Long-running series might face a little backlash when they go in new and unorthodox directions. Look at Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash for instance, a perfectly serviceable platformer that got smacked around for not being a “real” Chibi-Robo game. You might also consider Metroid Prime: Federation Force, which…uh, actually isn’t very good, so never mind. Anyway, Nintendo’s trying new things yet again with Hey! Pikmin, a different take on the adventures of Captain Olimar.
Captain Olimar just might have the worst luck out of all the Nintendo heroes…well, maybe not ol’ Mario himself who runs into Bowser-related troubles every week or so, but Olimar’s pretty close. On the way back from yet another galactic expedition, Olimar’s ship runs into trouble and he’s forced to crash land on yet another uncharted planet! The ship’s in bad shape, with the biggest problem being that its store of Sparklium fuel has been lost.
There’s still a faint glimmer of hope, though: some flora and objects on this strange new world contain Sparklium and can be used to refuel Olimar’s ship! What’s more, Olimar’s plant pals the Pikmin are present and accounted for as well. With a hearty whistle and a strong throwing arm, Olimar and the Pikmin can team up to find enough Sparklium to get our hero home…so long as they can stay away from predators and traps, of course.
Unlike more traditional Pikmin games which are essentially real-time strategy affairs, Hey! Pikmin is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer. The basic idea is similar, though: Olimar is a little useless by himself, unable to do much but jetpack around a bit to get around. Enemies and environmental hazards like pits will stymie our hero completely. That’s where the Pikmin come in. These sprout-like creatures are both loyal and aerodynamic, so you can solve most any problem by flinging a whole bunch of Pikmin at it. Got a bad guy? Pikmin. Bridge needs to be built? Pikmin. Something heavy needs to be carted around? You got it: Pikmin.
This is an interesting concept that works out fairly well in practice, since many tasks will require the use of a certain amount or type of Pikmin. Very heavy objects might require a whole bunch of the little guys, for instance, ensuring that you need to keep as many as possible alive in the face of danger to get things done. Pikmin have different aptitudes as well, so you might need to bypass electric areas using yellow Pikmin who can’t be shocked. Controlling this is all simple enough, since you handle all of Olimar’s movement with the analog stick and throw Pikmin using the touchscreen, allowing for a fine degree of precision once you’ve gotten the hang of things. Between levels, it’s also possible to put idle Pikmin to work digging up objects for even more Sparklium.
The game never becomes especially difficult, but it’s a fulfilling experience with a lot of personality. I especially appreciated the everyday objects that Olimar works to collect, since there’s a log with the Captain’s take on what each might be and their possible use; a regular pen is called a “Peace Missile,” for instance, and each collectible has its own entry to read. There’s also entries to check out on other aspects of the game. Flavor text is a personal favorite feature and I’m glad Hey! Pikmin goes out of its way to include plenty. It’s also a visually appealing title besides, staying true to the ant’s-eye-view of the more traditional games; I’m told there’s no 3D option in this title which might put some folks off, but I don’t play 3DS games using that option so in my case everything’s hunky-dory!
Series diehards might be disappointed with Hey! Pikmin‘s new take on veggie-tossing, but anyone with an open mind is likely to enjoy exploring the world seeking Sparklium. It sticks close to the classic Nintendo style of taking an interesting concept and doing interesting things with it. That’s gotten the big N this far, and Hey! Pikmin is another example of that style working well.