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• Pikmin

developed & published by Nintendo/2001.12.01
1 Player (19 blocks)/1 GD-Rom/Nintendo Gamecube, Wii

Pikmin is Shigeru Miyamoto’s first 100% original game series on the Gamecube, and his first real-time strategy game. This is more than enough to warrant an examination. At first, it would appear to be a strategy game for kids, with cute characters and simplistic play. However, looks can be deceiving and Pikmin contains all sorts of challenges that will entertain older gamers as well.

A Whole New World

Olimar, a deep-space pilot, crash-lands on an alien planet. Along the way, his spaceship (the “Dolphin”, the previously announced code-name for the Gamecube), has lost 30 odd parts which are essential if he is to ever see home again! During a brief survey of the crash site, Olimar discovers what appears to be a red onion on legs. The onion proceeds to spit out a seed which burrows into the ground, sprouting a leaf. Much to Olimar’s surprise, upon yanking the leaf out of the ground, there appears a little red anthropomorphic creature which Olimar names a “Pikmin” after his favorite brand of carrots.

He soon learns that the Pikmin are semi-intelligent and will follow his commands, and that there is hardly anything they will not do. And therein lies the game play. Like most real-time strategy games, the first order of business is generating workers. Beginning with one Pikmin, Olimar instructs it to bring the Onion pellets and local creatures. This feeds the Onion, causing it to generate more Pikmin seeds.

Olimar Leads the Way!

Killing local predators may have been difficult for Pikmin on their own, but with you commanding them they make a decent wrecking crew!  Olimar tosses Pikmin at an enemy, or can cause the Pikmin to swarm an enemy by directing them with the “C” stick. After an enemy is killed, or upon discovering a ship part, the Pikmin will automatically try to lift it and carry it back to base camp. Depending on the size and weight of a given object, more Pikmin will be required to carry it (as denoted above the given object). If more than the required amount carry an object, they carry it twice as fast.

Once a large enough force has been amassed, it’s up to Olimar to take them out on an expedition to find the missing ship parts. Along the way, they encounter obstacles that require different strategies. For example, a cardboard box is blocking the route. Commanding the Pikmin to move towards the box, they automatically begin pushing against it – but it won’t budge. Olimar can see he needs a certain number of Pikmin to move the box, say 20, but he only has 10 Pikmin trying to do the job. This kind of puzzle is very simple, but serves as a building block towards much more complex obstacles.

Different Pikmin for Different Tasks

Soon Olimar discovers different kinds of Pikmin. The Yellow Pikmin can be tossed higher, and they can carry bombrocks. Blue Pikmin have gills and can traverse underwater, where the others would simply drown. This paves the way for greater and more diverse challenges. Olimar discovers that Pikmin who drink nourishing nectar, or who are allowed to remain planted in the ground long enough, will grow buds, and then flower. Flowered Pikmin run twice as fast and can even take damage from enemies (reverting back to the slower, regular Leaf Pikmin).

Some enemies have Pikmin-specific attacks, such as fire breath (in which case only Red Pikmin should be used during an attack). Of course, sometimes a predator will get the upper hand, and you feel bad when you see Pikmin being eaten, or when they drown, or become crushed to death, or catch on fire and start running around like crazy (and their little screams of pain don’t exactly ease a guilty conscience). After awhile, you really start to care about these little guys.

Repairing the Dolphin

Most ship parts serve a function, so actually recovering every part can be very rewarding; for example the Radar allows you to see missing ship parts on your map. This constant upgrading is satisfying and gives the player added gratification for solving a puzzle or conquering an obstacle.

Adding to the challenge is a 30 day time-limit, imposed by the ship’s faltering oxygen supply. Often, an entire day is spent clearing an area of enemies, meaning by the end of the game you are forced to collect more than one ship-part per day (which, though taxing, provides an even better sense of accomplishment!). Since each day lasts for only about 15 minutes, this puts the game length at only 7 and a half hours. However, this is only half the story, as often you will fail to accomplish what you had planned in any given day, and might choose to restart to do a better job.

Visuals

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. Beautifully rendered organic environments, both above and below ground, and textured with the utmost attention to detail. It is rumored that Shigeru Miyamoto took photographs of his own garden, which were then used as texture maps for the actual game. Leaves have just the right waxy highlights, and maintain their integrity upon close inspection. Water glistens just right, and distorts everything underwater. Enemy designs are unlike anything you’ve seen before; strange and colorful creations with a life and mind of their own. Not to mention the Pikmin themselves; seeing 100 Pikmin marching across the land at your command, often with just a couple of stragglers, is a sight to behold in and of itself!

Final Captain’s Log

There is so much charm in the design of this game, from the Pikmin themselves on, that it’s easy to fall in love.  For example, after a hard day’s work, Olimar returns to his ship – where an email from his loving wife and kids awaits. And when his family hasn’t contacted him, he writes down any new observations from the day in the Captain’s Log. Pikmin is a new, simplified, but extremely fun strategy game for everyone.  It’s unfortunate that Nintendo doesn’t come up with new game ideas like this one more often.

Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Beautiful graphics
  • Simple, intuitive controls
  • Strange areas, monsters, and challenges
  • Cute, whimsical designs

CONs:

  • Limited to 100 Pikmin on the field at once
  • Harsh time limit shortens the experience
  • Stray Pikmin aren’t smart enough to return to base
  • Some bosses feel more like battles of attrition than strategy

One Sentence Review: A simple, but fun real-time strategy game that really gives you the sense of exploring an alien planet from a worm’s eye view.

One Word Review: Intergalactic!

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