Over three years ago I post review on Pikmin and I thought it was time I update it properly.PikminThe Culling of the Fields
Pikmin was an early title for the Nintendo Gamecube released October 21 in 2001 (November 21 in NA); a new IP by Shigeru Miyamoto inspired by his gardening adventures. It's an Action RTS with some Puzzle elements, something that can really only be classified in a field of its own. It stars Captain Olimar, an intrepid delivery man who crash lands on a distant planet and must fight to survive with the aid of a strange, alien species, the Pikmin. How does Olimar manage this? Let's find out:Story
As stated, Captain Olimar is minding his own business while on vacation in the Space when a near by comet wants to say hello to his ship, the S.S. Dolphin. The Dolphin isn't paying attention and smashes its face into the comet and loses its shit, careening towards a nearby planet. Olimar does everything he can to stop this, but ultimately crashes on the planet below, with the Dolphin being torn apart by the violent landing. As he wakes up the next morning, he finds the ruined hull of his once proud ship and realizes his dire situation: he's f*****. Olimar quickly collects himself, assess the environment and comes to the conclusion that unless he can repair the Dolphin in 30 days
he's going to run out of breathable air and die on this strange, alien world. He then wastes no time to explore his surroundings, and quickly comes across a discovery that would be his very salvation: the Pikmin.Day One
Day One serves as a tutorial for Pikmin; Olimar will chime in when you encounter something new throughout the game and tell you what it is and maybe what you can do about it. During Day One the player learns what the Pikmin are and what they can do; the basic summary of which is "teamwork saves the day". The Pikmin are small, flower-like creatures with a distinct red
coloring that would literally follow Olimar to their own deaths if it meant making him happy; an idea which I'll discuss later in this review. During Day One you'll get the brief overview of how to control the Pikmin, but you options are limited to mere obstacle solving. The first day ends shortly after Olimar discovers his ship's Engine
, which will allow him to get airborne during the nights, as well as see a new area in which to look for parts. Once the Pikmin collect and return the engine Olimar informs the player that he only has 30 days
to collect all 30 ship parts
to be able to return home. Each day ends with Olimar taking off and then reflecting on his situation; the end of the first day also means the start of the adventure.Exploring the Distant Planet
Over the course of the remaining 29 days
, the player will need to collect the remaining 29 ship parts
. For those of you not so good at math, that means about one part per day; but that's ultimately inefficient and it is very possible to complete Pikmin within only 6 days, albeit very, very
difficult. As you explore the planet you'll discover two addition types of Pikmin, yellow
. From here you learn that these three different types have different attributes that can come in handy for various problem solving: reds as fire proof; yellows can pick up and throw bomb rocks; and blues can breath underwater. The obstacles also tend to be defining of the 5 areas in the game: The Landing Site; The Forest of Hope; The Forest Navel; The Distant Spring; and The Final Trial. At some point you'll also realize that you can never have more than 100 Pikmin out on the field at any one time, which adds a new level a resource management to the game. This is something you'll need to keep in mind as multitasking is an absolute necessity, and you'll need to manage you Pikmin correctly as you'll come across a wide variety of creatures (the most common of which being varying species of Bulborbs) while exploring, and they all want to eat Olimar and his Pikmin. However, under Olimar's command, the Pikmin can use their numbers to take down these beast; which brings us to the main pattern of Pikmin:Carry, Fight, Increase, and be Eaten
Each morning will begin with you calling the Pikmin out from their Onions (where you store Pikmin you don't need) and setting out to accomplish the day's tasks. Each day only lasts about 15 minutes of play time, so you really don't have much in the way of idle time. The first thing you'll want to do is figure out where you need to go; you don't start the game with any sort of map so it'll be blind exploration at first. Once you know where you need to go you'll need to clear out any obstacles in your way; beasts and objects alike. Each beast attacks, moves, and is vulnerable in different ways, so you'll need to be extra careful when encountering new creatures. You also can't just ignore them, as your Pikmin are very vulnerable while carrying parts back to the Dolphin; so clearing a safe (and fast) path for them is imperative. While you're clearing things out you can take their dead carcasses and scattered pellets back to the Onions to grow additional Pikmin. Once the way is clear, set your Pikmin to collect the part and move onto the next task; all the while finding ways to accomplish more tasks at once through effective delegation of your Pikmin.Day 30
Once you've collected 29 ship parts, you'll gain access to the final area: The Final Trial. This area is both a test of your problem solving skills as well as combat leadership; the final part lies on the opposite side of the area and you'll need to first give your Pikmin safe access, with numerous traps and obstacles along the way. Once you make your way across, you'll come to an arena that houses the final boss: The Emperor Bulblax. This is by far the most difficult fight in the game; the Emperor Bulblax has tons of health, has only one real weak point, and will likely take most of the day to take down. Since this isn't a strategy guide, I'll leave him for you to defeat; but once defeated he'll yield the final part and Olimar will be able to return home, looking back on his adventure and wondering if he'll ever see the Pikmin again; as the Pikmin then go on to attack a Bulborb, no longer the bottom of the food chain.A Masterclass in Challenging Design
It is no doubt that Shigeru Miyamoto may very well be the greatest video game designer of all time, certainly the best that we've yet seen. His games all have one very important thing in common: Simple-ness of Design; and Pikmin is no exception.
The main challenge of Pikmin comes from resource management. As you can only have a maximum of 100 Pikmin at any one time, the challenge lies in using them properly. Now, of course there's a great amount of depth and nuance to that, but at the game's core the main conceit is "use them wisely". Sure, you could use 50 Pikmin to take down a single Bulborb, but you could also only use half, attacking its weak point, while the other half could be off building a bridge or collecting a part. The challenge doesn't come from sheer force, scale, or time; it's entirely on how well you manage your Pikmin.
There's also the 30-day time limit, which adds another element of difficulty as you now have to add time management to the mix. With the days only being 15 minutes you don't have much time to dawdle, and bad time management could very well cost you the playthrough. Oh yeah, did I mention that Pikmin is one of the greatest examples of games that encourage additional playthroughs? The design of the game fosters additional, self-imposed challenges to stive for; the most common of which being No-Death Runs; and the elusive 6-Day Challenge. The former of which is to complete the game without losing a single Pikmin, something that can be done in conjunction with the 50-Pikmin Challenge (beat the game using only 50 Pikmin); the latter challenge is to complete the game in only 6 days (something that can also be combined with the No-Death Run, but infinitely more difficult). The current World Record for fastest completion time is 59 minutes, 54 seconds; done in only 6 days with no deaths
Controlling the Pikmin is also fairly simple, but there are times when they could be slow to react or get stuck on stage geometry. They can also be distracted rather easily; often times you could be walking around and they'll wander to close to a creature, or something spawns, and if you aren't paying attention they could unwittingly wander to their death. They have zero self-preservation skills, and will often chase creatures into areas that will undoubtedly kill them, particularly water. This is less a comment on the game design, and more of how you really need to micromanage your Pikmin at all times. This could be rather difficult for new players to manage, and you especially don't want to leave you Pikmin alone for too long as they could easily antagonize a nearby creature once they're done with a task.Great Potential for Cruelty
It sucks when Pikmin die. I mean it really sucks
when Pikmin die. First of all they're presented as small, helpless creatures that Olimar takes under his wing to not only help himself, but help them survive their surroundings. They are the smallest creatures in the game and everything wants to eat them. They're also rather adorable in their child-like demeanor and mannerisms. They even released a single
telling Olimar how much they love him and would do anything to help him.
And then one of them dies and it's one of the most awful things ever put in a video game. They let out a single shriek and their soul floats on screen before disappearing forever, all the while your Pikmin counter ticks down one. Now most challenge runs, as well as general gameplay, encourages you to keep as many Pikmin alive as possible, but your first playthrough will undoubtedly have them dying in droves
. As if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.
Having Pikmin die is something that stains your consciousness, and also causes many rage-quits for those attempting no-death runs (I'm speaking from experience). And all of this means that Olimar is a cult leader, and as the song implies, he doesn't even know all this. Yes, he will lament the first time he loses a Pikmin, and the day comes to a hard end if all of your Pikmin die
, but he's otherwise rather stoic about the whole thing. Forget Undertale, this is the game that truly induces guilt for killing.Final Thoughts
Pikmin will be celebrating its 15 year Anniversary in a few months, and the game has not only stood the test of time but still stands a fantastic game by modern standards. Its design holds up incredibly well, and its replay-ability has ensured that it will remain an important franchise in its own right. The franchise itself only has 3 games to its name, but Pikmin will go down as yet another reason why Shigeru Miyamoto is the greatest video game designer of all time.
My only real gripe is how the Yellow Pikmin are fairly under-utilized compared to the Reds and Blues; water is by far the most plentiful obstacle and Reds are not only the strongest but as the first Pikmin are also the most plentiful. In the most optimized run, the most yellow Pikmin you'll need is 10. But I can't even really call that a fault as the game is still overall fantastically well designed and is start of one of the most rewarding franchises in Nintendo's line-up.
I glossed over the art and music direction for Pikmin in this review, because while I do wholeheartedly believe they contribute to the atmosphere, aesthetic, and character of the game, it's the design that's the real star of the show. The soundtrack is something worth checking out, and is a great example of environmental music. The music for each area consists of a variable mix of the area theme that changes depending on the time of day, if the Pikmin are working, and if they're fighting. Each track is a really defining part of its area, a particular favorite is the Sunset variation of The Forest Navel. The environmental artwork is also rather detailed, feeling like a real place; even with the more animated creature design it still all feels like it's a real world you could explore for yourself.
Overall Pikmin is a great game for people who find joy in accomplishing tasks for their own sake. There's a depth of challenge for the more hardcore gamers, and there's a level of replay-ability the most other games could never achieve. It's also rather short, a 100% playthrough could feasibly be done in a single sitting in the right hands. This is a game I revisit often, typically once a year or so. I'd highly recommend trying to find a copy if you can, but given the game is 15 years old finding one can be difficult. Final Score:
A game of fantastic design and replay-ability, but a score made in hind-sight proves that it's not quite perfect, and it's rather short length leaves a little something more to be desired.