When was the last time you played a video game that had you on an adventure through a garden world full of almost innocent yet abominable monsters, oversized fruit and soldiers that had zero intellgience, but were so charming the heart broke every time they died?
Those answers: "never", and "last time I played Pikmin".
Pikmin 3, though not designed as a criticism of current design philosophies, nor a dig at the lack of imagination today. But it nevertheless clearly shows how Nintendo and their thinking in game development differ so significantly from both Sony and Microsoft.
The game tells the story of how a team of three astronauts were sent out into the cosmos to find a planet that could support their people.
Everything looks bright as a suitable planet is found, but an error in their vessel means that the three astronauts (Alph, Brittany and Captain Charlie) crash-land in various areas on the unexplored planet.
We awake in the company of Alph, whose pig-like appearance coupled with his wide-eyed and cautious adventurousness makes for a charming acquaintance. Alph quickly comes across the first troop of (red) Pikmins, which he can control with his flute, and with their help start the search for the other team members.
Control of Pikmins is simple, with a button press flinging them towards objects or enemies, which they'll immediately interact with, with a quick whistle bringing them back alongside you. The flute calls don't automatically recall all Pikmin. Instead you freely control a targeting reticule that lets you select a specific area, and any Pikmin within its radius, so you can decide who'll continue their duties and who should be following you.
The Pikmins come in different types, denoted by colour, and each have a different ability. Reds can withstand fire, Blues can swim, Yellows can carry electricity, Pinks can fly and the black stoned Pikmin can be used to smash glass. None of them are remotely intelligent, so don't expect to see them lift a finger unless you have given them a command.
The astronauts aren't so intelligent either. The other two will follow alongside the Pikmin whoever you're playing as at the time, but you are able to toss them (and a bundle of Pikmin) to other areas, then switch between the explorers at a button press, opening up exploration opportunities.
At this point you have probably figured out that tasks are mainly solved by combining the various astronauts, Pikmins and their abilities. But that has not stopped Nintendo to further refine the gameplay.
The little astronaut team can't live without nutrition. Each day ends with the team gulping down from their gradually diminishing supply of fruit juice. So alongside whatever goals and exploration you're tasked with, you've got to factor in discovering, and retrieving, fresh fruit into your daily schedule. Since the team and their Pikmins have to be back in their spaceships come sunset, every day suddenly requires some planning.
It's a time limit that frustrates more than it helps, but fortunately Nintendo have offered the option to replay the previous days, which removes some of the pressures if you fail to tick off everything in your mental list by day's end.
The game also allows you to compete against friends. Bingo Battle is more devilish than the name makes it sound, and lets you and a friend compete to be first to fill your game board up - and the holes on your card consists of fruit and enemies. If you want straightforward combat, you can also try and completely eradicate your opponent and their troops.
None of the above may not sound terribly interesting or original, but Nintendo has still managed to mix them all together gloriously, the enjoyment of all kindling once you realise how they're all used. New Pikmins means that you can return to previous levels and open new areas, while the division of the three astronauts provide the opportunity to explore virtually any corner of areas if you just work out how.
The strategic approach to each area is also more prominent than ever in the series since it's now possible to play through days multiple times, letting you run through a level with a very clear idea of what you need to be done within the time frame. To build a bridge, find fruit and maybe even defeat a boss in just one day gives you an immense sense of satisfaction.
So why doesn't Pikmin 3 earn a higher score? Because not only is the experience too similar to previous versions, but it simultaneously repeats some of the past mistakes.
Camera control continues to be a problem, despite the fact that you quick switch it directly behind you with a button, and can even lock it, all too often it ends up in odd positions, which can be frustrating during boss battles. And while Pikmins lack intelligence, you wish for some glimmer of survival instinct, as they remain completely still until they're rescued or eaten by an enemy.
Yet despite these returning issues, there's no doubt Pikmin 3 is the series' best chapter to date, and with such a gap between entries, it feels fresher because of it. The experience is heavy on the creativity and charm - the kind of fairytale that could only come from Nintendo.