I’m already hearing rumblings around the internet about Nintendo’s upcoming Hey! Pikmin release on 3DS, and for whatever reason the buzz isn’t exactly enthusiastic. I’m hardly expecting Hey! Pikmin to be revolutionary for either its genre or the Pikmin franchise, but I’d argue that it doesn’t really have to be. The confirmation from Nintendo that Hey! Pikmin isn’t the expected, eventual Pikmin 4 that Miyamoto has alluded to in the past takes a lot of pressure off of the game, allowing developer Arzest to craft something relaxing, enjoyable, and perhaps almost passive in its style and simplicity.
Arzest is the team behind Yoshi’s New Island, a title that received rather lackluster reviews but I personally enjoyed immensely. It’s true the game borrows heavily from the original Yoshi’s Island, but I found this to be a benefit rather than a setback. Unless you replayed the 1995 original last week, its wealth of creative ideas and platforming savvy feel just as fresh co-opted for New Island as they do playing the original. Or at the very least, similarly so.
Point being, I’m of fan of what Arzest generally creates, and with an original Pikmin game the team helmed by Sonic the Hedgehog character designer Naoto Ohshima should be able to stretch its legs and try something more its own pace. Yoshi’s New Island exhibited a calm, laid-back mood even while replicating classic Yoshi gameplay, but it’s clear Arzest has a knack for zen-like inner peace that manifests with many of its games. As such Pikmin, known for its soothing musical cues and natural outdoor environment, should in theory be a wonderful fit.
Gameplay footage confirms this visually and aurally, and despite the new freedom afforded the development team it’s apparent that established Pikmin credo isn't leaving completely. What’s compelling to me is what sidescrolling brings to the series’ element of discovery; in the mainline Pikmin games, partially top-down stages are explored each day, with new challenges, enemies, and riches uncovered the further the player ventures from home base. With Hey! Pikmin that same spirit remains, but stages and areas are concise and pre-defined, and discovery consists of simply pressing on, reaching what’s next whether you're ready or not.
While I don’t think this would suit a standard Pikmin game, I love the idea on the pickup-and-play 3DS. With Switch stepping in as the clear “full-scale immersion on the go” handheld device, 3DS is in some ways marginalized further as a place for short bursts of play exclusively. The notion of opening my 3DS, experiencing the surprise, awe, and endearment of Pikmin, then shutting down 10 minutes later sounds appealing, and eliminates the need to recall map layouts, track progress, or tally the yield of my latest Pikmin harvest. I'd prefer standard Pikmin not go this route, but on 3DS the concept makes a whole lot of sense.
Also notable (and implied above) is that you don’t actually plant and raise Pikmin in Hey! Pikmin. Instead, you simply befriend and enlist them from the wild. Captain Olimar’s considerable experience across countless expeditions makes this believable, as I can only assume by this point he’s a certified Pikmin-whisperer. Think of it this way; he managed to convince the vegetal little scamps to wage war in Super Smash Bros., no doubt suffering countless Falcon Punches and DeDeDe hammerings along the way. Manage that, and the duties of Hey! Pikmin ought to be cake for Nintendo’s space-faring hero.
Hey! Pikmin launches on 3DS-family systems July 28th, at which point you can decide for yourself whether or not its simplified, laid-back approach is an intentional style or an unfortunate shortcoming. The New Nintendo 2DS XL is available the very same day, and while I would’ve preferred a Pikmin-themed device at launch myself, I suppose the stock colors will have to do.