Pikmin Turns 20!

Today, October 26th 2021, marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of Pikmin in Japan!

Yes, somehow, it’s been two full decades since players were introduced to the multi-colored half-plant/half-animal aliens known as Pikmin, and the brave Captain Olimar, the hero of the series.

Pikmin was the brainchild of none other than Shigeru Miyamoto himself, the creator of Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong (in addition to less prominent series Star Fox and F-Zero). Although it’s never achieved the same level of success as Mario or Zelda, Pikmin certainly shares in their spirit, with Miyamoto’s signature “fun at all costs” philosophy present throughout.

The original Pikmin was released October 26th 2001 on the Nintendo GameCube (it barely missed the console’s launch both in Japan and stateside), and saw Captain Olimar utilize three Pikmin types: fast and fire-resistant Red Pikmin; Yellow Pikmin, who could be thrown higher and (strangely) were the only Pikmin who could throw bombs; and aquatic Blue Pikmin, who have since become a staple as the last Pikmin type the player meets in each game. With the help of the Pikmin, Captain Olimar had to recover the 30 pieces of his rocket ship within a 30 day in-game time limit, before his air supply ran out (so its story is kind of like a more serious Toejam & Earl, a game which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary on the 15th, by the way).

Pikmin was a big deal because, at the time, it was the first big new franchise Nintendo had made in some years (the N64 era was mostly about bringing Nintendo’s established franchises into the third dimension). And of course, the fact that Miyamoto was its creator certainly helped. Not to mention its unique gameplay, which combined elements of puzzle, action and real-time strategy into one innovative package.

Three years later, Pikmin 2 was released, also on the GameCube. This entry introduced Louie, the Luigi to Olimar’s Mario, as a second playable character. Pikmin 2 also brought in new Purple Pikmin, who had ten times the strength of other Pikmin types, and White Pikmin, who were not only resistant to poison, but would poison whatever creatures managed to eat them. The story here was that the company Olimar and Louie work for is in debt, and the Pikmin planet just so happens to house treasures that are quite valuable on Olimar’s home planet of Hocotate.

Although Pikmin 2 still utilized a day/night cycle like the first game, it no longer had a time limit for the adventure. Additionally, the player could traverse underground dungeons for the game’s best treasures and boss fights, which ignored the clock altogether until the player returned to the surface.

Oh, and Pikmin 2’s claymation promotional art? Sublime.

Both GameCube titles would later be re-released on the Nintendo Wii with newly implemented motion controls, which some felt improved the games. But outside of those re-releases, the Pikmin series would lay dormant for nine years after Pikmin 2.

Finally, in 2013, Pikmin 3 was released on the Wii U. Though the Wii U would end up being a financial failure for Nintendo, it had a strong selection of first-party titles, and Pikmin 3 was one of the best of the lot.

Pikmin 3 introduced three new characters: Alph, Brittany and Charlie, who came to the Pikmin planet in search of fruit seeds to regrow their planet’s food supply. Though they hailed from a different planet than Olimar, they would encounter the returning Pikmin hero (and Louie) during the adventure. And while the Purple and White Pikmin were sadly sidelined to one of the game’s secondary modes, two new Pikmin types were introduced: Rock Pikmin, who could break through objects the other Pikmin could not in addition to delivering a kind of sucker punch to enemies when thrown; and Winged Pikmin, who could fly, giving the player a whole new way to explore the world.

Pikmin 3’s omissions of some of Pikmin 2’s features was met with criticisms (besides the largely reduced presence of the purple and white Pikmin, the game also left behind the dungeons from its predecessor), but it also received strong praise as the most approachable Pikmin title, a sentiment I would have to agree with.

Like many other Wii U titles, Pikmin 3 was eventually brought over to the Nintendo Switch as Pikmin 3 Deluxe in 2020, featuring new modes that brought back Olimar into a playable role.

Besides that re-release, the only Pikmin game since Pikmin 3 was Hey Pikmin! on the Nintendo 3DS, which was like a side-scrolling spinoff game. Hey Pikmin! had a lukewarm reception, probably in no small part to the fact that Pikmin games are so infrequent that fans really just want another proper Pikmin game.

Sadly, we’re still waiting for a full-on Pikmin 4. It’s been eight years since Pikmin 3 was originally released (geez, already?!), meaning that the wait between Pikmins 3 and 4 will match the time gap between Pikmins 2 and 3 in just a number of months… Hopefully Nintendo can at least give us an update on Pikmin 4’s in the not-too-distant future. More Pikmin could only ever be a very good thing.

I guess I should correct myself, as there now is another Pikmin spinoff game, as Niantic – the creators of Pokemon Go – have just given a ‘soft release’ to their new mobile game Pikmin Bloom today, to commemorate the series’ twentieth anniversary. I still play Pokemon Go to this day, so I’ll have to give Pikmin Bloom a go myself!

We may all still be waiting ever so patiently for Pikmin 4, but for a series of surprisingly few entries, Pikmin really has carved a strong legacy for itself in the twenty years since it debuted as that quirky new GameCube game “from the creator of Mario and Zelda.”

“I still have that Pikmin promotional booklet from Nintendo Power!”

Happy twentieth, Pikmin!

Top 10 Wii U Games (So Far)

Wii U

The Wii U is a devastatingly underrated system. It’s ousted the GameCube as Nintendo’s least-selling home console of all time. Because of that, gamers all over the internet, true to their  cynical nature, see that as a reflection of the quality of the system itself (of course, they also dismissed the original Wii because it sold well, so go figure). But despite being the butt of jokes on the internet and its less-than desirable sales figures, the Wii U actually boasts a really impressive library of games.

Sure, Nintendo really needed to emphasize the console over the controller in its early marketing strategies, the Gamepad needed to be used more effectively in more games, and one can’t help but think that simply naming the console “Wii 2” could have helped boost sales by itself (because seriously, what does the “U” mean?). Despite this questionable decision-making and marketing, the Wii U has ultimately proven to be a terrific console where it counts, and that’s the games.

Yes, the Wii U had a slow first few months, but once it started picking up steam around mid-2013 it’s released some of the best games in recent years. Arguably the best part is that you can’t play them anywhere else. Though console exclusives are becoming rarer on competing hardware, they often prove to be the more definitive titles of their generations, and it’s an area in which Nintendo always excels.

Though the Wii U still has some big games on the horizon (including a new Star Fox and The Legend of Zelda), I think it’s safe to say that rumblings of Nintendo’s next console, codenamed “NX,” means that its days as a priority for Nintendo are slowing down. Sure, Nintendo has stated that they’ll still support the Wii U even after NX launches, but I think the Wii U’s underwhelming sales will make it a short-term continued support (Wii U might have a good few months and a couple of big games after NX, but I can’t imagine it would go much farther). I feel now is a good time to reflect on the many great games the Wii U has provided over the past three years, even if I may have to make a revised edition after the last waves of big games hit the console in the year ahead.

Despite Nintendo being backed into a wall in regards to the Wii U, or perhaps because of it, Nintendo has ended up creating some of the greatest lineups of games in their history for the console. It’s given us the most balanced Mario Kart, the most intricate Smash Bros. and the best version of the best 3D Zelda yet made. But which Wii U games are the best?

The following is my list of the top 10 greatest Wii U games. The ten Wii U titles that are the most fun. The 10 most definitive. The 10 games that all those people who still refuse to get a Wii U are missing out on the most. Seriously people, stop using the whole “waiting for Zelda” excuse as a crutch. Nintendo consoles are more than just a Zelda title.

One final note, I have decided not to include The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD in this countdown. Despite being one of my favorite video games, it would feel kind of cheap to list a remake here with all the original Wii U titles, even if Wind Waker HD has some of the best uses of the Gamepad.

So without further ado, the top 10 Wii U games! But first, some runners-up! Continue reading “Top 10 Wii U Games (So Far)”

Pikmin 3 Review

Pikmin 3

 

Although there was a nine-year gap in between Pikmin 2 and this sequel, Pikmin veterans will feel right at home with Pikmin 3, and newcomers will be delighted to find that it serves as a great introduction to the series. Pikmin 3 overcomes the large gap in between releases by being accessible to gamers of all ranges of experience with the series, in the process delivering the deepest Pikmin title yet.

Longtime Pikmin fans will notice the absence of series protagonist Captain Olimar. In his place are three new characters: Alph, Brittany and Charlie, who travel to the Pikmin planet to bring fruit and seeds to their starving home planet of Koppai. Olimar still finds his way into the plot, with his notes on the planet’s wildlife (primarily the Pikmin) being conveniently strewn about the environments, giving players mini-tutorials in the process.

Pikmin 3In order for the three heroes to gather the fruit they need, they of course require the help of the Pikmin found on the planet. The original three Pikmin types return with their abilities intact (Red Pikmin are slightly stronger and immune to fire. Blue Pikmin can swim. Yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity and can be thrown higher than the others). They are now joined by two brand new Pikmin types: Rock Pikmin and Winged Pikmin.

The Rock Pikmin can be used to break away tough obstacles and daze enemies with a sucker punch-like first strike, while Winged Pikmin, as their name suggests, can fly. The two new Pikmin types add an interesting dynamic to the gameplay, and their additions mean that plenty of the game’s puzzles take full advantage of their abilities (as well as those of the returning Pikmin). Pikmin 2 fans might be disappointed that the powerful Purple Pikmin and poisonous White Pikmin aren’t to be found in the game’s story mode, but rest assured they do make appearances in Pikmin 3′s mission mode and multiplayer Bingo Battle.

Pikmin 3Pikmin 3 retains similar gameplay to its predecessors. You still pluck Pikmin from the ground, gather  pellets to gain more troops, solve puzzles, and fight large (and some not-so-large) enemies. So Pikmin 3 doesn’t exactly reinvent the series, but it does refine it. Calling your Pikmin from their Onion (the Pikmin spaceship) at the beginning of each in-game day has been streamlined. Instead of each Pikmin type having their own Onion you have one big Onion, which gains access to each new Pikmin type as you discover them.

Scheduling the aforementioned in-game days is easier than ever. The days and nights still go by, and you still have to make sure your Pikmin are either in their Onion or in the presence of one of the three characters before the sun sets (lest they get eaten by beasties), but Pikmin 3 lacks the 30 day time limit of the original game, and it leaves behind the dungeons concept of Pikmin 2, which makes it a bit easier to plan out each individual day in the game. Go gather a few pieces of fruit one day, maybe go after a boss the next, or just spend a day building your Pikmin army. In terms of its core gameplay Pikmin 3 has pretty much fine-tuned the best aspects of the series, and trimmed the fat of its predecessors.

Pikmin 3Combat is still as fun as ever, even if it may not be as much of a focus as it was in Pikmin 2. The beasts that inhabit the Pikmin planet are a bizarre range of creatures that showcase Nintendo character design at its most creative. Each monster you come across presents its own little puzzle. Some will be more obvious (if its a slug made out of fire, use the Red Pikmin), while others will be more strategic (such as a giant enemy crab that requires hefty Rock Pikmin to break its claw, and Blue Pikmin to attack it from the back when in submerges itself). The character design alone is a thing of beauty, the fact that Nintendo was creative enough to bring out all aspects of Pikmin 3′s gameplay through its bestiary just makes it all the more fun.

It should be noted that Pikmin 3 was the first Nintendo game to really take advantage of the Wii U’s HD capabilities. Yes, New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land were pretty enough to look at, but the former stuck too close to the established aesthetics, while the latter purposefully used a more simplistic approach to its visuals. But Pikmin 3 is the first in-house Nintendo game to really take advantage of HD, and it looks gorgeous.Pikmin 3

Lush environments, eye-popping colors, lovingly crafted details, every inch of Pikmin 3 is simply pleasing to the eyes. It’s hard to think of very many HD games that are half as colorful as this.

Pikmin 3 is equally pleasing to the ears. While its soundtrack may not be as instantly infectious as Mario or as emotional as Zelda, Pikmin 3′s score is elegant, atmospheric, and very fitting to the nature of the game. The music is calm and chirpy in the game’s sun-drenched locales, but becomes bombastic and epic during one of the (often difficult) boss fights.

Pikmin 3 admittedly has a couple of small drawbacks that should be addressed. The first is the most obvious. The Wii U Gamepad – while effective in the control of the characters and in providing players with a map (complete with RTS-style fog of war) – provides some control issues in regards to aiming. You may find it difficult to accurately throw Pikmin on a flying foe, and it can feel a bit awkward trying to toss Pikmin in high to reach places. Pikmin 3 gives you the option to play with a Wii remote and nunchuck combo, which may actually be a better means of control all around. You can’t be too hard on Pikmin 3 for not being the best showcase of the Gamepad though, as the game had been in development for the Wii for years before being moved to the Wii U.

There’s also the issue with the Pikmin AI getting a little “confused” at times. You may find that a few Pikmin have gotten lost somewhere on the map more often than you’d like. Some may also cry foul at the rather short length of the story mode after having waited so long between sequels, but while the adventure may be compact, Pikmin 3 makes the most of everything it has to work with.

But these are small complaints when the whole package is this engaging. If you have any friends over you can enjoy a game of Bingo Battle, in which two player armies try to gather the objects from a bingo card in order to gain that ever-elusive bingo, all while hindering the other player – Mario Kart style – with a host of items and power-ups.

Pikmin 3Mission Mode provides additional replayability, with missions asking players to put their skills to the test and clear an area of collectible items, defeating all enemies on the map, or besting one of the game’s bosses in the fastest time.

When all is said and done, Pikmin 3 is not just a welcome and long-awaited return for the series, it’s the most refined and balanced – and all around best – entry in the Pikmin series to date. Although seeing the ghosts of fallen Pikmin may teeter on depressing, Pikmin 3 represents Nintendo’s knack at making games that exude charm, deep gameplay and, dare I say, magic.

We may have waited nine years, but it feels as though Pikmin never went anywhere.

 

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