Review: Hey! Pikmin
Pikmin was a very new concept that came to the Gamecube in the wake of the third millenium (i.e. 2001). If I did, at the time, understand the “Nintendo way” of creating games, I’d know that this is basically Miyamoto creating a suitable character for the RTS genre, since pretty much no other character would properly fit (case in point: the game was born on top of a prototype that involved controlling more than a 100 Marios at once). It’s a game about an alien astronaut crash-landing on an unknown planet inhabited by, among other creatures, the plant-like Pikmin, which are small and feeble and preyed by about anything else, but can quickly grow in numbers if properly coordinated. That is Olimar’s role, basically: as a means to find the parts of his broken ship, he has to help the Pikmin fend for themselves and grow in numbers.
The main objective of the game is finding the parts of the ship that will allow it to fly away into space and get Olimar back home before he dies due to the planet’s atmosphere containing a deadly gas: oxygen. Since both him and the Pikmin are very small, you have to be cunning in order to hunt and convert the planet’s creatures into more Pikmin and achieve your objective. You also have to go back to your ship every night in order the escape the huge predators in this place, and get your Pikmin back too, as well, or else. It was a very challenging game that favored planning, exploration and in fact was fun to play again with prior knowledge and better strategy.
It was a great success, for its quality and innovation, and so it was given a sequel. Pikmin 2 saw Olimar back in his home planet, where his boss sends him back to the unknown planet he just came from, together with the boss’s son Louie, to collect the treasures scattered there… said treasures, btw, are basically human garbage and trinkets, which lends to the idea that the planet is actually Earth, but all humanity was wiped out, animals have evolved in weird ways and Olimar is very very tiny. Anyway, Pikmin 2 had a few major changes:
- The game’s objective changed from one of pure survival to another of accumulation: you have to pay your boss’s debt by hunting treasure; later you’d go back home, but Louie would stay, so you had a new objective (and could take your time looking for every treasure)
- Two characters meant you could manage two armies of Pikmin at once, working on two different places.
- Two more kinds of Pikmin were added to the roster of fire affiliated red, high soaring yellow and amphibious blue Pikmin: the poisonous white and heavyweight purple.
- Inside each big sprawling environment you would find caves, which where dungeons filled with treasure and monsters, where you could only take a limited number of Pikmin, but had no time limit for exploration.
Pikmin 2 is pretty good, albeit not as fresh. Still, a very good game, and eventually Nintendo made Pikmin 3, for the Wii U, AKA the main reason why I even bought one to begin with. Among the changes in the plot and gameplay, there was:
- New characters, new story: a trio of aliens from another planet, crash landing into another place in search for food. Again, you have to progress or fail in your quest, which is both getting food (fruit) and finding missing components of your ship to leave.
- New Pikmin: the white and purple Pikmin were sadly removed (except in the challenge/multiplayer mode) and replaced with crystal-breaking rock Pikmin and flying Pikmin.
- Three characters mean even more efficiency, and gamepad allows you to check your map and remotely control characters. It’s pretty great.
Also removed from the game were the caves, with the gameplay all happening in time-constrained large spaces to explore and open up bit by bit. It’s great and for me it’s as good, maybe even better than the original. It’s, at least,a great improvement on the concept.
All that said, one thing I’ve always wished for was seeing the game in the DS/3DS. The touch based dual screen paradigm seemed perfect for the RTS genre, despite the failed efforts of the Settlers II port and the pitiful Ant Nation 3DS version. A Pikmin game would be great, and it took this long for it to come into the portable.
And it’s a 2D platformer. Huh.
So, Hey! Pikmin was presented at the 2017 E3, and its trailer worked really well to sell a few of its features: boss fights that used the dual screen in a way similar to some of the 3D Zelda games in the 3DS (conveying the enormity of bosses by way of its two-story viewport), platforming challenges including water you could swim in, and the return to trinkets and the great writing of their descriptions.
Then came a demo which was… not good. It failed to convey the features of the main game, with not even a single boss fight to it. It made me unsure about the quality of the game, and yet I trusted the trailer and Nintedo’s quality control enough to get it.
Final veredict: it’s good, with flaws.
Essentially, Hey! Pikmin changed the traditional RTS gameplay to a platforming sort of strategy. It has a level system somewhat reminiscent of Pikmin 2’s caves, with a start and ending point and limited number of Pikmin in each level. The game also goes back to the “we need to get out of here” plot, with a slight twist at the end. At its core, it’s a fun game, but I think the main problem is that it feels like… not a Pikmin game, maybe.
Rather, it feels like a Pikmin game a lot more than, say, Kirby Mass Effect as a Kirby game. But some of the features added don’t make up for those removed. For me, the ideal 2D platformer Pikmin game would have a set of big sprawling Metroidvania-esque levels to be explored, instead of making small sections with defined beginnings and endings. The fact that you collect Pikmin in the stages instead of making them also means you have less control over their numbers, which is a bigger problem for people like me who like to maintain a balance or prefer one type of Pikmin over the others, and still is another big staple of the franchise that was cut out for gameplay constraints.
It’s still a very good game. It has that beautiful miniature world aesthetic all over it, once in a while it does throw a clever puzzle on your face and even the worst sector of them all, the last one with its sudden spike in difficulty, includes one of the best levels of them all, with actual backtracking. Also, the excellent writing and humor that comes from Olimar’s entries on what the strange objects he finds are is back again, and so is the snark of the S. S. Dolphin’s module, as seen in Pikmin 2.
Honestly, the two very sour points in the game for me are just: Pikmin Park, which serves little purpose and is a deep well of wasted potential (as a sim/management game-within-a-game instead of an alternative and intermittent source of Sparklium that’s not needed at all) and a lot of Amiibo tied content. Like, a lot, and it’s all very explicit: there’s a whole tab of your logs dedicated to Amiibos (with an Amiibo icon) and the secret areas that are opened with Amiibos are clearly marked in the map, teasing you, who either can’t buy Amiibos because they’re expensive as heck in your country, or don’t own a New 3DS.
That, and once again the white and purple Pikmin are left out. Poor guys.
Let me say this again: Hey! Pikmin is a very good game. It’s a good platforming adventure, with secrets to be found, and fun to be had. It has good writing and it is, in fact, a lot longer than I expected. It does a good job.
Most of my own points against it are based on my expectations on the franchise, and it’s unfair to judge the game for what I wish it was. Rather, I think those expectations would be more fair towards the next console title in the series. I do have ideas about how it could be better, sure (again: Pikmin Metroidvania), but aside from the last two points that I take real issue with, I’m fine.
In doubt, play the demo, as flawed as I believe it is. It’ll certainly give you a good feel of the gameplay. But, for my word, this game is worth it. Another good job, Nintendo.
(I’ve been barely maintaining this blog as a gateway for my gamedev learning experiences and analysis of my own hits and misses, but, seeing that this isn’t quite working (i.e. this blog has stopped ever since I got stuck writing my second postmortem) I’ve decided a different direction is in place. So I plan on having about 4 things here:
- Postmortem and Dev Blog
- Tutorials on things I’ve learned/figured myself
- Opinion pieces
- Game reviews
The last one may seem the least “indie game dev” topic. It is. I just like games and I suppose I dig conveying my opinion on them, too. It’ll also help me develop my writing and game analysis skills, and that surely will help with my game design as well, understanding what makes or breaks a title.)