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Pikmin 3's story mode is grim, but cute

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Pikmin 3's grim but adorable story

Nintendo's Pikmin 3 delivers a brand new story with grim underlying notions of planetary destruction, poor resource management and pillaging other territories to benefit one's own. But it does so with its signature cherubic art, engaging strategy-focused game design and a lively, colorful universe.

In a hands-on demo of the game's story mode, Polygon played through the introductory section, which introduced the game's three main characters, a new Pikmin type (rock Pikmin, which are effective against crystal/glass and can do more damage against enemies) and a slew of changes that have been made to the series.

While many of the game's mechanics remain unchanged from the first two Pikmin titles, like the player's relationship with the little sprouted creatures and how they are controlled, Pikmin 3's new story sets a whole new premise and objective for the player. A Nintendo representative explained that in the original Pikmin, released in 2001 for the GameCube, players had to work as fast as they could to retrieve parts of a crashed spaceship in order to rebuild their ship and return home within 30 in-game days. In Pikmin 2, released three years later, players were on a quest to hunt for treasure. In Pikmin 3, the story takes a darker turn, focusing on the survival of the characters and their quest to save their home.

Three explorers — Charlie, Alph and Brittany — travel 279,000 light years from their home planet of Koppai, which has been bled dry of resources, in search of a planet that has the fruits they need to sustain life back in Koppai. They crash-land on PNF-404 — an earth-like planet abundant with fruit and Pikmin. Initially separated after the crash, the three must find each other and begin their mission of exploration and fruit-gathering.

In the demo we played, we controlled the characters and the Pikmin with the Wii remote and nunchuck and used the Wii U GamePad to display the game's map, although the game can be played with just the GamePad. The GamePad also serves a secondary function of allowing players to access the explorer's log, and also to view the game from the first-person and take photos.

As we played as Charlie, then Alph and finally Brittany, we were able to guide the characters to each other with the help of the Pikmin we encountered. When reunited, we were able to take advantage of co-operative play to help us explore the planet and reach areas that were otherwise inaccessible on foot. For example, in order to reach a giant lemon resting at the top of a jagged hill, we (playing as Alph) picked up Brittany and threw her onto the first ledge. We then tossed seven Pikmin onto the same ledge. Switching to Brittany's view, we threw the six Pikmin to the lemon, and the Pikmin were able to carry the fruit down to our ship.

In another area, we came to a river that we needed to cross. The parts required to build a bridge were on the other side of the river, so we threw Alph to the other side along with a group of Pikmin, switched to Alph's view, and commanded the Pikmin to build a bridge so the rest of the party was able to cross.

Any damage they've delt to enemies or bosses the previous day will be carried over.

Pikmin 3 sets no time limit on players — as long as the player has fruit to sustain the party, they can keep exploring. Like with previous Pikmin games though, players will have to return to their ship at night to avoid nocturnal predators on the planet. All Pikmin also need to be gathered and returned to their Onion pod — any Pikmin left behind will presumably die, as suggested by the animation that plays at sunset, which shows the little creatures running in panicked circles and squealing while enemies close in on them.

When players begin the next day, any damage they've delt to enemies or bosses the previous day will be carried over, and their daily adventure begins with a reminder of how many fruits and days worth of provisions they have.

The premise of the game may be grim and the death of a planet may loom over the three little explorers. But if it gets them down, it certainly doesn't show. The demo we played was upbeat, colorful and very much in line with other games in the series. Besides, it hards to take anything too seriously when you're surrounded by Pikmin.

Pikmin 3 will release on the Wii U in North America on Aug. 4. Polygon's interview with Pikmin creator Shigeru Miyamoto can be read here. More information about the game's co-op mode can be read here.