretty challenging, especially if you’re going for those Platinum ranks. The three sub-modes within this category are: Collect Treasure, Battle Enemies, and Defeat Bosses. Each of these isolates a particular aspect of the gameplay and breathes fresh air into the treasure collecting and fighting you’ve been doing for the entire main campaign thus far. It feels good to not have to worry about the sunset, or where your next juice canister is coming from, and instead just focus on hunting some baddies. It’s therapeutic, honestly. If you want to collect enough treasure you’ll need to make sure you’re able to efficiently spread out your captains and Pikmin; trying to take out as many enemies as fast as possible requires you to understand the different enemy behavior patterns and how each Pikmin type interacts with them; defeating bosses quickly and efficiently is all about pattern recognition and good camera movement. Controlling the camera might seem a bit mundane but each boss fight in the campaign takes place inside an enclosed circular ring, challenging your ability to juggle different Pikmin types while keeping your bearings and staying just beyond the boss’ reach. One wrong move and you can lose a large chunk of your Pikmin. Bad parenting if you ask me. Each boss fight is incredibly unique, challenging, and highlight the game’s satisfying combat system.

Side Stories are a highlight of the game’s new additions, taking you through well-crafted missions where you play as Captain Olimar and his inattentive partner Louie (the protagonists of Pikmin and Pikmin 2). This mode is divided into two separate campaigns, one that takes place before the start of Pikmin 3 Deluxe’s main story and one that picks up immediately following the end credits. While both campaigns take you through the same areas you’ve been to in the main story, they’ve been restructured with the help of a few immovable barriers to limit the square footage. The smaller space and time limit keep this experience from feeling too similar, and actually feels like an enjoyable half-sequel (big Lion King 1.5 energy).

Bingo Battle is an enjoyable party game built for two, but is limited by the need to have both players on the same system. The vertical split screen makes it hard at times to fully make out what’s going on, especially as you get further into the matches and the intensity spikes. I’ll admit that my experience would have been better if I had a bigger television screen, but alas, it ain’t in the budget. All twelve of the unique maps are well-designed and signpost where most points of interest are, the color glow around Pikmin’s heads also help you identify where you’re at in all of the action. While the games usually start off peaceful enough, you quickly learn that both players share the same physical map — meaning you’re competing for shared resources. So if you’re one Strawberry away from victory but your opponent manages to grab it first and return it to their Onion, you have to pivot and start working on a completely different row of your bingo card. It’s the same level of couch co-op madness I miss from the old days, so while I had some trouble discerning my characters from my opponent’s as we threw hoards of Pikmin to fight over the same Persimmon, I was enjoying myself the entire time.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe is extremely fun and provides enough distinct experiences for just about any player to enjoy. The story campaign is a great introduction to the game’s core mechanics and serves as a primer for perfect Mission runs and intense multiplayer fun if you choose to dive into some of the extra modes. Just remember to get everyone back to the Onion before sundown when any stray Pikmin you leave behind will be mercilessly eaten before your eyes. Trust me, it’s not pretty.

SCORE: 9/10

Ramblings of a dude who reads good comic books & plays even better video games.