So far, Nintendo have showed off a challenge mode ("one of several modes in the game" says Miyamoto, promisingly) which asks players to gather as much fruit as they can within a seven-minute time limit. It's all about efficiency, really: careful management of your limited Pikmin might have you directing one group to bop a baby Bulborb while another team carts a cherry back to base and a third squad collectively headbutts a wall into tiny pieces. Then there's that weird floating jellyfish thing with the cotton-wool antenna to defeat, revealing a hardy new set of helpers.
SMASH IT UP
New Pikmin? Rock Pikmin, to be precise. These adorable little chunks of slate-grey stone love to break stuff. Chuck them at a glass barrier and they'll smash it in seconds. They're also particularly useful for the second part of the demo code: a boss battle against a blue crayfish-like creature called an Armored Mawdad. This many-legged beast is covered with a crystalline carapace that's just begging to be shattered, revealing the mottled blue fleshy bits underneath.
The tactic here is to lob the tough new guys onto its back until it's no longer protected, at which point you can hurl the reds - who stick onto the softer stuff better than the rough-edged Rock 'Min - until it falls. That's easier said than done, mind: this brute is bleddy massive, and capable of trapping a group of Pikmin between its large mandibles, using its weirdly humanoid tongue to lick them into its toothy maw.
It's not the only beast that proves the creature designers really deserve their Christmas bonus. Even in this limited demo there's a miniature menagerie of monsters that pull off that neat Pikmin trick of appearing both recognisably insectoid and otherworldly. As the Pikmin ride downstream atop a worryingly flimsy lilypad, a water boatman-esque critter with a pointed snout skates across the reflective surface. A buzz of insect wings in the foreground announces the arrival of a wasp-like minibeast with a long, segmented torso snaking through the air behind it.
Venture underwater with a group of blues and you might happen across a small bug-eyed beast that squirts purple ink when attacked. On land, a pile of leaves comes to life as a group of scuttling insects, and an iridescent beetle spits out globs of 'Min-empowering nectar when struck. Even the Bulborbs come in fresh varieties, with one long-nosed type suddenly shooting out a prehensile tongue to grab unsuspecting Pikmin from a distance.
If the monsters are grotesque but gorgeous, the surroundings are simply beautiful. Some brilliant depth of field effects and subtle animations - leaves gently ruffled by a light breeze, water rippling gently, all that kind of thing - lend a sense of solidity to its miniature world. The animations are more elaborate, too: Pikmin now have their own individual personalities, creating an illusion of an ant colony, as Miyamoto suggests. It's adorable watching them all slide down a whirling stem, or carrying shards of a broken tile before arranging them to make a bridge for a more direct route to base. The characters are cartoonish by comparison, but this more stylised look adds clarity where too much detail might have overwhelmed. The increased resolution of Wii U also solves the problem of where to position the camera, offering a wider, more strategic perspective without sacrificing those delicious details.
As an orange sun reflects off the water's surface on the game's title screen, bathing its surroundings in a gorgeous, late-afternoon glow, you could be forgiven for thinking this is as good as it could possibly get for Wii U. But if this is what a launch title originally created for older hardware looks like, just imagine what EAD Tokyo could do with more time to master the new console's internal idiosyncrasies. It's a tantalising prospect, and one that fills us with expectant awe. Believe us: Wii U hasn't even begun to flex its normal-mapped muscles.
True, it's a shame there's no online multiplayer element, though Miyamoto has promised that local multiplayer is a lot of fun, and if Pikmin 2 is anything to go by, he's right. But even given that minor disappointment, this is a strong, core-focused launch window title that should help persuade the doubters that this new fangled Wii U is worth investing in. After all, where else are you going to get such succulent high definition strawberries?