Here’s a familiar face which rated extremely well when it debuted on the Nintendo GameCube, back in 2001. Eight years on, Pikmin is back as a budget title, to try its luck on the Wii.
The story and setting and gameplay remain unchanged: Captain Olimar’s space jaunt is cut short after a close encounter with a comet, from which his ship, the S.S. Dolphin comes off second best. Damaged, out of control and shedding parts like there’s no tomorrow, it crash lands on a nearby planet.
Our stranded captain finds himself in dire straits; the planet’s atmosphere is toxic to Olimar, so he must find the scattered parts and reassemble his ship before his life support system packs up… in 30 days’ time. Fortunately, Olimar is both intrepid and resourceful, and soon discovers allies in the form of native plant/animal hybrid creatures, which he names ‘pikmin’ for the resemblance they bear to a brand of carrots on his home planet (not that this is crucial to the story, but you might wonder from where the game’s title originated… and now you know).
Red pikmin are the fiercest fighters and are heat resistant; yellow pikmin can be thrown furthest and can carry bomb rocks; blue pikmin don’t mind getting their feet wet, and will rescue any ‘landlubber’ reds or yellows who fall into water.
Teamwork and clever strategy is the name of the game. Individual pikmin are quite weak and lacking in motivation, but together they can bring down enemies, blow up immovable barriers, fetch and carry - basically overcome all of the obstacles in Olimar’s quest to rebuild his ship. It’s your job to manage the pikmin horde, figure out which types are needed (and how many), and where to direct them. There’s also an element of resource management involved, since you are limited to 100 pikmin in the field, but reserves can be created by – and housed in large, bulbous pikmin condos, or ‘onions’, as Olimar calls them.
The pikmin may be semi-intelligent and obedient to a fault, but they don’t always take the safest or most logical path from A to B. Many’s the time we’d direct a bunch of pikmin, only to find they’d met an untimely end by marching mindlessly into harm’s way (stoopid critters).
One feature from the original game which has also carried through to the Wii version – and one we could have done without, is the time constraint. You are given only 30 days; each lasting about 15-20 minutes of real time, in which to recover a minimum of 25 ship parts. Anything less and Olimar won’t get his happy ending. If you do the maths this makes for a fairly brief – if enjoyable gaming experience (equating to ten hours’ play... although once you’ve unlocked challenge mode you can bulk it out by several hours). Another gripe with the time limit is that you aren’t really able linger anywhere to appreciate the planet’s lush scenery and fascinating life forms. Instead, you must focus on the task at hand if Olimar is to see his family again.
Adding to the sense of urgency is a bar at the top of the screen, which tracks the sun’s progress. There is no option to save during each day’s play; however the save system does allow you to do so at the end of each day. If you fall short of your goal you can simply reload and have another crack at it.
The main point of difference between the original GameCube version and this one is the new pointer control system, which uses the Wii remote and nunchuck. It is intuitive, responsive, and provides a greater level of speed and accuracy; in a nutshell it works very well indeed. You can select and direct pikmin with as much panache as a maestro conducts his orchestra. As we’ve discovered with many Wii games, this interactive control system is a lot more satisfying and immersive than merely sitting on the couch, exercising your thumbs.
Sound and graphics are as good as we remember: scenery is colourful and lush, with fabulous textures (provided you don’t zoom in too close). Take a moment to enjoy them when you’re not rushing around, trying to round up all your errant pikmin before the sun sets. The soundtrack provides ambience appropriate to the situation, switching between chill-out background themes and more dramatic music as required. Sound effects are pretty good, too - both environmental and critters.
While Pikmin has been around the block and doesn’t really offer anything new for fans of the GameCube version, this cutesy RTS is a real charmer and an addictive, accessible introduction to RTS gaming. Plus it’s good value for money; if you missed it the first time around, here’s your chance to make amends.