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« Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest - A KENZI199 Retrospective | Main | Top Ten Games I'd Like To See On Wii U »
Monday
Jun272011

Pikmin - A KENZI199 Restrospective

- KENZI199 is a very good friend of mine and part-time, amateur freelance writer. He writes what he wants, when he wants, how he wants then sends it to me. As such, his articles may not necessarily be the most relevent, but if I didn't think they were well worth a read, they wouldn't be on the site. Enjoy!

 

Ahh Pikmin. Where to begin? I guess at the start. Picture this: you are the height of a fifty pence piece, you're flying a rocket through space and you want to get home to your family when suddenly your ship collides with a meteor! Curses! And more curses you mutter as you crash land on an unfamiliar planet with your space ship destroyed, and all the essential parts scattered across a harsh and unforgiving vast unknown. Thankfully, after rousing from unconsciousness and making the startling discovery of an “Onion”, you pick a red Pikmin out of the ground and find a friend that will follow your every command. Though less in the tyrannical dictator way, and more in the “it’s nice to be nice” way.

 

A very tiny man's best friend

Olimar quickly establishes the facts - he has 30 days until his life support system fails, and he suffocates in the planets deadly Oxygen atmosphere. He also has 30 ship parts that have been scattered over the five ingeniously designed levels. The aim is to recover these parts and jet off to return home to his family. Simple, no?

 

Well yes, delightfully simple, but also no. The game functions by Olimar commanding his initially low amount of pikmin to mercilessly savage every other creature you meet, and the carcasses can be carried back to the Onion and turned from spoils of war into an army of industrious tykes. Early on in the game you discover two other colored Onions which are home to the yellow pikmin who can be thrown higher, and carry bomb rocks, and the blue pikmin who can survive in water. Combined with the reds that can tolerate fire, they work together in a multi-colored mass to destroy walls, build bridges and define the phrase “more than the sum of their parts” as they dominate armoured beetles, gargantuan tarantula, and the savage scourge of the swamps on their orders to recover Olimar's missing ship parts.

 

If you don't use tactics, don't expect to get very far

On the first day the controls are explained and it's all relatively simple. However, the game relies heavily on the own players initiative to find the best solution to tackle the tasks of getting Olimar’s ship up and running, and an experimental approach to defeating enemies along the way. Rather than the obvious tactic of “grow loads of pikmin and swamp anything in the way”, most enemies have habits that need to be observed and taken advantage of to save the slaughter of unnecessary troops. The trial and error nature of developing tactics on-the-fly amidst an environment which could become a battlefield adds to the charm of the game, a hard-won daring mission into enemy territory and just barely recovering a ship part before nightfall is massively rewarding, resulting in waves of satisfaction and well-earned accomplishment, and sometimes even a mention in Olimar’s nightly diary.

 

Though to anyone, it is initially very frustrating to lose a mass of pikmin through what can feel like no fault of your own. Equally annoying is to spend a day getting used to the layout of the level, grasping what needs to be done, and working out which pikmin to send where and ending up with nothing tangibly accomplished. Although you can choose not to save a bad day, the overly cautious gamer could be left feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with the sheer scale of the initial task, but that in itself serves as a Nintendo life lesson on prioritisation and planning and is what some may call character building. Initially, I had to build some character if you get me, but once you gather some pikmin by your side and adapt to the nature of what needs to be done, the timeframe of 30 days is enough to gather the essential parts and return home.

 

There may only be 3 types of Pikmin, but once you get the hang of them they'll be all you'll ever need!

Though I had some minor frustrations, there is so much character in the game and simply exploring is a joy. As Olimar jets off each night he writes down his experience of the day, whether his army of pikmin were slaughtered, or of a successful new part, or just the hope of returning home, and it really does melt your heart. Even just playing and seeing each level slowly change from dawn to dusk is no exception. Throughout the day enacts a subtle change in the scenery, the lighting ever-changing across the world, combined with the luxuriant water effects and the delicate florescence goes a long way to make this a beautiful game.

Despite being a short game, with each day being fifteen minutes and the 30 days totalling seven and a half hours, the single day challenge offers some scope for beating high scores, but probably won't keep you hooked. There is also the option of trying to get all 30 parts in 30 days, offering a good incentive for more organized replays. However, the great pacing of the day-by-day exploration, discovering and cautiously recovering parts, cannibalizing enemies to grow your army and growing close to your phalanx of flora is what really sets Pikmin apart from other real time strategy games. What will keep you hooked is stepping out on a new day with complete free reign of choice, and of tenaciously discovering a new planet with its own odd menagerie of enchanting creatures and enthralling landscape; and some months later little niggles of nostalgia kick in, and there’s such pleasure in rediscovering it all over again. Almost like a special, very personal holiday.

Pikmin, admittedly, have a pretty rough time of it

So, if you own a Gamecube/Wii and don't own this yet, there’s a whole lot to you could do worse than go looking through the pre-owned section of Game and spending a cheap-as-Stringfellow's-ten-pound-plate-of-chips for this. NASA may be sending men to survey the Moon, but Nintendo can create entire worlds for a lot less, with a damn sight more to enjoy once you get there.

 

 

Available on Gamecube, and re-released for Wii with Wii-mote controls. I am in no way being paid to promote or sell Pikmin or Nintendo based products, ideas, hopes, or dreams.

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