Guarding the garden.
In the far reaches of space, on a world not unlike our very own Earth, an epic struggle for survival is underway. Captain Olimar has crash-landed his spaceship,The Dolphin, transforming his once proud vessel into a smoldering hunk of junk. See what happens when you talk on your cell phone while driving?
All hope of returning to the great beyond rests on the recovery of 30 missing parts scattered across the foreign landscape. Coincidentally (and most unfortunately), Olimar's life support systems will only last him 30 more days.
Upon his escape from the wreckage, Olimar is greeted not by those damn dirty apes, but by a bemused little plant creature, lovingly dubbed a Pikmin. The thing has taken a liking to Olimar, following him around and offering up an indentured life of servitude. Eventually, new Pikmin are sprouted, and soon, Olimar has his own bad posse. Looks like Olimar has someone to do his dirty work.
At its grassy heart, Pikmin is a real-time strategy game brimming with action. The little Pikmin function as both resource and worker. The only way to recover all 30 parts is to grow enough Pikmin and multi-task the little guys through the different environments. Legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto has ushered forth another game rife with creativity and fun to play, though it might not be everyone's cup of herbal tea.
Lucky for us, growing Pikmin doesn't involve anything as scandalous as a mommy Pikmin and a daddy Pikmin making sweet Pikmin love. Instead, reproduction happens through pellets. Just order your little Pikmin to find a colored pellet and it will carry it back to your base. The pellet gets sent to the Onion, a storehouse for Pikmin creation. Out pops the seeds of new Pikmin, which promptly dive straight into the fertile soil, just waiting to sprout and be pulled from the earth as new units.
It gets weirder. Not only are these pellets the seeds for growth, but so are the vicious beasts that dot the environment. If you take down the wily Wollywog, you can drag his stinky carcass back the Onion and hatch out even more seeds. The cycle of life works in strange ways on the planet of Pikmin.
There are three races of Pikmin. Red pikmin are endowed with fire resistance and are especially keen in battle. The blue pikmin have gills and can trek through watery threats. Yellow pikmin can blow stuff up. You'll need to use all three to get anything done.
The Pikmin may look unassumingly innocent, but these sprouts are actually some of the most violent little mothers ever unearthed. On your mark, they unleash hell, tearing it up across the world with wanton indiscretion. The sound of their little battle peeps resound a fury unmatched by the soldiers of Napoleon.
You may have up to 100 Pikmin employed actively on screen. Any number you grow beyond that are nestled safely in the warmth of the Onions. The spaceship parts require a set number of Pikmin to haul back, so the game moves along at a steady pace.
In order to assign tasks, Olimar can either throw a single Pikmin towards whatever needs to be done, or he can direct the entire entourage right at the feet of a particularly problematic Puffstool courtesy of the C-stick. The game was clearly designed with the Gamecube controller in mind
The micro-management can sometimes get annoying, as you often must pause to scold the dawdlers or stop a few errant Pikmin from attacking a non-violent Iridescent Flint Beetle, but it's more fun than not. Olimar has a little whistle to keep the scamps in check, which makes you feel like a teacher leading school children around. This helps cut down the irritation.
Each day takes 15 minutes, so the game goes by relatively quick. It may take more than one try to properly work your way through the 30 days, but what then? A Challenge mode has been added that starts you off with a limited number of Pikmin and one day to grow as many as possible. The environments have been slightly altered, but in all, these stages are more geared towards top scores than anything else.
The view of the world is up close and personal, lending A Bug's Life sense of awe. This is aided by the use of photo-realistic textures, which are amusingly offset by the cartoon look of the colorful creatures. From the terrific lighting and shadows to the imaginative beasties, this is a very pretty game.
However, there's more than one way to see things unfold. Alternate side and overhead cameras as well as a handy Z-centering ability has been provided to control your view. Even though there are more than enough camera manipulations to work your way around problems, sometimes the molehills become mountainous blockades. Further, the game occasionally drops frames very noticeably, as if the entire thing just froze. I'm not sure what incites these awkward moments, but it can happen even when there are minimal amounts of action on screen.
The music is happy-go-lucky fare that fits the cartoon feel of the game. I like the little peeps of the Pikmin, but Olimar is oddly silent. After each day of busy work, he leaves a little diary entry, reflecting on his progress and misfortunes. If the diary entries were narrated audibly, they could have gotten a cool Jacques Cousteau thing going, a sort of archaeological memoir. At least he doesn't talk in classic Nintendo gibberish noise.
If there's one thing I would have liked to see in this one and demand in the probable Pikmin 2, it's some multiplayer. Guess that will have to wait for the network expansions.
But what's multiplayer without more weapons of mass destruction? If it takes 20 Pikmin to move one of Olimar's ship parts, why not have vehicles that take a certain amount of Pikmin to drive? What if instead of just subduing the bellowing Bulbear en masse, the Pikmin can commandeer one to use against the other creatures of the field?
Early on in the game, when you begin with but a few Pikmin, each one feels more special. Somewhere along the way, though, the Pikmin become defined by their group power. This makes the gameplay more about sheer strength of numbers instead of the clever use of individuals. I would have preferred a mix of both. Perhaps if there was some way to keep tabs on individual Pikmin, like the ability to name them or assign basic personality traits...oh well, maybe I'm just obsessed with the little guys.
And in all likelihood, you will be too. Pikmin is a creative, original take on console strategy gaming. Not everyone may take to the strategic undercurrent, but as it stands, this Pikmin has already fixed its roots deep in my jaded gamer's heart.