Retro Review: Pikmin
With the talks of Pikmin 3 and us North Americans only getting the New Play Control Pikmin 2 recently, I figured now would be a perfect time to jump on the bandwagon. For some reason, I skipped out on the franchise when it was new. I love strategy games, I think the amount of hours I spent on Starcraft will speak for itself, but I never had interest in this game until it became rare. Thanks to the power of eBay, I got a copy of Pikmin for Gamecube and immediately fell in love.
The story centers on a space pilot by the name of Olimar. During a routine flight, a meteor hits his ship and sends him crashing onto an unknown planet. Upon waking up, he discovers that his beloved ship, The Dolphin, is broken with 30 parts missing. Olimar’s sensors also indicate that the planet’s atmosphere contains poisonous oxygen which will kill him after his life support fails, which will occur in 30 days. Being the brave man that he is, he explores the immediate area and finds what he calls an Onion, which then spits out a red plant. Olimar decides to pull it up and discovers a plant-based life form and names it a Pikmin. With these creatures’ help, Olimar can collect his missing parts and return home.
It is a simple set up that could be forgotten about quickly after the introduction, but Nintendo gave Olimar a surprisingly deep sense of character. After each in-game day, Olimar records a page in his log, detailing a new discovery, a certain enemy or item, or simply reminiscing about his family back home. Because of this, I found myself becoming quite attached to Olimar and wanted him to get home, giving me that push to make sure I find all the parts. Of course if it were not for the Pikmin, he would get nowhere fast. The Pikmin are adorable creatures that are portrayed as curious beings that look up to Olimar as a father figure. While they have no dialogue, their movement, stand still animations, sound effects and curious behaviour as they wander from the group to pull up grass all makes them seem the more real.
While the story does a good job of pulling you in, it is the gameplay and world that will keep you coming back for more. Since this is a console RTS, it makes sense that it would be streamlined to give a simple and intuitive control method without sacrificing too much depth. The analog stick moves Olimar while the C-stick can control the Pikmin who are following you. The B-button is your whistle, which will call Pikmin to your side when they are in the radius created from the whistle. The Y-button is your map; L, R, and Z buttons control the camera and X dismisses your Pikmin into groups based on their color. Finally, the A-button is your action command, either throwing Pikmin at enemies and obstacles, or plucking Pikmin from the ground when they are born. It is easy to pick up and play but mastering it may take some time. Thankfully, you are given unlimited time on the first day to come to terms with the control scheme.
Pikmin are separated into three groups: red, yellow and blue. Each have their advantage that should be exploited at certain points, but they also have weaknesses. Red Pikmin are immune to fire and are the strongest of the bunch, but they cannot survive in water. Yellow Pikmin can be thrown much higher and pick up bombs, but again, will die in water. Blue Pikmin can survive and fight in water and because of this, they are my favorite to use. The game comes to life when you must make use of all three types to overcome the puzzling environment.
The day runs on a 30 day time limit, each one lasting 15 minutes. The reason for this is because the planet becomes extremely hostile at night. Any dismissed Pikmin that is not around their onions or the Dolphin will be left behind and killed by enemies, which is sadder when you watch it yourself. Due to this time limit, there is a feeling of urgency and a constant fear if you are going to be able to do your tasks. Similarly, combat is very intense, as I dislike having my Pikmin die. Nothing is worse then bringing 50 Pikmin to a fight and having only 13 survive. Another limit is that you can only have 100 Pikmin in the field at a time, so excess Pikmin will remain in their onion. This is where the strategy really comes into play. You can take out 40 blue Pikmin to cross water and build a bridge while commanding 45 red Pikmin to clear the path from a ship part to the Dolphin. Or while a group of Pikmin are carrying a ship part or dead enemies back to base, grab a few yellows to hurl bombs at a blockade. While it can be fun and intense to send commands to multiple groups, it can also be needlessly tedious. Unlike PC games where units are a simple mouse click away; Olimar has to walk to a group, which can be the length of the map away. It is by no means a deal breaker, and I only found it a bit annoying at a few instances. Perhaps this affected me more then some as I could have planned out my tasks poorly causing some time to be wasted. A good strategy and thought process goes a long way to success.
The solid gameplay foundation is wrapped in an amazing presentation that surprised me at how well it stood up. When the camera is zoomed out the textures look great, but as the camera gets closer they become blurrier. It is one of the most realistic looking games Nintendo has made, but it still has that classic Nintendo feel.
While the textures are top notch, it is the lighting, animations and environmental effects that really bring this game to life. Since the game runs on a day and night cycle, the beginning of the day is at dawn and will get brighter until noon, where it will then get darker until night time. It is gradual and because of it, it really seems like a day has passed; you will not see any “What a terrible night to have a curse” boxes pop up to stop the gameplay. The Pikmin have a wide range of motions that make them seem all the more real. They can be thrown, drown, tear down walls, build bridges, celebrate when they return a ship part, and fall down a cliff if they are carrying something from higher ground (which is far more hilariously cute then it should be). Finally, the environment is just so life-like. The way the water ripples with each individual Pikmin entering it and the way leafs sway.
The music is also excellent. From the main theme to the to tune of each zone, all the melodies are memorable and only add to the natural atmosphere that Pikmin is conveying. Hands down it has to be one of the best looking and sounding games of its era.
It has been ages since I was this impressed with a video game as I am with Pikmin. Sure, there have been classics since that I knew were going to be great, but Pikmin came out of nowhere and blew all expectations away. It has been even longer since I beaten a game and decided to do another playthrough immediately afterwards. With a few minor nitpicks aside; this game is one of the best on the Gamecube, and one of the best I ever played. I simply cannot recommend this game any more then what I am. Shear brilliance.