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Platform

GameCube

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

Nintendo

 

Developer

Nintendo

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q4 2001

 

 

- Wonderful art design
- Sharp, colorful graphics
- Tight controls
- Innovative gameplay

 

 

- Far too short
- Few bonus features
- Odd camera control
- Limited replay value

 

 

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Pikmin

Score: 8.8 / 10

Need some anecdotal evidence that Shigeru Miyamoto’s Pikmin is simply too cute for words? Okay, how about this? My wife, seven months pregnant and prone to take long and frequent visits to dreamland, sat up until two in the morning on successive days and watched as I played and beat Pikmin. She could not force herself to go to bed while the game was going on. Now, part of this is almost surely the motherly hormones pumping up the appeal of anything childlike and tiny (like the eponymous red, blue, and yellow pikmin), but the fact remains that Pikmin is simply an addictive and adorable game that does a wonderful job evoking the same sense of wonder many of us first experienced on our childhood trips to Oz, Narnia, or Middle Earth.

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In Pikmin, the player assumes the role of Captain Olimar who has crash landed on a strange planet. During the crash, pieces of Olimar’s ship are scattered over the planet’s surface. Alone, the poor castaway would have little chance of gathering the pieces of the spaceship and returning home; luckily, he is not alone. He discovers a strange species of plant/animal that, though short on self-motivation, are great followers. Spaceman Olimar’s job is to use the creatures (pikmin) to help gather the missing pieces of the spaceship.

Pikmin, it turns out, are very useful critters. Throw them at a collapsed bridge, and they will repair it. Throw them at a gate, and they will tear it down. Throw them at a creature, and they will do their best to kill it (and look amazingly cute in the process). As events move along, the player is required to plant and grow more pikmin as tasks grow harder. There are three color of pikmin-each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Red pikmin are the best warriors and are immune to fire. Blue pikmin can swim. Yellow pikmin can carry explosives and also sail the farthest when thrown. The main element of gameplay is using these strengths to overcome specific obstacles. Later in the game, multiple types of pikmin are required to get to individual spaceship parts. It can be rather challenging, but never unduly so.

 

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Many elements of the game deserve praise, but none more so than the excellent art design. The world of Pikmin is bright, colorful, and marvelously odd. Spaceman Olimar and the pikmin are dwarfed by the planet’s flora and fauna. The creature design is wonderfully fantastical, yet organic-calling to mind the inventiveness of Dr. Seuss and Jim Henson. The pikmin especially, a cross between the Teletubbies and George R.R. Martin’s sandkings, are simply fun to watch as they go about their business. There is an unmistakable air of 

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resilience and determination to them as they loyally following the player’s every order. They are so uncannily “realistic” that I found myself replaying levels where too many of them had died, even when it had no effect on my progress in the game. Seeing twenty of these tiny creatures hanging on to the torso of a giant beast and flailing away is strangely uplifting and, for my money, worth the price of admission.

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Though it takes a little while to get used to them, the controls are nearly as ingenious as the art design. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the Gamecube controller, but Pikmin uses it with style. Every single button and function of the controller is put to use (though the D-pad really doesn’t come into play often). A few days into the game, most players will be moving dozens of pikmin around without having to think about it.

Great game design, great art design and wonderful controls-so, does this mean Pikmin is perfect (in that Miyamoto’s Mario 64 sense)? Unfortunately, no. There are a few things that keep Pikmin from being a completely wonderful experience. The first problem, and the one I’m sure will bother players most, is its length. Because each in-game day lasts only fifteen to twenty minutes of real time, and the fact that the necessary tasks can be accomplished in as little as 17 days, the basic game can be played through in roughly six hours (though this would require near-perfect play). It took me less than ten hours (24 days including some restarts) my first time through. Even if it takes a player the full 30 days to finish the adventure, he or she is looking at only 12 hours of gameplay. The challenge mode offers some extra value, along with the urge some players will have to play it again to see how many days they can cut off of their time. Still, the value of this game suffers from both its brevity and the paucity of secrets and extra modes.

The other complaint, slightly more minor, but still a real problem, is with the game’s camera. Players are given full control of the camera, but those controls are so clumsy that it is often difficult to find the perfect view of the action. For a simplistic real-time strategy game, there is really no excuse for weak camera controls. Often, I was forced to use the top-down perspective-zoomed all the way out even-to actually see where I needed to direct my pikmin.

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If you can overlook the brevity of the game and some weak camera controls, Pikmin is worth the time and money you put into it. The visual elements, gameplay, controls, and tone of the game are dead-on perfect. Pikmin is certainly the stronger of the two Miyamoto games that have graced the Gamecube to this point.

- Tolen Dante

(January 17, 2002)

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