They build bridges, they carry spaceship parts and fruit, they can even take down giant monsters by working together. The multicoloured plant-like creatures that are the Pikmin have created one of Nintendo’s most beloved games franchises and become a firm favorite of mine. The games are a delightful mixture of strategy, time management, and exploration of a beautiful magnified world.
We begin with the franchise’s main character, the intrepid explorer known as Olimar, crash-landing on the planet of PNF-404 (a pun on the internet term “page not found – error 404”). He quickly finds the first of the Pikmin Onions and begins to rebuild his rocket with their help. The game is the perfect starting point for the trilogy, introducing the player to the fireproof Red Pikmin, the amphibious Blue Pikmin, and the electricity-loving yellow Pikmin. Each type has its own special abilities which must be utilised in tandem with each other in order to retrieve the parts of the Dolphin. Only through managing your workers and your time effectively can you get off the planet before your life support runs out.
The second instalment of the franchise, Pikmin 2, sees the return of Olimar with his inept colleague Louie in tow. They reunite with the Pikmin once again to scour PNF-404 for “treasure” (an array of junk including batteries, lightbulbs, and coins), this time augmenting their ranks with the super-strong Purple Pikmin and the poisonous White Pikmin. This time, our time is split between the two spacemen, each with their own cohort of Pikmin. Co-ordinating the two is key for much of the game, especially when taking on the new underground caves. The previous thirty-day time limit is also lifted, letting you spend as much time as you like finding every last scrap of treasure.
Finally, we come to the Wii U’s Pikmin 3, the jewel in the franchise’s crown, in my opinion. The third instalment in the series switches things up a little when we take control of Alph, Brittany, and Charlie (conveniently named alphabetically) to retrieve fruit to feed the starving population of Koppai. The Onions are consolidated into one easy-to-handle super-Onion, and we are introduced to the crystal-smashing Rock Pikmin and the fairy-like Winged Pikmin. The game takes full advantage of the Wii U’s HD capabilities, rendering a stunning microscopic world. The GamePad comes into its own here, allowing you to view the map at a glance, automatically move your leaders to different locations, and check the game’s KopPad for information on the world around you. The game finds the perfect balance for the time limit, giving you more time on the planet depending on how much fruit you collect.
So, that’s a synopsis of the series so far. The games do very well as games in their own right, but where do they go from here? Well, there are several directions to take. The series is well-suited to film and merchandising: already, we have the Pikmin Safari shorts to give us a closer look at the adorable creatures we known and love. They have their own individual personalities, something that is nigh-on impossible to portray from the zoomed out third-person perspective of the games. As for merchandise, who wouldn’t want dozens of plushy Pikmin to throw around your room? I know I would, and they’re already in the shops.
The games do have their weaknesses, of course. There is no co-operative mode for the story campaigns in either of the later two instalments, which does feel like a drawback. Such a series easily lends itself to multiplayer action, and thus far, we only have a scaled-back set of maps with specific challenges. The pattern so far has been to add one new leader to each game, meaning if we do get Pikmin 4, we could be looking at four-way split-screen gaming. It’s a minor annoyance, but one that Nintendo is quickly building towards fixing with every iteration of the franchise.
Part of Pikmin‘s charm lies in its wonderfully intricate world. The series was originally inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto pottering around in his garden, and the tiny landscapes that the Pikmin inhabit are charming and lovingly detailed. Twigs and tiles form tiny bridges, lily pads become sturdy rafts, and paper bags act as ramps. The enemies are all distinctive and garishly designed, such as the infamous Bulborbs. This world becomes all the more beautiful in Pikmin 3, thanks to the high-definition capabilities of the Wii U. The level of realism that comes into play when effects like rain are introduced is perhaps one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Let’s not forget the gameplay itself, though. There are many things to consider when your explorers pop out of their spaceship each morning: how many Pikmin you want to use, which types, how you divide them between leaders. Tactically planning your day is crucial; by splitting up your leaders, you can get twice or even three times the amount of work done that you would with one large group. The automatic movement in Pikmin 3 is particularly helpful, allowing you to send groups to any part of the map you choose while you take direct control elsewhere.
Such tactics come into play again when fighting enemies. Many enemies require a specific type of Pikmin to defeat them, such as the Fiery Blowhog, which is easily beaten by Red Pikmin but can destroy swathes of other types. Other enemies may even need a mixture of different colors at different points in the battle, such as the Titan Dweevil from Pikmin 2. This all boils down to your preferred methods of carrying out tasks — do you send your powerful Reds home with the loot, or keep them close by in case of another battle? Should those Winged Pikmin carry berries across the stream, or should you use the amphibious Blues? Planning is everything in this game, especially when it comes to time management.
Speaking of which, the game’s time limit mechanic has been improving with every iteration. In the original, you had to collect enough parts to repair the Dolphin before the thirty-day limit was up. Nintendo removed this in the second game, allowing players to take on the game at their leisure. However, I feel the game lost a sense of urgency in doing so, and so I was pleasantly surprised when the third game brought in a sort of halfway house between the two. Now, pieces of fruit that you collect increase the number of days you can stay on the planet. This gives players a choice: either harvest as much fruit as possible early on, or keep just above the minimum whilst exploring the vast levels. It’s an excellent balance to gameplay, and works perfectly with the pre-planning style of the series.
So where can the series go from here? Well, the obvious way forward is to make Pikmin 4, either for the Wii U or Nintendo’s next home console. HD quality certainly agrees with the game’s style, as does Wii Remote pointer technology, so hopefully they will remain at the core of the game. Since each game has thus far added a new leader, it is safe to assume that a fourth game in the series would feature four main characters, opening the gates for four-way multiplayer (or even five-way, if the GamePad is involved).
And let’s not forget the eponymous Pikmin themselves; could we see more types of Pikmin being added, or possibly the ability to control more of them in the field? Personally, I would like to see something along the lines of luminescent Pikmin for traversing darkened areas, especially if a mode was implemented where the player can spend the night on the ground. Burrowing Pikmin could create tunnels in certain areas, or builder Pikmin that can create walls to block enemies. The possibilities are endless.
Pikmin is the perfect blend of action, strategy, and pure aesthetic beauty, all mixed together into one fantastic franchise. There’s something for everyone, whether you enjoy slaying enemies, watching loot pile up, or simply exploring a world that is already at our feet. With his little flower-topped creations, Miyamoto has created a classic, and we can only hope that Pikmin 4, if and when it comes around, will be even better.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s nearly sunset, and the nocturnal predators are beginning to awake. Back to the Onions, guys…