Review: New Play Control! Pikmin (Nintendo Wii)

New Play Control! Pikmin
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 03/09/2009

You have probably heard of Pikmin before. After all, it was originally released for the Gamecube in 2001, and even had a successful sequel in 2004. If you completely forgot about Nintendo’s Gamecube era (it was their darkest hour after all, with the company placing last in that generation’s race.) you still had a chance to meet the series’ main character, Captain Olimar, as he was featured as one of the new fighters in Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

Let’s say you completely missed Pikmin the first time around: you never owned a Gamecube and you don’t like fighting games, but you’re afraid you might have missed a piece of gaming history. Fear not, because Nintendo has decided to give YOU a second chance. This version of Pikmin is released as a part of their New Play Control! label, which will update the best of the GCN to take advantage of the Wii’s capabilities. In due time, it will be joined by the Metroid Prime games as well as Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.

I will admit that I didn’t get to play Pikmin back when it was originally released. My excuse is college and a severe lack of time. This means that I will not be able to compare the new controls to the old ones. However, I will have the advantage of telling exactly how the game holds up as a new title instead of a simple re-release. Does it hold well in this day and age? Are the graphics lacking when compared to today’s games?

You will find the answers to these questions and much more in the following paragraphs!

The game starts with a little cut-scene that explains the back story: it all starts innocently enough for our hero, Captain Olimar. On vacation from his usual job as an intergalactic freighter pilot, he decides to put his ship on auto-pilot. That’s when his ship gets hit by a meteor, sending him crashing down to a distant planet. His ship loses pieces on the way down, and the Captain quickly realizes that the planet’s atmosphere contains oxygen, which is poisonous to him. According to his calculations, he has only thirty days to find his ship’s scattered parts. He receives help from the indigenous Pikmin, which are small plant-like creatures which work incredibly well in group. Will Captain Olimar ever make it back to his home planet?

The answer to that question belongs to you, as Pikmin presents you with something that is quite unusual in a Nintendo game: the possibility of pure, absolute failure. If you die in a Zelda game, you can always restart from your last save. If you die in Super Mario Galaxy, there’s always the opportunity to try again. However, should you fail here to collect the ship’s thirty missing parts before the end of the thirty days period, you will die. Plain and simple.

Of course, this is only one of the three different scenarios offered to you, because Pikmin has three different endings depending on your level of success in collecting the ship’s parts. The worst of them implies that Captain Olimar’s body is harvested by his own minions, in order to produce more and more of them. This obviously takes you by surprise the first time it happens, and trust me, it probably will on your first play-through.

This possibility of failure gives the game a sense of urgency which I find to be sorely lacking in many games these days. It also makes you feel like every move you make matters, and may actually be the difference-maker in the end. What starts as a simple story eventually turns into a tale of survival with a vague “cast away” theme. It might not be the fleshiest story out there, but it is very involving and it’s a nice change of pace from a company that likes to use the same, “The Princess has been kidnapped!” storyline over and over again.

Story Rating: Above Average

The first thing you see in the game is Captain Olimar’s ship, the S.S. Dolphin, flying through space. The vibe in that scene is clearly cartoonish, with the main character having a huge head with an oversized nose and no visible mouth. The same goes for the Pikmin, as they are nothing but vaguely human-shaped, colourful creatures. It also holds true for the enemies, which are beautifully rendered but minimalist in design.

The backgrounds, on the other hand, range from superb to almost photo-realistic depending on the camera’s zoom level. The texture does look kind of blurry from time to time if you look closely, but in general, they are simply mind-blowing.

By simply looking at the characters, one could guess that this is a game from a previous generation. However, the backgrounds more than make up for it, with detailed renditions of vegetation, rocks and rivers. As you might have guessed, Nintendo’s famed water effects are back. I seriously believe that the company makes the best virtual water in the business, which is why I can’t wait for another Wave Race. Their games may vary wildly artistically, but you can always count on the water effects to be there, looking as good as they ever did.

On a more serious note, Pikmin might not be the best-looking game of the current generation, but one would have a hard time guessing that this wasn’t a game made specifically for the Wii if they didn’t know beforehand. What it says about the Wii graphical power or Pikmin‘s qualities is entirely up to you though.

Graphics Rating: Above Average

The music here is entirely soothing and relaxed, except for when the night is about to fall and you quickly need to round up your Pikmin. It contrasts sharply with the sense of urgency you get from the whole game, but it’s a necessity as it helps keep the stress down while accomplishing your daily explorations. I like the way it establishes an atmosphere of calm despite the nature of what is at stake here. The tracks are not particularly memorable, but they serve their purpose very well.

The sound effects are perfect in giving life to your companions. The Pikmin have distinctive squeaks and grunts for when they are thrown, attacked or dying, and most of them are totally adorable. The rest of the effects are stellar, with specific noises depending on the surface on which you are walking or the material on which your Pikmin are pounding. It’s simply an overall superb job by Nintendo on this front.

Sound Rating: Great

As I previously said, I never played the original Pikmin. Therefore, I am unable to compare the new controls to the old ones. However, one thing I can affirm is that the new controls work perfectly. They are intuitive and responsive, and the game does a good job of teaching you which button does what as the days go by, and only when an action becomes necessary to progress. It prevents the game from becoming too heavy, and it makes things much easier since you don’t have to memorize every possible actions and the associated button combination.

Playing the game is simple enough: your objective is to make Pikmin by harvesting different objects and enemies found in your environment. As you produce more Pikmin It will become easier and faster to accomplish the different tasks set before you as you try to reclaim your spaceship’s lost parts. These tasks range from things like knocking down a wall to attacking an enemy. You simply point at where you want your Pikmin to go with the Wii remote and throw them there with the A button. You can also point and simply tell order them to go there, but where’s the fun in that? Once you are finished with your tasks you can round them up with the B button or simply dismiss them with the C button, at which point they will wander aimlessly.

The strategy part of the game comes from the time managing aspect and the different kinds of Pikmin you can boss around. Since you can order up to 100 of the little critters at a time, you can separate them into groups and get them to work on different objectives at the same time. Learning how to effectively manage different groups is essential here as the more you progress, the more things you need to do before you can bring that ship part home. Thankfully, the Pikmin are not entirely stupid when left alone, and will understand what to do when coming face to face with an enemy or an obstacle. It makes your life significantly easier when controlling a lot of them.

Some of the puzzles are also based on the abilities of the different species of Pikmin. These creatures come in three colors: red, yellow and blue. The red ones are strong and resistant to fire, the blue ones can act as lifeguards and are immune to water, while the yellow ones are lighter, can be thrown farther and can carry bomb rocks. Since you can only control 100 Pikmin at a time, you will need to survey what needs to be done before deciding how many of each to take with you.

Careful planning is required at all time in Pikmin. Since the game takes place within a set time-limit (Thirty days of approximately 15 minutes each.), your mistakes will carry on to the next day. With 30 ship parts to recover, it also means that you need to find at least one per day, or else you will start to get late on your schedule. The game saves automatically at the end of each day, and it also allows you to start from any previous day if you feel like you have done something wrong. However, by the time you realize that you shouldn’t have done something, your game will usually be so utterly messed up that the only real solution will be to start again. At least, you can always fix your mistake if you notice it quickly enough, which saves some frustration.

Pikmin might look like it was made for kids from the outside, but it really is a thinking man’s game at heart.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled

You will want to play this game over and over until you finally get it right. For me, it took two tries. The first play-through will no doubt be dedicated to getting yourself familiar with the game. The second one will be easier to breeze through, but I guarantee that it will be just as fun. After that, it all depends on how compulsive you are in trying to beat your own best time, because that’s all you are going to get from the main mode. Overall, we are looking at 15 hours or so of gameplay here.

The second mode is the “Challenge Mode”, where you simply pick an area you previously unlocked and then try to grow Pikmin as fast as possible. That’s it. The only object of this mode is to see how many Pikmin you can make in a day. The variety is nice, but it gets old pretty fast.

Replayability Rating: Poor

The first day in your adventure has no time limit, giving you as long as you need to get familiar with the controls before you acquire your first ship part. As a tutorial, it is efficient in teaching the inner workings of the game, and it also sets the mood in a great way. From that point on, the game becomes a non-stop cascade of increasingly harder puzzles that stand on your way to freedom.

The difficulty ramps up nicely, but by the end, I have to admit that I was a bit overwhelmed because I had so much going on at the same time with many small groups of Pikmin working away at different tasks. Still, the progression did seem to be fairly standard and well planned, as the new obstacles looked like logical evolutions of the skills I had previously learned in previous days.

Balance Rating: Great

As a re-release, there’s no way I can give it a high mark, especially when nothing has changed except for the controls and the save system. On the other hand, save for the sequel, there hasn’t been anything quite like it since. What has been changed works like a charm, but I really wish there was some extras, such as the multiplayer mode included in Pikmin 2. At least the price tag matches the effort.

Originality Rating: Poor

There is no way you will be letting go of this game until you get through the 30-day sequence the right way. I found myself thinking about the game while doing something else and suddenly picking up a mistake I made during my last play session. It’s not on the level of Tetris or Pokémon in the addictiveness department, but it will make you lose some precious time which could have been invested in more vital endeavours. Now excuse me while I go wash the enormous amount of dirty dishes that has been accumulating over the time of this review.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

Going by the reaction of people who learned that I was reviewing Pikmin, this is not a game that will appeal to adults who simply look at the cover without knowing what the game is about. Even after a quick description, most of them walk away unimpressed by the story of an astronaut who has to grow sentient plants on a distant planet. It’s only after an extended play-by-play of my first hour of play that they became convinced that the adventures of Captain Olimar was something that needed to be experienced. Seriously, how many consumers will take the time to gather that amount of information on a game that has received little to no attention in the gaming press and on TV?

The only people I can see getting this game without any nagging from an overzealous reviewer are parents looking for something for their children. I know that as a kid, I would have been all over a game starring a spaceman leading hundreds of colourful creatures into a fight against aliens to get back his ship that has been destroyed.

Appeal Factor Rating: Mediocre

As my first experience with the game and the franchise as a whole, I must say that I was impressed at how deep the game really was. From the outside, I thought it would simply be a dumbed-down introduction to strategy games. I am happy to report that it is far from being the case, as Pikmin turned out to be a genuine challenge that needs quite a bit of effort to finish properly.

I also want to praise the atmosphere and mood set by the story, more particularly the sense of urgency created by the time limit. It simply looms over your action during your first try at the game, but when you realize that death and failure truly is a possibility despite all of the time invested, it becomes a much more thrilling experience.

Miscellaneous Rating: Great

Story: Above Average
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Great
Control/Gameplay: Unparallaled
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Great
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: Enjoyable Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
Pikmin is a deep and involving game that offers a real challenge, but is ultimately held back by two things: the underwhelming length and the fact that it is the exact same game as the Gamecube version, only with new controls. As a first time experience, it was a very enjoyable game at a budget price that made me wish I got it during its original release. As you might know, Pikmin 2 is also scheduled to be released under the New Play Control!, and the first one entertained me enough to say that I am looking forward to it.



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