The Pikmin franchise has always been focused on a cerebral single-player experience first and foremost, and that doesn't look to change with Pikmin 3, the series' upcoming installment for the Wii U. However, the game does have options for two players hoping to have a simultaneous, arboreal experience, including an expanded co-op offering.
Pikmin 3's co-op mode is something of an evolution of Pikmin 2's challenge mode, tasking two players to work together to secure as much loot as they can within each level's time limit. Those two players are actually in charge of managing three captains — Alph, Charlie and Brittany — simultaneously, but each can only control one at a time. They're able to swap between their active captain and the reserve at will, allowing them to coordinate some tricky maneuvers to explore each level.
For example, while playing as Alph, I was able to pick up Charlie and toss him to a higher platform, then swap to Charlie, who was able to yank some formerly unreachable Pikmin from the ground. There are more advanced strategies to utilize with this scheme as well, like assigning the utilitarian (but relatively weak) Flying Pikmin to your reserve unit, swapping to them only when you need that particular brand of plant.
Those Flying Pikmin are also new to the series' third installment, and come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Their ability to hover over hazards is an obvious perk; drowning's not a concern for Flyers like it is for Reds, and even some enemy attacks will swipe ineffectively under their feet. However, they're not especially powerful melee attackers, and their ability to transport cargo can become a little counterintuitive — if you have ground-based Pikmin trying to pull fruit while your Flyers are trying to lift it, it's going to go absolutely nowhere.
Flyers are also remarkably precious materials, too, as they're required to pass through certain obstacles. A heavy gate blocking our patch could only be lifted with the help of 10 Flying Pikmin; meaning every time we wanted to return some material to our ship, I had to make sure we had all 10, all back at the gate, ready to lift. We never lost one during our demo, thank goodness — we probably would have lost a few minutes just hunting down more Flyers, all so we could make a single return trip to our ship.
The co-op mode is playable only with a Wii Remote and Nunchuck, which was a bit disappointing, considering the mode's highly tactical nature — not to mention the fact that the single-player campaign has three different control schemes. I found myself wanting to look at an overworld map to get a better idea of where I could go to recruit new Pikmin and secure bigger treasures; instead, I relied on guesswork, which left me unprepared for some of the obstacles I stumbled across.
Then again, maybe building upon and refining that guesswork is the point of the entire mode. Pikmin 3 co-op seems targeted for patient score-chasers, as the composition of each stage doesn't really change every time you play it. The demo level I played was large and labyrinthine, giving me and my partner a lot of options for how to spend our allotted 10 minutes. It was a bit overwhelming, actually, and I imagine it is for each level the first time you play it.
You don't have nearly enough time to collect everything; Once you accept that fact, and start honing down your runs with an accomplice to maximize your score potential, Pikmin 3's co-op mode could be a much less punishing experience.
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