One of the more bizarre and ridiculously cute video-game franchises finally debuts on Nintendo's latest entertainment console in the far-out adventure Pikmin 3 (Nintendo, rated E 10+, $59.99).
It's a been a drought of nine years since the treasure-hunting Capt. Olimar commanded an army of plant-like pipsqueaks called Pikmin on the planet of PNF-404.
The circumstances are much more dire this time out as a too-short story campaign focuses on the survival of three pint-sized astronauts, rather than just the legendary captain.
The trio — Alph, Brittany and Charlie — travel from the planet Koppai in search of food to save their desperate people from starvation.
Of course, they crash land on the Pikmin homeland, still a lush, normal-sized organic world (now in high-definition) and loaded with unusually beautiful but dangerous creatures. They must work together with the little fellows each day to harvest fruit that will hopefully keep their brethren and themselves alive.
A player must find and eventually control the three distraught explorers along with amassing up to 100 of the of these slave laborers known for a flower budding on the tops of their onion-shaped heads.
Using either the Wii Remote and Nunchuck Controllers or just the Wii U GamePad, a player quickly learns the basics of tossing the Pikmin at targets, plucking new Pikmin from the ground and herding the troops together with the sound of a whistle.
Then, its on to the loose mission objectives as Pikmin can attack barriers such as sand walls or free crystal enclosed goodies, carry and assemble pieces of the environment (such as bridges) or beat up on a creature until it dies.
A set amount of Pikmin can then drag its carcass, or other prized possessions, back to its ships to generate more of their kind or help the explorers.
My tip is to always keep looking for the large pieces of fruit, as their juice is mandatory for the astronauts to survive another day and for the game to continue.
A day lasts about 20 minutes between sun up to sun down and this is not a lot of time to battle the likes of a Sandbelching Meerslug or find one of the coveted Cupid's Grenades (a delicious cherry).
During the impressive looking journey, the player uses many familiar types of Pikmin seen in previous games or a few new to this title.
Red fellows (immune to fire), Yellow (immune to electricity) and Blue (can enter water) are standard. The latest game adds the stout rock Pikmin (throw them to break things) and pink, winged bee-like Pikmin (use them to carry items over environmental obstacles or attack airborne enemies) for extra help.
That frenetic management during each short day means a player must plan out a strategy and can break up tasks among the three explorers to be most efficient. In theory, it's a great, stress-filled idea, but I was happy with one large group and just occasionally using a smaller search party to scout areas.
An absolute battle to appreciate early on plays out in a cave against a massive centipede like creature with a crystal exoskeleton. The chaos will invigorate a player while the death toll taken by the poor Pikmin as they fight the monster will depress any human with a heart.
While of the topic of death, a player will really start to feel emotions for the little guys, especially when he also makes the tragic mistake of leaving a group of them on the planet as darkness sets in.
They frantically look for their onion spaceship, with terrified peeps and start to get devoured by some of the ferocious creatures as you fly away. It's just heartbreaking.
By the way, that tragedy occurs due to that tight schedule to explore each day. That is still, by far, the biggest annoyance to the action.
It is so fun to just look around and find new areas that I often hit the "retry day" button and started all over.
Thankfully the 30-day limit is gone (seen in previous games), so as long as the juice flows, so does the action.
The magical Wii U GamePad tablet and its big touch screen is also just not a controller here but a much more visual and integral part of the game play.
Now named the KopPad by the explorers, its used as primarily a GPS, with an option to tap a location on the pad and have the troops scurry there, but also a resource to house archived information on fruits, creatures and tips for the game as well as even a way to watch a replay of the day's work to hone strategies
However, what continues to impress for the Pikmin legacy is the care to bring this colorful universe and its inhabitants to life.
Hovering jellyfish, purple puffy blowhogs, shaggy long legs, bug-eyed Bulbords, to name just a few of the dozens of indigenous life forms, roam the five lands.
Giant flower pots, pools of clear water housing odd-shaped amphibians, boxes tethered to ropes and water falls with a hidden peach obstruct access.
Deep, dark caverns, glazed-tiled bridges, sand beaches and snow-covered terrain are commonplace while searching for a tasty Heroine's Tear (mango) or Face Wrinkler (lemon). It's a beautiful playground for the 10-year-old to take part in.
Youngsters who finish the main, roughly 15-hour-long campaign have two extra modes to continue to enjoy.
A simple mission mode requires going out on timed hunts (7 to 10 minutes) to either collect items or fight creatures (with a co-operative element available).
Or, the much more competitive Bingo Battle where two players go on a scavenger hunt with specific recovered objects filling up their card (on a 4x4 grid) to try to get a "bingo" while thwarting the opponent. In both modes, the illusive pudgy purple and white Pikmin are also available for use.
Considering Nintendo's Wii U has been getting more negative than positive press these days, it's nice to report a game exists that really makes the console worth owning. Pikmin 3 is both a wonderful, family friendly real-time strategy, experience-boasting clever game play and gorgeous design throughout.
Now if Nintendo can come up with another 10 or so titles of this magnitude, before the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hits, they might stay in the video-game wars this fall.
© Copyright 2015 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.