“Here I am, stranded on a toxic planet, fighting to survive, and yet I’m intrigued… I must research this fascinating creature!”
“The following is a guest post by The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage.”
If you’ve been a diehard fan or timid follower of Nintendo over the past few years, you’ve probably gotten used to the perpetual risk taking. I always respect a good amount of risk being taken during the game development process – after all, put out the same game again and again, and you risk tiring out the fanbase, but change the game completely and you risk alienating the long-time fans. Once a franchise becomes popular, one of these two directions is where most seem to torpedo towards.
In the curious case of our beloved Japanese corporation, risk taking has blown up over the past few years, and though they’ve been very innovative throughout their existence, the Nintendo 3DS has been home to quite a few experiments, not all having been well received. Nintendo loves experimenting with their IPs, and while this is a great thing that pays off handsomely, crashing and burning is also another direction that some games have taken.
Some have landed somewhere in the middle.
While 2013 brought us the nostalgia-filled masterpiece Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, 2015 brought us Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, which was not nearly as successful. Fans were eager to see a new entry that used the same game engine as A Link Between Worlds, yet suddenly were expected to solve puzzles with strangers over the Internet sans voice communication – an idea that sounds fun on paper, but in practice yields chaos and ends up being an exercise in frustration.
Those of us who have attempted this game with online multiplayer, as opposed to the far superior local co-op multiplayer, probably can attest to it being a bit of a nightmare. With the lack of a voice chat and a small set of communication buttons at your disposal with the depth of an emoji, it wasn’t uncommon to find yourself yelling at your 3DS as a stranger repeatedly picked you up and tossed you off a cliff. Not fun in my opinion. One of these days I need to play this game through with two other friends.
Of course, I’m still on Step 1 of that process: find two friends who play 3DS. I’m at the age where it may actually be easier to procreate and raise two fellow humans to fill in seats two and three than to go out and meet more like-minded folks who want to play multiplayer Zelda on a random Tuesday evening.
Well, this sure has been a strange tangent. Anyway!
Triforce Heroes was not entirely well-received, and was followed not even a year later by yet another risk taker: none other than Metroid Prime: Federation Force, probably one of the most notorious hornet’s nest-shaking game announcements of all time. Fans of the Metroid series were craving a followup to either Metroid Prime on the Wii U, or Metroid: Zero Mission on the 3DS, but what they definitely were not hoping for was yet another multiplayer spin-off. Long story short, the game did not perform well at all, as it was predicted by said fanbase.
And here we are, almost a year after Federation Force, having received the third spin-off title for a huge Nintendo property that was questionable upon reveal. That game, of course, is what we’re here to talk about today: Hey! Pikmin.
Typing that out, my first criticism has to be, why did they put the exclamation mark after the Hey, and not after the Pikmin? “Hey, Pikmin!” is much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye and ear, as if to say, “hey everyone, it’s time to play some Pikmin! Call out sick from work and school and stay home all day, let’s get excited!” Instead, when stating the game name, we are requesting attention, only to deadpan deliver the word “Pikmin.” Just an off-the-cuff thought.
Look, if I can’t hair-split grammatical issues in a game title, why am I even here? What is anyone here? What do we even exist!?
Getting to the game, Hey! Pikmin seems to have been marginally better received than its Zelda and Metroid counterparts. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see not pitchforks, but intrigue, upon the reveal earlier this year. My first instinct upon watching the reveal was to compare Hey! Pikmin to Lemmings, being that the action was in side-scrolling 3D and you controlled various little creatures, each of whom had different abilities.
At the point of the reveal, fans were hoping to hear about a new installment in the main series of Pikmin games, and that is reason in itself to be disappointed to learn of a spin-off title in the works, but I personally wanted to give Nintendo a chance to reinvent their successful franchise in 2D.
Zelda re-invented itself in 3D with Ocarina of Time, and Metroid re-invented itself with Metroid Prime, right? So why can’t Pikmin go backwards and re-invent itself in one less dimension? On paper it sounded alright to me, so on to pre-order I went.
Before I get more into it, I have neglected to mention one important fact about me: I don’t actually like Pikmin games. It’s following that statement of fact that I will now spoil the review and tell you this: I liked Hey! Pikmin! Now I’m aware that when you review a lot of Nintendo games positively, you can get a bit of a reputation for being the worst kind of critic around: a filthy fanboy. Well, I went into this series that I don’t even like, expecting to be let down for the third time in a spin-off series, and to tell you the truth? I was pleasantly surprised when coming out the other end. There’s an old saying that the third time’s a charm, and this curious case of Nintendo’s spin-off title Hey! Pikmin fits the saying for me.
As demonstrated by the reveal and confirmed by the demo made available on the eShop mere weeks ago, Hey! Pikmin takes its cues from early Lemmings games. Taking control of Olimar, the series protagonist attempting to get home to his native planet, the player enlists the help of wild Pikmin prevalent to the environments they find themselves in. The Pikmin themselves are of five varying colors and skill sets, ranging from Red Pikmin who are fire-proof, to Winged Pikmin who can assist Olimar in descending, and fly over obstacles.
Hey! Pikmin has as limited a story as other games in the franchise – Olimar’s ship has crash-landed on a strange planet, and to get back home he will need enough fuel, represented by the in-game currency known as Sparklium. He enlists the help of the local Pikmin creatures, who seem to take a liking to him, to help achieve this goal.
While Olimar starts each level as a solo venture, he discovers the strange creatures hiding throughout, and with their help he is able to find and retrieve Sparklium, as well as retrieve artifacts from hard to reach places. Throughout each of the six environments, or “sectors” are they are called, Olimar meets various breeds of Pikmin with unique abilities: the resistance to electricity or water, for example.
They help Olimar make his way through each level, which upon completion opens up the next level, potential bonus level if you reached a secondary level exit, as well as Secret Spots, which are micro-puzzles that give you a chance to reach a Pellet that unleash more Pikmin into Pikmin Park.
Ah, Pikmin Park. I haven’t even mentioned this yet, and it’s probably one of my favorite parts of the game. For each Pikmin you bring to the end of each level, they are released into Pikmin Park, where you can assign them to mine Sparklium depending on their special skill. Throughout Pikmin Park, there are different types of terrain to be negotiated to extract the gold within, and only by filling the park with tons of Pikmin can you retrieve them. It’s a charming mini-game that gives meaning to bringing Pikmin back to your ship with you.
While you are out and about exploring levels, Pikmin in your Pikmin Park will continue to search for treasures. When you come back to visit them, a good chunk of the time they will have discovered treasure for you! It’s a cool little behind-the-scenes feature that rewards saving all the Pikmin you can.
While in each level, Olimar occasionally leads a mixed bag of Pikmin types, who can be selected individually for help using the touch screen. For example, if you need to reach a higher platform, you can select the Yellow Pikmin before tapping away to launch them in a direction. You’ll find that a lot of the controls of Hey! Pikmin happen on the touch screen. In fact, most of the game itself is touch screen based.
Switching gears to talk about the controls, Hey! Pikmin hits an odd place for me. Personally, I don’t find it completely comfortable to use a stylus as the primary control method in a game. I’m playing on a New 3DS XL, and holding the console in my left hand (although the ABXY buttons also control Olimar, for the left-handed folks out there) means that I’m bearing the weight of the console for a long period of time, while pressing down on it repeatedly on the touch screen.
Over time, and without any support, this can tire the hands and wrist quickly, and it fast becomes evident just how much focus is put on the touch screen controls. Tapping on the touch screen will signal Olimar to toss a Pikmin wherever you have tapped, depending on which breed you have selected. As accuracy is key while throwing your precious Pikmin, using fingers is a big no-no here – the stylus is the only way to get precision. By that, I am implying that the control scheme works, but it isn’t ideal if you are someone averse to touch controls.
While your left thumb (or right) controls Olimars left and right movement on the Circle Pad, the large remainder of things to do are done with your stylus.
I consider myself to be in the class of people who dislike touch screens, and particularly ones that require the use of a stylus. Still, I think the controls work fairly well. Honestly, I don’t know how else a control scheme could have been implemented while still keeping Pikmin-tossing precision as a pivotal part of the gameplay.
What are you tossing Pikmin at? Well, besides lobbing them at treasures to carry to you, you’ll find yourself hauling them at all manner of enemies to take them out before they can send your little fellas to an early grave with a depressing Pikmin groan. While moving through each level, enemies can seemingly emerge out of nowhere and you will find yourself spamming screen taps to desperately keep your Pikmin safe.
Through trial and error, you will learn how to properly dispatch enemies using your Pikmin. Before you reach that point of masterful Pikmin tossing, however, you will undoubtedly sacrifice many to the Pikmin gods. That is because the whole aiming system is a little bit complex – Pikmin themselves don’t have much in the way of intelligence, and will oftentimes wander off cliffs trying to find Olimar, or simply commit Pikmincide by wandering into enemies if you toss them a bit too far.
Committing Pikmincide happens, but if you are going for 100% completion on each level, noted by a golden trophy on the world map, you will absolutely find this frustrating. It’s not impossible to get through the tougher levels without losing any Pikmin, but it’s certainly an exercise in frustration, particularly in those moments where you watch hopelessly as a Pikmin AI malfunctions and runs right into an enemy mouth.
Seeing enemies approaching from afar is key, which brings me to my next key point: the presentation of Hey! Pikmin. Originally, when I first saw the reveal, one of the most aesthetically pleasing things to me was how the top screen of the 3DS acts as an extension of the bottom touch screen. Gone is the typical design of the top screen being your “main screen,” with bottom being inventory, a map, etc. It makes the whole game world feel much bigger, almost as if you are playing on a tablet. Particularly on a 3DS XL this was evident, although when I popped the game into my regular New 3DS just to see how it looked, it was still really great, but it’s worth noting that the “extra tall” view weirdly adds a whole other dimension to the game, which pairs nicely with losing the third one.
After playing so many 3DS games that typically use only one screen for the gameplay, playing one that combined the two into one large screen was incredible.
Now I mentioned earlier that I’m not really a fan of Pikmin, or rather that I could never get into it, but it’s important to note that I always thought the music and general vibe of the game perfectly fit the Nintendo brand. Carefree and silly. And Hey! Pikmin nails it on both accounts.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing for the first time is that the music is very quiet and calm, as is typical for Pikmin games. What I felt right away spoke for itself, and that’s that you feel like you’re playing one of the 3D entries in the series. Capturing the vibe is important in spin-off titles, and from playing not even two levels, it was obvious that this was a 3D Pikmin game adapted into a 2D-capable device, not a total branch off the tree of an established franchise.
The music is quiet, calming, and extraordinarily pleasant, with the sound effects pairing beautifully. This is a Pikmin game, make no mistake. Not once during my seven gameplay hours so far did I feel like this was anything other than another Pikmin experience, sans the third dimension.
As you make your way through these luscious environments and accumulate Sparklium, you will reach certain tiers, allowing Olimar to restore various abilities and functionality to the ship that make his Sparklium searching easier. These various upgrades include more health for Olimar himself, Jetpack improvements, and the availability of a mini-map that shows lost Pikmin as well as shiny objects for your collection.
This is an area that I thought the developers could have played around with a bit more. While floating in your suit is a key function to reach certain areas on maps, I have yet to find a time where it is entirely necessary to reach a part of a previously completed map with these new upgrades. I love the idea of having to backtrack to further levels to progress with newly learned techniques. This didn’t seem to be a focus with the developers of Hey! Pikmin. While having new suit abilities can certainly help clear previous levels faster and easier, there’s never that “a-ha!” moment where you realize you can finally get over to that ledge to find that secret exit.
From playing through to over 40,000 Sparklium (with 30,000 being the required minimum amount to beat the game), I can safely say that 99% of the levels can be 100% completed in the first try, never needing to be revisited again. Sure, they may take a few restarts once you realized you took the wrong path, but nothing is locked behind an upgrade. Whether or not this is appreciated is completely up to the player – sometimes it’s nice to just play through a level and not have to worry about what you can and can’t access at that point in the game. From what I’ve seen, every level can be beaten the first time, 100%.
For my playthrough, I rarely revisited segments of the planet that I had already completed. I don’t particularly care for 100% completing games anymore, and unless you are aiming for perfect runs through each level, which involves not losing a single Pikmin, there really isn’t any reason to go back to old levels once you’ve collected all the treasures within them. My general gameplay style was to stop myself from moving to the next segment until all of the treasures for each level in said segment were found. Again, this isn’t necessary to do, nor is this lack of backtracking a flaw; it is simply an observation.
One other reason to return to the maps is the completely optional use of amiibo. As a collector of amiibo myself, let me tell you that I was overjoyed to learn that there is a high level of support for these things. My wallet was also thankful, because as I don’t play Smash, I rarely have any reason to scan the things, and most of the time they serve the solo purpose of making an otherwise empty shelf look really cool.
By scanning each amiibo that is supported in the game, you can access one of the special levels available in each world segment, with the grand prize not being a pellet of Pikmin, but a statue of the amiibo in question. This statue is worth a fat chunk of Sparklium, and so you can essentially “speed up” the progress of the game if you have the amiibo currency to do so.
Personally, I scanned a few, played a handful of special levels, and then stopped when I realized I had been standing next to my amiibo shelf for 15 straight minutes.
That being said, while it’s fun to capture your amiibo in-game, the gimmick wears itself out fairly quickly, especially when you realize that Sparklium doesn’t really do anything except get you upgrades. Once you have them though, it’s all about filling out your Compendium. If that’s not your thing, you will probably find this entire feature pointless.
Let’s break at this point and take a look at some scores!
The 8-Bit Review
Hey! Pikmin did a great job of using limited hardware. While there is no 3D functionality, it’s easy to see why: the two screens are continuations of each other, meaning that one screen in 3D wouldn’t work, as only the top screen has that feature. It was definitely a necessity to leave out 3D for that reason alone, and for that I cannot remove any points.
The texture and graphical work is nothing really to write home about, and of course we must respect the old age of the 3DS. I think the detail that went into the individual treasures was incredible, and the ability to look at them close-up in the Compendium really shows how well done the sprite work is. I’ll give it a solid 8/10.
Audio in a game like Hey! Pikmin should be simple and quiet. This isn’t an action-packed game most of the time, it’s an exploration game that requires focus to gain intimate knowledge of each level to complete it optimally. Hey! Pikmin does a fine job of borrowing that same colorful soundtrack from the main series and there’s nothing bad that I can say about it. The sound effects are a little lacking but they work.
While the main series Pikmin games may have been difficult to get into for some (myself included), there’s nothing inherently difficult or outside the box about Hey! Pikmin. The controls are almost completely dependent upon interaction with the touchscreen, so if touchscreen controls are not your thing, you might want to just pass this one right up. Your left or right hand is used to move Olimar left and right, and up and down ladders.
Personally, I’m not a fan of touchscreen games, but I think this game was handled well. What did get frustrating was the precision when throwing Pikmin at enemies. Too many times I would overshoot a bad guy, only to have my Pikmin get eaten while trying to run back to me, stupidly running into the belly of the beast.
The game itself has tutorials built into the gameplay, and by that I mean that you learn from a small cutscene combined with your own common sense. There’s no hand-holding or annoyances in that department: the game shows you how to do everything once, and then leaves you to it.
Even though there are some tougher levels in Hey! Pikmin, overall, it’s a fairly easy game. The challenge comes from the moments where you must make quick decisions, and can tend to freeze up and panic. Of course, you don’t really ever lose anything here, as you can either restart the level, or find more Pikmin hiding in a nearby bush.
See, the levels are designed in such a way where if you lose all of your Pikmin, or the minimum amount of Pikmin of a certain type required to finish the level, you can blow your whistle near a bush, and most of the time you can quickly replenish your ranks so that you’re not left stranded in the level. Personally, I think this was a misstep in the design, and failing a level should have been left up to the user.
The other area where I think the game could have used more of a challenge was by making the player use all four Pikmin in some of the levels. Each level was clearly meant to be completed by using a maximum of two Pikmin types. In my earlier gameplay, I was really looking forward to having an arsenal of Pikmin, and I think the most I had to use at one time was three. Kind of weak if you ask me.
While scoring a narrative can give high marks for compelling story, I believe the same can happen from a lack of a story where it is not needed. Cutscenes are skippable for the most part, which is good because they aren’t really necessary at all. The whole story is always the same; Olimar gets stranded on another planet, he needs to get back to his family, first he needs to repair his ship by enlisting the help of the native Pikmin creatures. There’s nothing new to see here.
Now, where Narrative gets major bonus points is in the Compendium. It’s no subtle trick, either – the developers made it a point to have Olimar remind the player to check out the Compendium periodically, and there’s good reason for it. Olimar writes some of the funniest descriptions about each of the treasures that you find! In a way, as you read more Compendium entries, you start to get a feel for just how blissfully ignorant Olimar is to the world that he finds himself stranded in. It’s a wonderful character piece on Olimar and creates more of a narrative than any cutscenes could. He’s got an oddball sense of humor and it just makes him that much more lovable!
If the controls are the weak point of Hey! Pikmin, the combined gameplay is the strength. Does that make sense? Once you figure out the controls, the day-to-day gameplay that you will spend 90% of your time in is quite fun. The levels are designed to keep you on your toes, but the calming vibe created by pairing subtle music and adorable sounds keeps you wanting to play more.
The difficulty curve can be a little sporadic at times, but there’s enough in each play session to keep you interested.
When you come back from a level, the gameplay in the Pikmin Park minigame is fun and keeps you having to do some slight work to optimize the amount of treasure being extracted from the planet. It’s a solid gameplay loop that maintains its freshness through the expiration date.
This is an area where Hey! Pikmin is going to take a bit of a hit. While the combination of a 2D platformer and a Pikmin game is unique in itself, I couldn’t help but keep comparing it to Lemmings games. I still appreciate the fact that they were able to transform a 3D game into a 2D one and have it work fairly well, but to call it unique? I don’t know if I’d go that far.
Be that as it may, a game doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to be fun, and I believe Hey! Pikmin strikes a nice balance of keeping things simple while providing the player a fun time.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
I completed this game just a few short days before finishing up this review. While my opinion may have changed every so slightly throughout my 13 hour-long play time, it stayed roughly in the 7/10 range.
While Hey! Pikmin had the innate ability to drive me insane a few times, overall it was a nice calm game to play while smoking a cigar or taking the bus into work. Like a fine cheese, it pairs well with a nice bottle of wine on a Friday night.
If you’re looking into playing this game, take your time with it, and try not to crunch too many levels together one after another. I found that the times I got frustrated were generally caused by playing for over an hour. The levels can be fairly long, and playing 5-6 levels in a row is a mistake unless you have the patience of a saint.
Hey! Pikmin is a fun game that you will enjoy, providing you go into it with reasonable expectations for a spin-off title.
Transitioning a 3D franchise to a 2D game is no easy task, and far too often this has resulted in lackluster side-entries to the series we love. Hey! Pikmin does a fair job of staying true to its roots, and it kept me entertained till the very end. Collectively, it took me 13 hours to finish the game and collect all of the items.
I’d recommend this game not necessarily to someone who loves Pikmin, but definitely someone who enjoys relaxing, low-stress gameplay and is looking for a fun platformer that isn’t a huge commitment. Is this a must-play? I would say, no, no it isn’t. 2017 has been a tremendous year for game releases thus far, and I would recommend putting this one on to the backburner and picking it up during a sale.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I’m not a prior fan of Pikmin, but after playing this game, I can safely say that I appreciated the effort that went into Hey! Pikmin, and would recommend picking it up if you fit the aforementioned qualifications. It’s a simplified version of Lemmings, and it’ll keep you entertained for a good dozen hours.
Aggregated Score: 6.6
The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage likes his coffee black, his dogs small, and his five o’clock shadow well-defined. You can read about him drowning his sorrows in pure nostalgia over at his blog Nostalgia Trigger.
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Categories: Game Review