Nintendo has maintained a reputation as a company that never releases new properties. The common thought is that they only constantly rehash their staples: Zelda, Mario, and some others that variables that change over time. That’s never been very accurate, and it seems to be a little less repeated these recent years, but to demonstrate how long this belief has been held, let’s use Pikmin as an example. When it was released at the end of 2001, many in the industry noted how this was the first new IP Nintendo has released in a long time. For example, here’s a 2001 article from IGN which can’t help but tout in the very first sentence:
Pikmin is a whole new breed of gameplay from Nintendo, and is also one of the first new franchises to come out of the company’s internal development studio EAD in a long while.IGN Staff
Hogwash! What about Doshin the Giant? What about Doubutsu no Mori, which would be released a year later in North America as Animal Crossing? What about Luigi’s Mansion? What about 1080° Snowboarding? Fight me, vintage IGN!
In any case, Pikmin, was a new IP for Nintendo at the time of release, and it came out quite early in the Gamecube’s lifespan. It’s largely considered to be the baby of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the aforementioned Zelda and Mario franchises. So the pedigree behind it is intense.
Pikmin is the story of Olimar, an inhabitant of the planet Hocotate, who crash lands on a strange and hostile planet. The parts of his ship have scattered, and worse yet, the planet has a high level of toxic oxygen in its atmosphere, leaving him only 30 days before his suit’s life support fails. Lucky for him, he immediately stumbles upon a helpful species that he names Pikmin, and finds that they’ll be instrumental in helping him repair his ship, the Dolphin.
There’s 30 parts to get and 30 days to get them. That’s a tight schedule, but entirely doable unless you’re as terrible as I was when I was a teenager. The time ticks down each day, giving you a limited period to scoop up as many parts as possible before night sets. Some are just lying around, others require you to solve a simple puzzle to reach them, and then there are those that are protected by larger creatures. Regardless of the situation, you’ll need your Pikmin to find and carry the parts back to your ship.
It’s hard to nail Pikmin to any specific classification. Real-time strategy is probably the closest, but even then; what strategy? You build your army of Pikmin out of three seperate colours with their own abilities, and you’re more frequently using them to solve puzzles than fight enemies. When you do fight other creatures, it’s usually a one on one fight for survival. Bulborbs and Blowhogs try to eat your Pikmin or just destroy them by other means, while you fling your army or surround your prey.
It really demonstrates the viciousness of nature, as the Pikmin are often depicted as cute and helpless creatures, but in numbers they fight viciously. Then they’re off to carry their defeated prey back to their little onion ships to process them into more Pikmin buds. Likewise, the other creatures are typically imposing, single-minded monsters, right up until they cry their last towards an uncaring sky.
It pokes me right in my guilt issues, making me feel my every failure. Having a group of the little critters be devoured suddenly, or accidentally leaving one behind at night to fend for itself, alone, in a hostile environment; it slaps me right in the heart. Heck, if you fail to retrieve all your parts in time, well, let’s just say that there is a price for failure.
A PRICE FOR FAILURE
It’s not like you’re going to be naming each one of your Pikmin and mourning them when they die. You can take 100 of them with you at any time and they’re all interchangeable. That is, aside from the fact that the red ones are immune to fire and can do more damage, the yellow ones can carry bombs and be thrown farther, and the blue ones can breath underwater. You have to use all these skills, sometimes in tandem to access your ship parts. For example, you may need to take a group of blue ones to fish out a ship part, then hand it over to a herd of reds to lug it over firey terrain.
The solutions to problems seemed obvious to me, but like I said previously, I had something of a struggle when I was a teenager. There are perils everywhere, and one moment, things could be hunky dory, but then suddenly, a blowhog bucks half your mini-buddies into water and you’re left deciding whether to continue the battle or try and fish your friends out before they drown. It alternates between serenely calm and distressingly chaotic.
Your Pikmin themselves don’t have much in the way of self-preservation skills and will happily follow you into battle against a superior foe or carry a part directly in front of a hungry critter. It can sometimes be frustrating as you watch a few Pikmin follow your orders a little too literally and drop off a slope into water, or blow themselves up with bomb rocks. Take a deep breath. The little carrot-people are disposable.
It doesn’t help that the game keeps a count of how many of your expendable entourage have perished in their single-minded mission to help you. Way to twist the knife, Nintendo. It doesn’t take much to replenish your horde, and keeping each colour above the 100 mark is not terribly difficult, so at least there’s always more ways to splash blood onto your hands.
CARROT-PEOPLE ARE DISPOSABLE
Each time you acquire a certain number of parts, your ship is able to carry you to the next area. There’s four in total, and that counts the initial level that you only really need to return to once. There’s a decent variety between them, but there is a certain sense of anemia. There just isn’t a lot of content, any way you slice it.
The 30 days go by pretty quickly, even if you use all of them in your quest to get every part. This is probably the biggest complaint I have against the game; it just comes across as insubstantial. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a tech demo; it has too much personality for that, but one does get a sense that development was abbreviated to get them game to market as quickly as possible. Whether that means it was rushed or its scope was just limited; it’s hard to say.
BACK TO THE ONION
As the launch of a new franchise, Pikmin is pretty successful. It’s a game that’s full of charm, and is almost impossible to put down as you grasp for those out-of-reach parts. It can be meditative, heartbreaking, and chaotic, all within a short span of time. It’s really something special that I think everyone owes itself to play.
At the same time, it’s also a rather brief game. Regardless in whether or not you think that runtime is a metric for measuring a game’s worth (I don’t), it still feels insubstantial within its own context. It feels like it’s only getting warmed up as you blast off for the last time. You can always move on to Pikmin 2 or Pikmin 3, but your time with the original will no doubt be brief.
Unless you’re a scrub, like I was in my teens.
This review was conducted on a GameCube using a disk copy of the game. It was paid for by the author (or more likely, their mother since they weren’t old enough to have their own finances at the time).