Nintendo kicked off their press conference this year with the first glimpse at Pikmin 3. The long-awaited third iteration of the Pikmin series is finally en route to the Wii U, much to the delight of fans who have been waiting years for the foliage-filled follow-up. The Big N has a lot riding on Pikmin 3 to move consoles later this year, and I’m relieved to report that it’s easily a stand-out title on the system.

As the demo booted up, I was able to get my first glimpse at how Pikmin 3 looked running on the Wii’s succesor — while simultaneously spotting an unannounced pink flying Pikmin type. The visuals are at least on-par with many of the current Xbox 360 and PS3 games, and the lush environments and numerous on-screen characters look great. Pikmin has always been renowned for its visuals, and that holds true on the Wii U, but there are better looking games coming to/already on current-gen consoles.

After admiring the game’s graphical upgrade, players were then given the option to play either a petite section of traditional Pikmin gameplay or try out a boss battle. Both sections required gamers to use the Wii Remote Plus and Nunchuk, while the Wii U Gamepad sat on a table displaying a map of the in-game world. The controls are identical to that of the New Play Control Pikmin, and presumably the upcoming New Play Control Pikmin 2, making it very easy for gamers familiar with the series to get their bearings.

The demo begins with an unnamed protagonist standing on the Pikmin’s home planet (earth). Wandering around the area, players will discover small groups of red Pikmin scattered about the land. All it takes to recruit a group of the creatures is a quick whistle, and they’ll instantly rush to join the player’s army. This single-player mode in particular focused exclusively on gathering gold, so the numerically inscribed pellets found in past games were nowhere to be seen. Instead, giant fruits, berries, and eventually enemy corpses covered the floor, which provided gamers with an objective. A meter was located on the top left side of the screen, and it slowly began to build as I gathered more and more fruits.

Much of Pikmin 3 was almost identical to previous instalments in the series, but there were number of new features as well. A new species of Pikmin that were introduced and fully playable in the demo were called Rock Pikmin. They were found floating around in the belly of a large floating jellfish-esque creature, and immediately joined you after decimating the beast with an army of pre-existing crimson allies.

Rock Pikmin are quite a bit slower than other races (much to no one’s surprise), and their attacks aren’t quite as strong as the Purple Pikmin found in P2. Instead, these creatures do the most damage upon impact. A well-placed throw can deliver devastating results on hostile bulborbs, and become essential assets in getting to otherwise inaccessible areas. A giant glass wall and a massive crystal shard both blocked two separate paths within the demo, and they were only conquered after shattering the glass obstructions via continuously whipping the rock-hard specimens at them.

New friends also means new enemies however, and a couple of them made their debut at E3 this year. The first new foe encountered in the demo was a large fire-covered slug that would light Rock Pikmin on fire, and eat anything that got too close to its mouth. The other enemy was a large anteater-inspired bulborb. The creature was able to lap up nearby Pikmin with its long sticky tongue, sometimes nabbing and consuming up to six members of your plant army in one go.

After time expired in the initial gameplay demo, I was introduced to a new enemy that dwarfed every other monster I had encountered leading up to that point. ‘Boss Battle’ was the second option on the main menu, and I eagerly shifted the Wii Remote cursor over to the icon and pressed ‘A’. During Nintendo’s press conference Shigeru Miyamoto stated that the accuracy of each throw would play a significant role in certain areas of the game, and I quickly found out that he wasn’t kidding.

A massive centipede-like creature coated in a glass shell emerged to consume myself and my army of loveable Pikmin. The only way to take it out was to chip away at its shell with Rock Pikmin, and then send in hordes of Red Pikmin to grab on and pummel the exposed areas of the hungry monstrosity. The impact zone of each Pikmin thrown was marked by scuffs that appeared on the beast’s shell, and the attention paid to detail in that particular scenario was really impressive to see.

Despite the increasing chips in the boss’s shell, he began to climb out of sight and perambulate around the giant stump players found themselves in, before rushing down and trapping the gamer and their army in its pincers. Lobbing some leafy allies at the centipede’s head made the pincers release their iron-clad grip, and allowed players to escape. After repeating the process for a while, the entire body of the giant bug was vulnerable, and it was taken down with some relative ease.

Pikmin 3 doesn’t change up the classic formula that made the series so much fun in the first place, and the high definition visuals and new gameplay features only deepen an already great experience. Gamers on the fence may very well have a reason to buy a Wii U at launch if the final product turns out as good as the E3 2012 demo has hinted at it being.

Pikmin 3 is currently a launch window game for the Nintendo Wii U, and should be available later this year.

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