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Pikmin 3: Nintendo's family-friendly post-Anthropocene Switch game

Seven years in, and it's as good as ever.

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Pikmin 3 is an exploration of an alien yet familiar world.
Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

It's been seven years since Nintendo made an adorable planet-exploring, critter-plucking space odyssey on the Wii U called Pikmin 3. Pikmin is a weird and fantastic Nintendo franchise: It's a real-time strategy game. It's a game about collecting and growing little flower-headed Pikmin, and watching them die. And it's also about the far future of a post-human Earth, where all our gadgets are reduced to artifacts lying in the weeds.

It took me until a few weeks ago to realize the last part, but it should have hit me years ago when I played Pikmin 3 for the first time. These bubble-spacesuited characters have landed on a mysterious planet populated by weird creatures. But there are also artifacts everywhere: An old cell phone, for instance. This should have tipped me off. The developers have left clues to indicate that the world of Pikmin 3 takes place 250 million years in the future. I like this idea, but it also makes me sad. Pikmin is, really, Nintendo's post-mankind story of Earth. 

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Reminds me of my first phone.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

OK, but there's more to Pikmin 3 than that. The game has kept my seven-year-old son and I entertained for the last few weeks, and it's set up to be a sleeper hit for the Nintendo Switch this fall. Nintendo hasn't made a lot of big-ticket games this year except for Animal Crossing New Horizons and Paper Mario: The Origami King. Last Halloween, Luigi's Mansion 3 arrived with some fantastic co-op Switch gaming. Pikmin 3 Deluxe is a great co-op game, too. Pikmin are adorable. Every creature is adorable, even the ones that eat your little Pikmin and turn them into ghosts.

The Deluxe version of the Wii U game adds two-player co-op throughout the single-player game. There's also downloadable content with bonus missions, plus a party mode game called Bingo Battle. The main game plays itself out in a linear storytelling style over a number of days, but your mission's success can vary based on how many Pikmin you grow and save, or how much fruit and other resources you find. There's a fair amount of replay value here.

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Pikmin 3 Deluxe on the Switch works with Joy-Cons pointing at the screen, like little Wii remotes. This is my preferred way to play.

Scott Stein/CNET

I liked Pikmin 3 when I played it seven years ago, but I didn't love the Wii U's sometimes-weird gamepad controls. The Switch's control options are better, but take some getting used to. Pikmin 3 is almost the type of game I'd prefer to play on a touchscreen, or with a mouse. The Switch's touchscreen doesn't work with Pikmin 3, but there are ways to turn the Switch Joy-Cons into Wii remote-like motion wands. The default analog-stick method can get annoying for pointing at and wrangling Pikmin, but enabling gyro and pointing in settings frees up the Joy-Cons so you can aim with a wrist flick when playing with a kickstand or on a TV. It's pretty great.

Co-op play can work with two Joy-Cons, but the buttons get compressed down, making it awkward to use. You're better off getting a proper second controller or playing with two Joy-Cons each.

The price of Pikmin 3 Deluxe is pretty high, like all Nintendo games, and $60 feels way too expensive. I'd download the free demo on the eShop instead and play that for a bit. That might be enough for you. If you crave more, get the game. Pikmin 3 still feels fresh and fun three-quarters of a decade later, but at this price I'd recommend Luigi's Mansion 3 for story-based co-op play over this.