Pikmin (GameCube) review
"I can't be the only one who has had dreams of hordes of fanatics who eagerly do whatever I say. I can see myself, standing on a platform high above them, row after row of soldiers, knives in hand, slowly chanting my name over and over. Caring about nothing but fervently carrying out my wishes, these warriors will throw themselves at whatever stands in the way of my most lofty goal, whether it be to take over the world or just getting a really tasty sandwich. Give me an army like that and I'd kno..."
I can't be the only one who has had dreams of hordes of fanatics who eagerly do whatever I say. I can see myself, standing on a platform high above them, row after row of soldiers, knives in hand, slowly chanting my name over and over. Caring about nothing but fervently carrying out my wishes, these warriors will throw themselves at whatever stands in the way of my most lofty goal, whether it be to take over the world or just getting a really tasty sandwich. Give me an army like that and I'd know what to do with it. My dream, Captain Olimar's reality. Yeah, somehow the hero of Nintendo's newest franchise won the absolute devotion of the Pikmin, using an infinite supply of these little creatures to carry out his goals. And what goals might these be? Ridding the planet of the foul Harkonnen stench and taking back Arrakis like some mahdis? Nope, just fixing his spaceship and getting back home. What a wuss.
Now, granted, that fixing the spaceship thing is important. Olimar, showing off his vast intellect, managed to steer his spacecraft right into the only object within 1000 miles from him, forcing him to crash land on an unknown planet. Alas, the atmosphere is poisonous to moron-guy, and his life support will only last for 30 days. With 30 pieces of his ship scattered across the planet, everything seems hopeless for our hero. But as he began exploring, he discovered another spaceship-like thing called an onion, which sprouted a tiny red pikmin. This little creature could cut down plants, tear down walls, push boxes, carry items, and attack predators, and it would follow Olimar loyally. Granted, one little guy ain't going to do much, but by carrying food (in the form of pellets or carcasses of dead animals) back to the onion, more creatures began to sprout. By plucking them, Olimar found he had gathered enough of an army to go hunting for his spaceship parts. And lo and behold, his slav... er, loyal subjects had no qualms with gathering around the broken parts and using their combined strength to carry them all the way back to his base, thereby repairing the ship. Later on, blue and yellow pikmin (water based and bomb carrying, respectively) joined the ranks of the warrior class, and by growing hundreds of them Olimar knew he had a chance to survive. But he only had 30 days, and the predators roamed the night. He and his army would have to work quickly.
You control Olimar through the game, not the individual Pikmin. You can call them to you, separate them into different colors, and even throw them one at a time. You can also use the C-stick to orient them, forcing them to congregate in specific areas. It's very confusing to use at first, since there's nothing really like it. On the other hand, once you get used to it, you'll find that it does work quite well, and in any case there's really nothing better they could have done. Pikmin react to things automatically, so you don't have to tell them to beat up on that ladybug that's eating half your army. As nice as that is, it also means random Pikmin will stop to cut down dandelions when you're running along, or you can push some Pikmin towards a wall for ages before it finally gets the hint that you want it torn down. Frustrating? Yes, but you'll get used to it. The objective of the game, of course, is to grab all 30 ship parts (scattered throughout 4 main areas) and bring them back to your base within the 30 days allotted to you. Each day lasts 15 minutes, and if you don't finish in time it's the big "WOW! YOU LOSE!" for you. Any Pikmin not idling at the base or following you at the end of the day will be left behind to fend for himself (yep, he's toast), adding yet another sense of danger. So much to do, so little time...
But you will do these things, and you will find you're having fun doing them. This is probably as close to becoming a cult leader as I'll ever get, and the experience was exhilarating. The feeling of glee as you toss your Pikmin into battle or order them to perform harsh manual labor to further your cause is intoxicating. And yes, like a good despot, my attachment to these little critters grew. Although I had no qualms with sacrificing a few of them to the common (ie, my) good, callously leaving some behind at night just didn't feel right. There's a certain pride you get when you know you have an army at your command, when you see these cute little critters flock around you in utter devotion. Yeah, RTSs have something similar, but there it feels more like you are directly controlling them omnipotently-like rather than standing in the midst of chaos ordering your troops to fight to the death for your own greater glory. OK, so maybe I'm going too far with my messianistic bent here, but at least try to understand what I'm trying to convey. The concept of this game alone makes it great; the tasks take a back seat to the fun you'll have just playing the game. Very few games out there can claim such a feat, that the actual game is secondary to the experience.
And it's a darn good thing this game does claim that feat, because once you get past the cool experience you may realize the game itself has the potential to become very boring. You do the same thing every day: take out a horde of Pikmin, kill all enemies in your path, grab the nearest ship part, haul it back to your base, and spend the rest of the day rebuilding the troops you lost or setting up the path to the next part. That's all you do, 30 times over. Combat's simple, the puzzles are simple, and every other task you can think of is simple. With only a few areas, you won't even get the joy of seeing brand new sites every day. Some people claim the game's too short, but with all this repetition I doubt most people could take too much more. With so little variety, you may be wondering why the game is loved by so many people.
So does that mean this game is bad? Should you play Pikmin? Well, that depends on your philosophy. If all you want to do is play through the game to the end, do what is necessary, and "see everything," then you'll likely come away wondering what all the fuss is about. But that's missing the point that Nintendo was trying to make. Yes, you can simply take out 100 pikmin, focus them all on one task, and then bringing them back and switching them out when necessary. However, the time limit prohibits one from such a boring plan, forcing you to multitask in order to get everything done in time. This is where the game shines: finding new ways to do the same thing. The fact that the game gives you the option of replaying each day until you are completely satisfied helps as well. If you plan well, the time limit is not an issue, but you'll never make it if you just try to do one thing at a time. But by checking things out and testing how many pikmin you need for each task, by determining how long you personally need to stay in each area, by figuring out which tasks can be done at the same time, and by trying new things, the time limit becomes a non-issue. By focusing on trying to find new paths, the repetition disappears. To me, any aspect of a game that encourages creativity like that has to be considered an asset rather than a problem.
Besides, thanks to the time limit, there actually is the danger of losing. Winning is actually an accomplishment (a fairly simple one, but an accomplishment nonetheless) rather than expected. When was the last time you saw that? It does give it a bit of an old fashioned feel, doesn't it?
And once you start multitasking, you start to see new places for creativity to work. Brand new challenges suddenly appear. How many pieces can you pick up in a day, how few pikmin can you squeak by with, can you get through with no pikmin deaths, how will you respond to massive losses, can you beat the game in 9 days, etc, etc? Here, right here, is where the game shines. Yes, the main game is simple, yes it's repetitive. But as long as you don't take it at such a simple value, as long as you're willing to go beyond that, you will become addicted. You'll start to analyze how you play, looking for areas where you or your pikmin are idle, mapping out better routes to take. The amazing atmosphere and uniqueness is just the hook to get you started; the endless opportunities for improving your worth as a leader is what keeps you focused. The game rewards creativity, personal commitment, experimentation, planning, and perfection. Not bad for a game that seems boring at first, eh?
So in the end, it seems Pikmin did what it set out to do. No, it will not appeal to everyone, and those who do not understand the game's charm or don't care to play games this way may wonder why this game is held in such high regard. But to those who have no qualms with a game like this, Pikmin comes as a fresh and exciting new idea. It fits into no current genre, it invokes a style of playing that few other games come to, it actually lets you lose if you screw up, and it does all of this in its charming, seemingly innocent way. The game oozes replayability thanks to the seemingly infinite possibilities in creating challenges, something usually reserved for the likes of Zelda and Metroid. That's not quite what I expected, and I must say it's nice to be pleasantly surprised in that regard.
Community review by mariner (October 25, 2004)
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