With the launch of the long-awaited fourth instalment happening later today (21 July 2023), it’s a perfect time to crash land into the strange flower-come-animal world of Pikmin! However, if like me, you’re relatively new to the series – the Switch has become the perfect place to try the first three games. My first exposure to the franchise was in Pikmin 3 Deluxe – a delightful little gem (originally from the Wii U) that got a fresh coat of paint and a few significant extras and launched on the Switch in 2020. I really enjoyed the real-time strategy/puzzle gameplay and so was happy to hear that I’d now have a chance to try out the original games too.
It’s a light story but I was surprised at how connected to the little critters I became.
The first two games (back from the GameCube era) have received HD ports and are available for download on the Nintendo eShop. As these ports are pretty much only visual upgrades I won’t go into as much detail in this quick review as I would if they were new games, however, I will share my impressions as someone who never played the originals as well as the main differences between the two. So, here we go…
Story-wise each game follows a similar course. Captain Olimar a space freight company employee crashes (and then returns) to a world much like our own Earth. There he meets up with creatures he names Pikmin. These tiny creatures are not much help on their own, but by working together they can collect items, explore hard-to-reach areas and defeat the less-friendly inhabitants of the world. Olimar (and later his partner Louie) gather (and grow) these new friends and wield large hordes of them in a range of tasks – with the main goal of collecting items; first to rebuild the ship and then to convert to cash to save their indebted company back home.
The 30-day limit in Pikmin 1 adds a layer of stress to the game that feels very much out of place with the friendly, chilled pace of the rest of the series.
It’s a light story but I was surprised at how connected to the little critters you become. In the process of collecting and battling some pretty mean buggies, occasionally you lose swathes of these helpful beings and it really hurts each time it happens. At night, you need to make your way back to the ship and as the stats of the day appeared on the screen, I hated to see the occasional (virtually inevitable) decrease in numbers.
Starting off with the original Pikmin game (or Pikmin1) I was surprised at how little the basic gameplay loop had changed from this early design. Yes, of course, there were fewer Pikmin types (the original game only had the red, yellow and blue versions). However, the whistle, mechanics and a lot in between all felt very familiar. Interestingly, it’s probably the toughest game out of the three – at least at the start. The main reason for this is the 30-day limit you have to rebuild Olimar’s ship. I’m very interested as to why this limit was put in place… as all it does (at least in my opinion) is add a layer of stress to the game that feels very much out of place with the friendly, chilled pace and tone the rest of the game (and the series for that matter) oozes.
Pikmin 2’s underground sections allow you to face up to some epic boss-type enemies and have some more interesting puzzles.
In my first playthrough, I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t salvage all the parts needed and was not able to save Olimar. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of strategy-based video games and no doubt someone that has played more of these games will probably manage the task the first time. However, if you’re a little like me and wondering if there’s something for you to enjoy in this series if you’re not into strategy – I would definitely say it is worth a go. You may just want to start out on one of the more recent games rather than Pikmin 1 – to ease you in.
Thankfully, Pikmin 2 removes the 30-day limit and introduces the purple & white Pikmin. I found the purple Pikmin in particular a really great addition because while they’re much slower than the rest of the gang, they have the strength of 10 Pikmin. This adds gives you a lot more options when needing to move heavier items around (in the sequel these items are all very human-like knick-knacks that receive punny or cute new names). Interestingly, while the 30-day limit is removed, I actually finished my first playthrough of Pikmin 2 in fewer days (I think it was the day 26 mark). And while that may seem quicker, the truth is the second game also introduced underground challenge-like areas which I really enjoyed – one, because time doesn’t pass while you’re underground and two, because it really allowed you to face up to some epic boss-type enemies and had some more interesting puzzles.
It’s the start of a real winning formula and probably a great way to whet your appetite for Pikmin 4.
Additionally, Pikmin 2 allows you to switch between Captain Olimar and his lackey Louie. This is a change that they expanded on in Pikmin 3 and will no doubt be in Pikmin 4 too. It’s a really great concept because both characters can lead a group of Pikmin off to do a series of tasks. Unfortunately, in this first attempt, it does fall short a little here because I kept finding myself wishing that I could automate more of the activities (ie sending Pikming off with Louie to do knock down an electrified gate with Yellow Pikmin, while Olimar guided a group of Blue Pikmin to find submerged items in a big Ol’ puddle). Unfortunately, much of this process is very manual – and so there was a need for a lot of intervention swapping between the two characters – that it became very cumbersome. And most times, I would just decide to travel in one huge group and tackle activities one at a time.
All in all, Pikmin is a wonderfully creative and unique video game series. Yes, Pikmin 3 (and no doubt Pikmin 4) are and will ultimately be better versions of the game with several quality-of-life improvements and fewer rough edges. However, as someone that never got to experience these originals, it’s great that there’s a way to do so now. And while there are some frustrations that are typical of games from years gone by, it’s hard not to enjoy the peaceful yet addictive gameplay loop that Miyamoto and the rest of those early Nintendo developers came up with Pikmin – it’s a real winning formula and probably a great way to whet your appetite for Pikmin 4.
For more of our reviews click here.