How does Pikmin translate to 2D? Quite well!
The Pikmin trilogy remains some of Nintendo’s most inspired output, implementing real-time strategy within eye-catching worlds of beautifully bizarre flora and fauna. Centered around controlling marooned astronauts in command of plant-adorned critters named Pikmin, the series has earned itself a dedicated niche since its GameCube debut in 2001. But with Pikmin 4 still deep in development, fans must currently make do with the series’ first spin-off: Hey! Pikmin, a 3DS title that transits the series into a 2D side-scrolling adventure. With a new developer behind it (Arzest, most recently behind Yoshi’s New Island), many had doubts Pikmin could be done justice within a different genre. Could a 2D take upon an RTS possibly work?
The answer is a definite “yes.” Any qualms Nintendo fans previously had with Arzest’s previous attempts at Yoshi aren’t found here: Hey! Pikmin looks gorgeous in spite of its visual shortcomings, for starters, but while the “bunch of critters follow the lead in 2D” shtick isn’t entirely new – as far as Nintendo games go, the concept hails back to 2011’s Kirby: Mass Attack – it’s delightful not just to see something new being derived from an established IP, but to actually succeed at doing so while still feeling familiar. Yes, Captain Olimar must escape yet another alien world with the help of the Pikmin, but note the new goal of collecting 30,00 bits of Sparklium: they dangle out of reach in the same tantalizing manner as Mario‘s coins, are carried overhead by rovering, vulnerable aliens, or are tapped from careful extraction of abandoned artifacts. Some of these require mechanics not seen before, be it Olimar’s new jetpack or Winged Pikmin slowly carrying him downwards.
Doesn’t this look soothing?
Furthermore, observe the nuances in control – in particular, how you aim your Pikmin tosses – are just as vital as in the main series. Simply tapping a giant creature’s head won’t do, as it’ll leave your Pikmin vulnerable as snacks for the hungry beast; instead, tapping above the enemy’s back launches a successful bouncy swarm that is adorable as it is horrifying. Meanwhile, switching between Pikmin types also remains important. For example, while Yellow Pikmin are essential for ridding of airborne enemies, their long toss arcs render them less-than-optimal for close-range monsters, so you’d best call upon Red Pikmin. As a touch-heavy game, it’s comforting to know Arzest took such lengths to replicate a console Pikmin experience.
Many of the game’s reviews have harped about the game’s supposed breezy difficulty. While I agree the game’s puzzles aren’t necessarily complex, I certainly fumbled more than once in keeping my Pikmin squad alive. This is in no fault to AI: through my own mismanagement, Pikmin have fallen into poisonous swamps, been snatched by protruding tongues, or simply abandoned by accident. That last scenario should certainly be familiar to Pikmin fans, but while occasionally Pikmin can scatter about, they’ll come running back to one press of your whistle. If there’s anything frustrating about the difficulty, it’s that the lack of checkpoints can make for some tedious replays, as you’ll always be sent back to the level’s beginning upon death (needless to say, buckle up if you’re gonna go for 100% completion: every level awards a gold Pikmin, should every last one remain alive).
What’s especially impressive about Hey! Pikmin is the screen usage, as each and every level is overlaid across both 3DS screens. Setting the gameplay aside for a moment, this provides a full microscope into the teeny-tiny world of the Pikmin, be it the gorgeous plant life decorating the backgrounds of Brilliant Garden or an abandoned doll lying on a snow-covered bench. Even the awe of observing gigantic creatures is still intact: I think of the first time I ran into the towering Elongated Crushblat, frozen in shock as the bird-like creature lumbered towards Olimar and his Pikmin entourage. Indeed, while you will spot several familiar creatures, the game largely focuses on new beasts, not the least of which are the dopey, roll-like Mockwis.
Working together always gives me a fuzzy feeling.
Sadly, not everyone’s rosy when it comes to Hey! Pikmin‘s visuals: for one thing, the frame rate tends to dip quite a bit, and while it’s hardly game-ruining, things tend to slow down a tad when there’s tons of Pikmin onscreen. Meanwhile, the Pikmin Park – an enticing little feature where your Pikmin scavenge for Sparklium – is always offset by how the Pikmin suddenly lack eyes. This isn’t an exaggeration: while the cutscenes of newly-arrived Pikmin have their peepers intact, they’re suddenly removed in far-away shots when they’re hard at work. While this is likely due to hardware restrictions, we’re talking Fire Emblem: Awakening‘s feet problem-levels of awkwardness here, folks.
Thankfully, for those worried about the music following Yoshi’s New Island‘s assortment of farting kazoos, you have nothing to fear. A new sound team comes to the rescue for Hey! Pikmin, headed by Masato Kouda (Monster Hunter) and Kento Hasegawa (Devil May Cry 4) under supervision from numerous Nintendo folks (including series composer Hajime Wakai). Yet, even with the supervisor knowledge in mind, it’s just eerie how much it sounds like actual Pikmin music. It’s as atmospheric as ever, yet it’s the way the lovely tranquility of both the title screen and the map for Brilliant Garden immediately instill a calming reverie that stun in how much Kouda and Hasegawa get Pikmin sound. Much of my enjoyment from the series is that serene, isolated feel you get from the series’ score, so needless to say I can’t be happier with their efforts.
Oh, those Pikmin and their antics!
Really, it’s a game that oozes charm. Much of the game’s mechanics and level design are introduced by quick cutscenes of adorable Pikmin antics, be it them narrowly avoiding death from a new enemy or helplessly pushing against a giant shovel, the latter signifying its use as a bridge. They’re immensely charming even when not serving the player (how can you not smile at Pikmin sailing on dandelions?), and thankfully, Arzest was smart enough to render these skippable after the first viewing. Olimar’s diaries return in cataloging the creatures and treasures he comes across, all revealing the hapless insecurities, wishes and desires of a simple family man, right down to his relating to the Mario Amiibo statue (which reminds me: don’t fret too much about the Amiibo-exclusive levels: they’re five-second puzzles essential only to those aiming for full completion).
To say Hey! Pikmin reaches the highs found in Nintendo 2D mainstays Super Mario, Donkey Kong Country or Kirby would be a stretch, but I simply cannot get enough of how downright pleasant it is to play, be it Olimar and his Pikmin bouncing on mushrooms or levels implementing sledding or shmups into the Pikmin formula. Should Pikmin 4 continue to elude us, this is a mighty fine appetizer I’d love to see iterated upon. All I ask in return is the return of my beloved plump Purple Pikmin.
Available on: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Arzest; Players: 1 ; Released: July 27, 2017; ESRB: E10+; MSRP: $40.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Hey! Pikmin purchased by HeyPoorPlayer.