Pikmin 3 makes an excellent first impression. Its visuals have mesmerized me more than any other release this year, and its naturalistic backyard world glistens and shines more vibrantly than the floating city of Columbia. Even the chaos of combat and casualty harmonizes with the sleepy garden landscape.
But, when I first played Pikmin 3, something didn't feel right. For all the visual eye candy the game tossed at me, my hands still struggled to adjust to the game's new control scheme. Without the previously-crucial function of the GameCube's C-stick, I felt amputated as a captain of these poor little Pikmin.
For those new to the series, Pikmin's gameplay is founded on its controls. When the game launched for the GameCube in 2001, it felt impeccably well-suited to the console's strange and asymmetrical controller. The tiny B-button called Pikmin over to Captain Olimar with his whistle, A tossed them as fast as you could tap it, and the C-stick allowed you to move your gaggle of Pikmin around as a single unit. You could use that kind of control to swarm enemies and overwhelm them or simply to keep them in a neat line behind you. Regardless of what you did, the option was there, and it was comforting in a way.
Pikmin 3 completely ditches this swarming function, and, for the first few hours, the game felt unhinged and wild. The new controls changed Pikmin's texture for me, and at first my palete found it foul. It felt wrong—limiting, even. I distinctly remember a situation in which an Armored Cannon Beetle was rolling boulders down a hill and my trusty C-stick was not there to steer my poor Pikmin out of the way. So they perished. I didn't know whether to blame myself or the lack of a feature I had come to rely on perhaps far too much.
It felt like taking away Mario's ability to run, or robbing Sonic of his spindash; the core gameplay was preserved, but a key method of control had been wrested from the hands of the player. So I had to think differently.
When I play games, I try to get in the mind of the designer. I often ask myself, "Why is this here? Why are they showing me that? How do they expect me to handle this situation?" With a designer like Shigeru Miyamoto, I figured that doing away with the swarming function of the C-stick was probably not an easy decision. Miyamoto has even stated that the C-stick inspired the direct control you have over the Pikmin in the game. So why get rid of it?
Simply put, it makes the world come alive, and it alters the relationship the player has with the little guys. In Pikmin 3, the swarming function is replaced by the invaluable Charge command. When you lock on to an object or enemy, shaking the Wiimote's Nunchuck sounds a war horn, and your whole unit of Pikmin will fling themselves at whatever you tell them to.
This changes the way the gameplay feels entirely, which brings me to my point. The tighter, more intimate control you had over your Pikmin in the first two games made them feel like an extension of your player character. They were like hit points with legs. But Pikmin 3 tries to depict the Pikmin as they are: physically independent but still loyal. So the cycle of death and rebirth—carry, fight, multiply, get consumed—feels more natural this time around.
While I've since come around on the controls (I personally find them to be an improvement over the GameCube control scheme), playing Pikmin 3 made me think about how a video game's "texture" is really dictated by the way the player interacts with it. Much like a painting's texture is embodied by the look and feel of the paint on the canvas, or a song's texture is in its rhythm and harmony, a game's texture relies on the method of control or participation a player has.
Think about the way a game like the original Resident Evil differs in texture from another horror game like Amensia: The Dark Descent simply through its controls. Resident Evil's third-person tank controls force you to pace your movements and strategically manage your inventory and surroundings carefully. Amnesia, on the other hand, rarely gives the player anything other to do than run and hide, so it feels far more claustrophobic than Resident Evil's action-puzzle gameplay.
But what do you guys think? Have you ever played a game that felt completely different from its predecessor simply because of a different control scheme? And what do you Pikmin veterans think of the new controls?