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Pikmin 3 and “U”: How a Wii U game expresses meta UI better than its “Deluxe” Switch port

When the cult classic strategy game on the Wii U is reevaluated in its design properties for the Switch, the lasting impression of UI innovation and creativity through hardware is put into question.

An Outer Space RTS of Deluxe Proportions

Shigeru Miyamoto, the revolutionary game designer at Nintendo, is known for his remarkable portfolio of innovative IP’s throughout the steady incline in video game popularity in the last thirty-five years. His most well-known contributions in this regard are of course the Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda series of games, which both demonstrated remarkable innovation in their respective genres. Despite these two franchises being the most universally recognized, his other IP’s (such as the Star Fox series, which dabbled in 3D environments on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System) still uphold a standard of genre defiance with respect to the technology and software capabilities of their time. The Pikmin series of games is hardly an exception here, particularly the third entry in the series on the Nintendo Wii U, aptly named “Pikmin 3”.

Pikmin 3 classifies as a real-time strategy game, in which the player must accomplish different tasks all at once in order to achieve an overarching goal. However, to funnel the Pikmin series under this definition crudely alongside other games that boast this genre tag (such as Northgard, Starcraft) seems a bit short-sighted.

Pikmin’s formula succeeds in its own right outside of these games, through its light-hearted aesthetic and narrative, in which your goal as the player is to team up with the carrot-like creatures known as “Pikmin” to help an astronaut (or a team of astronauts in the later installments) collect what they need in order to return to their home planet.

With this wholesome intention in mind, the third installment in the series set out to entice the player in new and exciting ways through the use of the Wii U Gamepad, particularly through the implementation of the dual-screen user interface (UI) with respect to both gameplay and narrative.

However, it’s apparent now that the appropriately named Pikmin 3 Deluxe is fresh and thriving on the Nintendo Switch as a newly improved port of the Wii U version. With this in mind, veteran players considering a “double-dip” for the new version wondered how the once established two-screen dynamic would now be detrimentally isolated by the Switch’s “one screen or the other” design philosophy.

However, after playing through the Deluxe version of the game myself, I can attest that despite the apparent sacrifices made with respect to its predecessor on the Wii U, Pikmin 3 Deluxe on the Switch is worth consideration to both newcomers and series veterans alike.

 

Pikmin 3 and “U”

In order to fully understand the sheer creativity behind the UI in this game, it’s important to recall the definitions of the diegetic UI types. Fagerholt and Lorentzon, authors of “Beyond the HUD - User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games” define the terms as follows

Diegetic: “UI elements part both of the spatial and the fictional game world” (p. 52)

Non-Diegetic: “Visual  UI  elements  residing  in  the  non-fictional,  non-spatial part  of  the  design  space.” (p. 51)

Meta representations: “Information  carrying  entities  existing  in  the fictional  game world,  but  visualized  in  a  manner  not  spatial  regarding  the  game  world.” (p. 52)

We’ve seen throughout the history of video games and their design that developers can express their various UI elements creatively in order to provide a more thematic and cohesive experience for the player. A notable example of this in modern gaming would be the representation of an ammo counter on a gun itself in a first-person shooter rather than at the bottom corner of the screen. With reference to both the 3D game space that the player character resides in, as well as a fictional meaning for that value, which is significant to the player character trying to survive in a combat area, the element is considered diegetic.

With these definitions in mind, we can take a more critical look at what Pikmin 3 aims to accomplish with its dual screen play style. Now normally, one would observe a screenshot of the game and assume that the various HUD elements are very much non-diegetic and strictly informative by nature, without any underlying narrative intention, simply because there is nothing else on the screen to say otherwise.

 

(Pikmin 3 Instructional Video)

 

However, the genius behind Pikmin 3’s implementation of it’s UI becomes more apparent when the secondary Wii U Gamepad screen is observed.

 

(Pikmin 3 Instructional Video)

 

The small and seemingly insignificant icon with a camera looking object at the bottom right represents an electronic app that allows the player to take a picture of the 3D game space with respect to the player character on the screen in first person POV. While the app itself comes off as a neat little gimmick at first, this camera looking device, known as the “Koppad”, holds some impeccable diegetic properties.

The Koppad holds a major narrative significance in the game, in that it allows our intrepid space explorers to navigate the Pikmin planet (known as PNF-404 in this game) effectively with respect to the various tasks that they must fulfill. With this device, the characters in the game can communicate with one another, observe a top-down map view of the 3D game space, and even log into different applications, such as a fruit log, in order to monitor their various accomplishments throughout the game.

 

(Pikmin 3 Deluxe Announcement Trailer)

 

What makes Pikmin 3 so revolutionary in regards to diegetic UI is the Koppad’s design with reference to the physical Wii U Gamepad of our own world. In this manner, the player is given this second screen as if they too were an intrepid explorer, looking down at a Koppad of their own. This effectively opens the door to an interwoven cesspool of meta-representation mechanics, in that all of the tasks described above that the player characters can accomplish are physically controlled by the player in the exact same manner of control that the characters do narratively!

Particularly, one of the most beneficial commands implemented through the use of the Koppad is the “Go Here” function, in which the player may use the Gamepad’s touch screen to select a specific destination for any captain at any time, requesting them to go there while the player is focused with another task elsewhere. The seamless transition in looking away from the TV screen and down to the Gamepad screen in order to do this on the Wii U Gamepad becomes not only inviting in a narrative sense as an intergalactic space commander of several little alien creatures but in a gameplay sense as well as a real-time strategist.

 

(Pikmin 3 Instructional Video)

 

This immersion is driven home even further when various narrative elements, such as the video phone calls, are brought front and center on the Wii U Gamepad as if the player were the one communicating through it directly as a fellow astronaut! 

 

(Pikmin 3 Deluxe Announcement Trailer)

 

This consistent attention to user interface implementation is what delivers a special connection between the player and the world of Pikmin 3 that never breaks its level of immersion. Despite the Wii U’s lackluster sales throughout its life cycle, this playstyle felt right at home on the black sheep of Nintendo’s console lineup.

 

Pikmin 3 Deluxe “Switches” Things Up

Fast forward to today, it’s apparent now that Nintendo’s philosophy with the Wii U in hindsight was to bring its greatest hits to the Switch so that new players could experience them for the first time on a more welcoming and acclaimed console. Naturally, when Pikmin fans discovered that the third installment of the series would receive the same treatment by the very end of October 2020 with the release of Pikmin 3 Deluxe, we were delighted to see the hopeful prospect of new fans embracing the series.

However, unlike many other great Wii U games, such as New Super Mario Bros. U and the original Hyrule Warriors, which were carried over to the Switch almost seamlessly, by comparison, Pikmin 3 encountered a much more fundamental dilemma, in regards to the aforementioned UI implementation. This is mostly due to the fact that the Wii U and the Switch uphold comparable, yet noticeably different design philosophies. 

In this regard, the Wii U consistently promised dual-screen play styles among its library of games. While the Switch takes noticeable inspiration from this concept in terms of physical design, we instead see a much more rigid, “one or the other” perspective in regards to the big and little screens used. With this in mind, fans were left in concerned skepticism over how Pikmin 3 would uphold its inspired UI legacy.

After playing the game myself, I came to the conclusion that despite the changes I discovered, the game still held up in its own regard. Most notably, I discovered some subtle changes in the main screen HUD mechanics, as well as the button layouts, both of which could be considered as a collection of blemishes compared to the Wii U’s smoothness in these aspects.

To elaborate, the once praised Gamepad map seen in an earlier snapshot is now replaced by a small, circular map on the side of the main screen, which bears resemblance to that of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its miniature map in its own Switch version.

 

(Pikmin 3 Deluxe Launch Trailer)

 

(17 Minutes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gameplay)

 

In addition, the full map screen that veterans had become used to for functions such as the previously mentioned “Go Here” command, are now locked away by the minus button, which replaces the 3D game screen with a map screen upon being pressed. This design change ultimately halts the consistent flow that those who played back and forth with dual screens had become accustomed to. 

However, one can also consider the prospect in which the player plays entirely on the Nintendo Switch’s handheld, thus enjoying the entire Pikmin 3 experience on a device that still holds similarities to the Koppad. After all, with every piece of software on the Nintendo Switch, the player is always guaranteed the right to this handheld freedom.

To this, however, we see the converse of the earlier dilemma, in that the player would then be restricted from experiencing the third-person view of the 3D game environment on a larger TV screen that the Wii U version provided just fine.

In turn, these gameplay tweaks inhibit the intimate connection that the player once shared with the Koppad back in 2013 considerably for the sake of playability on the Switch. And while it pains me to see this as a veteran player who loved the original play style so much, I can acknowledge and respect Nintendo’s decisions here for the sake of bringing a wonderful game to newer players with a gameplay system that is mechanically sound, complete, and noticeably fun (in my opinion) in its own right.

 

Why “Deluxe”?

Despite the major blows taken to the diegetic UI implementation, Pikmin 3 Deluxe is by no means just another shallow Wii U port cash grab by Nintendo. In fact, one of the most notable additions in Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the Side Stories that focus on two side characters of Pikmin 3, Olimar and Louie. These challenges, while reminiscent of the main story maps and modes, act as a remarkable segue from a series rookie’s initial fascination for exploration in the story mode to an inner thirst for completion and mastery in the mission mode. Here, rigid goals are now put into place with respect to time limits, stimulating the player to accomplish what they need to in not just a safe and cautious manner, but in a timely and calculated manner as well! In addition, the moniker “Side Stories” upholds its implication with journal entries and plot points from the two characters that leave a narrative seeking player satisfied appropriately.

The natural segue that the game provides from the main story, to side stories, to mission mode acts as the perfect series of progression to make any interested fan of the franchise into a master Pikmin plucking tactician. By comparison, The Wii U version lacked this additional content and didn’t benefit from this progressional flow of skill as smoothly. With that in mind, the amount of extra playtime alone that I as a series veteran found in this new version made it more than deserving of the second $60 I contributed towards this game.

 

An Acceptance of New, and a Fondness for Old

To conclude, with respect to this noticeable improvement, Pikmin 3 Deluxe still stands triumphant as a solid entry in the Pikmin series, despite its sacrifices in regards to diegetic UI that its original version can still boast proudly to this day. With that in mind, I would give series beginners as well as experienced Pikmin players the recommendation to try the Deluxe version on the Switch to see how they enjoy it. However, if you have a fond connection with the series as a whole, the Wii U version is, in my opinion, the most well rounded, Pikmin plucking experience to behold, and is more than deserving of your attention, despite the lack of the “Deluxe” namesake.


 

Bibliography (In APA7)

Fagerholt, E., & Lorentzon, M. (2009). Beyond the HUD - User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games. Retrieved December 04, 2020, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Beyond-the-HUD-User-Interfaces-for-Increased-Player-Fagerholt-Lorentzon/16ee02a8839923752c6bc93f294bec67d73a586e.

Nintendo. (2013, August 4). Wii U - Pikmin 3 Introduction Video. youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mUmDp3WHxE&ab_channel=Nintendo.

Polygon. (2017, January 13). 17 Minutes of THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD Nintendo Switch Gameplay. youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=310PF8ctRTM&ab_channel=Polygon.

Nintendo. (2020, August 5). Pikmin 3 Deluxe - Announcement Trailer - Nintendo Switch. youtube.com.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aSSQ0Z6eDhU&ab_channel=Nintendo.

Nintendo. (2020, October 30). Pikmin 3 Deluxe - Launch Trailer - Nintendo Switch. youtube.com. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzbAzU02Ngg&ab_channel=Nintendo.

 

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