The Pikmin games were always proof that, when presented with the right amount of colorful cheer, the most horrifically sad acts can be digested as easily as candy. The E3 demo of Pikmin 3 carries on in this tradition with a game about a helpless protagonist who’s only path off an alien planet depends on exploiting the guileless, seed-like inhabitants into converting objects from their planet into spaceship fuel.
Through most of the game, players navigate their increasingly large flock of differently-abled Pikmin through small puzzle environments where walls need to be broken down, bridges need to be built, and large ladybug-like insect beasts need to be attacked and killed. In boss confrontations, this structure becomes a melancholy endangerment simulator, in which the hero’s way forward depends on literally hurling these sweetly selfless creatures into the whale-like mass of a caterpillar with mandibular pincers.
If thrown correctly the Pikmin cling to the caterpillar’s back and whack at its shell for a few seconds before being bucked off. The new rock Pikmin can be used as cannonballs, and, like the multipurpose red Pikmin, after tumbling off the back of the beast, they lie in the gaping shadow of its jaws, unaware that they are about to be killed.
They can be saved by aiming the Wii remote’s cursor at them and hitting the B button to call them back to the hero’s flock. Yet the delayed reaction between their hearing the wakeup bell and the closing pincers of the boss ensure that only a fraction will make it out. The experience is, thus, an inversion of traditional boss confrontations, with the hero’s actions limited to running away. Instead he must depend on the perfectly passive Pikmin to engage in a war for resources that won’t be of use to any of them.
Though in a short session it’s difficult to see much change in this series formula, Pikmin 3 is a rare enough experience that it still feels unexpected. An exploitation of unquestioning solidarity for personal gain, a cruel mechanic that becomes irresistably repeatable in the cartoonish game world.