Captain Olimar is finally back, but this Nintendo 3DS adventure isn’t your traditional Pikmin game. From the team behind Yoshi’s New Island, Hey! Pikmin is a side-scrolling re-imagination of the series in the vein of Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash. Although this means that some aspects of past games have been simplified, Olimar still relies on his trusty army of Pikmin to traverse the game’s labyrinthine environments. It’s certainly not as deep as the original Pikmin trilogy, but Hey! Pikmin absolutely maintains the franchise’s familiar charm.
Pikmin made its debut on the Nintendo GameCube over fifteen years ago, but the core concept of the series is still alive today. Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, the real-time strategy game asked players to battle enemies and find collectables using a hoard of the plant-like Pikmin. However, Hey! Pikmin is the first game in the series not developed by Nintendo EAD. It was instead produced by Arzest, the studio behind Yoshi’s New Island. Although their work with Yoshi received a mixed reaction, Arzest present a solid showing this time around.
In traditional fashion, Captain Olimar is once again stranded on the mysterious planet of the Pikmin. With the Dolphin 2’s fuel tanks depleted, the Hocotatian is forced to explore the planet in search of Sparklium. This means using the five Pikmin varieties to defeat enemies, solve puzzles and collect Sparklium filled treasures. However, as the game decides which twenty Pikmin appear in each area, it’s impossible to ever have access to every variety in a single level. This certainly removes some of the strategy from past Pikmin titles, but it does mean that every type gets their own fifteen minutes (or more) of fame in the spotlight over the game’s eight sectors.
Unlike past games in the series, Hey! Pikmin does not introduce any new types of the titular creature. It instead features the Red, Blue, Yellow, Rock and Flying varieties from Pikmin 3. Each retains their specific abilities from that game, but it does develop on some of these ideas. While the Blue Pikmin have always been able to swim, this goes one step further by featuring levels set entirely underwater. Similarly, the Flying Pikmin now feature in a level set in the clouds where they are forced to carry Olimar. This innovation in level design means the game still feels fresh without having to introduce a new Pikmin variety. However, it’s a shame that the White and Purple Pikmin don’t make a return.
Olimar is controlled with the D-Pad, but the Pikmin can only be thrown with a tap of the stylus. Although this means that the A, B, X, Y buttons serve no function within the game, the touch controls allow the Pikmin to be thrown much more precisely. This is essential as you’ll be throwing Pikmin into battle against fearsome creatures and up onto precarious ledges housing collectables. Olimar himself is unable to jump or attack, so careful throwing is crucial to progressing through the game’s 48+ levels.
However, this is not to say that Hey! Pikmin is a difficult game. Although the labyrinthine level design may occasionally have players scratching their head in later stages, the majority of Olimar’s foes can be overcome with relative ease. There aren’t many enemies that can’t be overwhelmed by simply swarming your Pikmin on them. This is sadly true of the bosses in Hey! Pikmin too. While they are often quite creatively designed, they are all defeated by repeatedly throwing Pikmin at an obvious weak spot. Even losing your Pikmin in battle isn’t a problem as every level contains convenient Pikmin spawning bushes. It’s a shame, really, as previous games in the series have had quite formidable enemies and boss fights.
When you successfully complete a level with some Pikmin in tow, they’ll be transported to the Pikmin Park. The park is a hub that you can visit between stages where you can order specific Pikmin types to hunt for Sparklium. The more Pikmin you have, the quicker they’ll find some. However, although every little helps in your hunt for Sparklium, the plethora of Sparklium found in a single level by the player makes the 10 or 20 that the Pikmin find feels almost worthless. It doesn’t help that every time you return to the park, you are forced to watch a cutscene showing the new Pikmin arriving. It’s a nice idea, but this feature falls somewhat short.
Graphically though, Hey! Pikmin is an achievement. It doesn’t seem to be pushing the Nintendo 3DS to its limits, especially since it lacks any sign of stereoscopic 3D, but the enemies and environments really capture the spirit of the original Pikmin games. The vast scenery in the background of each level helps cement the idea that Olimar is a tiny adventurer in a gigantic world. This is important as the side-scrolling levels can struggle to feel as vast as the 3D worlds of other Pikmin games. Reminiscent of the Pikmin Short Films released a few years ago, the cutesy animations that play whenever Olimar finds a new group of Pikmin are certainly charming. Similarly, Hey! Pikmin’s soundtrack is incredibly atmospheric. Combined with the ambient sound effects, the chilled out music is perfect as you slowly explore the nooks and crannies of each stage.
Fans waiting for the next deep Pikmin experience may be disappointed with this side-scrolling re-imagination of the series, but it is certainly a charming experience for anyone looking for another creative 3DS platformer to play. Although every element of the gameplay feels simplified, Hey! Pikmin manages to retain the feel of the original games. From music to the fonts used in the menus, this alternative take on the franchise is certainly a Pikmin game.