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Feature: Pikmin's 10th Anniversary

Posted by Philip J Reed

A modern classic

The GameCube era is still a questionable time for Nintendo fans. While the console undoubtedly had its standout titles, there always seems to be a lingering question over how high — or, more to the point, how low — it would rank when gauged against Nintendo's other consoles. But wherever you fall in the debate, it's impossible not to acknowledge Nintendo's willingness to shake things up.

We're aware that the GameCube hardware is often seen as Nintendo's attempt to "play it safe," at least when compared to its previous boundary-pushing machines like the NES, SNES, Game Boy and N64, not to mention the Wii and DS that would follow. In reality, though, the GameCube was Nintendo's attempt to shake things up from a different perspective: the games themselves.

After all, consider the entries the console brought to Nintendo's flagship franchises. Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Metroid Prime and Star Fox Adventures all took their respective banners in bold new directions, and these titles are still polarising today. Nintendo was trying new things; if that's not clear enough, just look at the fact that the console launched with a game about Luigi instead of Mario!

Not everybody enjoyed these new directions, but such is the nature of experimentation. That experimentation wasn't limited to Nintendo's existing IPs either; the GameCube saw several new genres explored, and one of the fruits of those labours was Pikmin. This new IP was released in 2001, and one thing was clear: Nintendo was trying something brand new.

The game centres around Olimar, an otherworldly spaceman whose ship crashes on a bizarre and dangerous planet. Doomed to be suffocated by the planet's toxic atmosphere within 30 days, Olimar needs to reassemble his ship or die trying.

Fortunately for Olimar, though, he's not alone in his efforts. Early on the first day he meets his first of the titular Pikmin: an adorable, colour-coded species that travels in packs and is in desperate need of a leader who can protect them against the hazards of an uncaring world. So begins the strategically symbiotic relationship that so potently enraptured gamers that, ten years later, many are still clamouring for a third game.

In reality, the GameCube was Nintendo's attempt to shake things up from a different perspective: the games themselves.

There were several things unique about Pikmin, all of which worked together to make the game stand out so strongly. Firstly, it was the gameplay. While you are ostensibly in control of Olimar, it doesn't take long to realise that he serves as more of a cursor than a character, and it's the loyal Pikmin who are the real stars of this show.

Commanding armies wasn’t something we'd seen much of in Nintendo produced games at that point; nearly all first-party adventurers were lone wolves who got the job done single-handedly. Now we had limitless little soldiers who would gleefully go to their deaths for us, and that added elements of both pathos and social responsibility to our actions. After all, the Pikmin are like ants not only in terms of their behaviour and disproportionate strength, but in the way that they can be so easily squashed or burned by our curiosity.

As Olimar collects the parts of his ship, the Pikmin are forced to overcome enemies that increase continually in size, power and attack strategy. Early puzzles are as simple as directing the Pikmin's attention to something, but later battles require genuine war tactics. It's somewhat telling that in the best ending of the game, Olimar leaves behind a planet now ruled by Pikmin bullies.

That leads us to another thing that stood out about the game: the darkness. The main character, after all, is fated to suffocate after 30 days, and his only hope of survival is a complete upheaval of the planet's food chain. Not many games are established on the gimmick of a main character who is slowly dying, and the idea that you're just helping the Pikmin defend themselves is somewhat undercut by how tempting it is to sneak up on sleeping creatures and kill them before they have a chance to retaliate.

Also memorable is Olimar's journal, a method of delivering hints and tips to the player at the end of each in-game day. As Olimar nears the end of this last month, however, his journal entries can become increasingly panicked, fatalistic, and even borderline-insane depending upon the progress you've made...or haven't made. It can even culminate in Olimar making a doomed attempt to fly off in an inadequately repaired space ship, which leads to easily one of the darkest endings in Nintendo history.

And what would any discussion of this game be without speaking of its brilliantly designed areas and creatures? There's the Pikmin themselves, of course, but every creature on this planet is lovingly realised, with behaviours and life-cycles that convincingly feed into each other and fuel the idea that this planet is self-sufficient and completely believable unto itself. One creature builds what another destroys, insects scavenge for the dead, and several creatures even join forces to assist each other in battle. It's an evolving, condensed little world, and whether or not you make it out alive it's an honour just to have seen it unfold around you.

The music, as well, is absolutely top-notch. Every area contains a beautiful, long, winding composition that both sets the mood and passively emphasises the danger. The soundtrack ranks among Nintendo's very best, and that is substantial praise indeed.

Everything about Pikmin seems perfectly designed; a complete and functional mechanism unto itself. For those gamers who managed to penetrate its shell, who managed to steer their way through truly treacherous habitats, who forced themselves onward in spite of the game's terrifyingly brief time-limit, who managed to survive a bleak and unforgiving world that didn't care if they lived or died, they found a brilliant achievement of a video game. It’s an experience that grows slowly and is totally unforgettable, and one of the strongest reasons the GameCube can never truly be thought of as a failure.

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User Comments (33)

MayhemStaff

#1

Mayhem said:

Pikmin was one of those skill building games in the old school style, where if you were not good enough, you would have to start again from the beginning. I recall people whinging at the time about the 30 day limit because they figured they should be able to eventually complete the game properly the first time they attempted it. No such luck. You needed to understand the environment, how each Pikmin operated, and the best "army" to take forward for each confrontation. Just hope that a third game in the series is in the making for the Wii U...

CorusFace

#2

CorusFace said:

i miss pikmin sooooo much.... hope a 3rd comes out in pure hd soon! wii uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

ElsaGamer

#3

ElsaGamer said:

Beautifully written. The nostalgia is overwhelming and I can only hope for the third installment of this incredibly innovative and unforgettable series.

armoredghor

#4

armoredghor said:

It's a very beautifully built game based on a cross-over. I kinda wish the second one would've used the time management mechanic. I lost the game on the first play through but it's still fun to play.

ZEROGAME53

#5

ZEROGAME53 said:

wow....it's already been 10 years. I feel old. So why hasn't Nintendo announced Pikmin 3? I mean it's the perfect time for it to be announced.

Chrono_Cross

#7

Chrono_Cross said:

Loved every sentence of this article. Good read Philip.

And I couldn't agree more about Nintendo experimenting with the GameCube. Other games you didn't mention that they experimented with would be: Mario Kart Double Dash (two characters to a kart hasn't appeared since), Eternal Darkness, Geist (Ew), and Wario World.

Eternal Darkness and Geist are two games that someone was thinking outside the box when developing. Double Dash's two to a kart wasn't that outstandingly different from the rest of the franchise but Wario in full fledged 3D was something I never saw coming. And it was a great game too.

pikku

#8

pikku said:

I cannot wait for Pikmin 3. Seeing how immensely detailed and beautiful the first two games were and still are today makes me very excited to see the world in glorious HD. Can't. Wait. n____n

TLink9

#9

TLink9 said:

@1,2,and 5 at e3 they announced that pikmin will come to the wii u.

pikku

#10

pikku said:

@Viewtiful Joe Double Dash had more innovations than simply adding a second karter. Each character (or set of chatacters -think: Koopa, Paratroopa; Toad, Toadette; Mario, Luigi) had unique items that only they could get. Koopa/ Paratroopa had triple shells, and Mario/Luigi had those triple flame things. They gave the game a more strategic approach that hasn't been seen sine, unfortunately.

EvisceratorX

#11

EvisceratorX said:

While I am happy that pikmin 3 will be on the Wii u, I still think Nintendo missed an opportunity to put a pikmin game on the wii or DS.

Chrono_Cross

#12

Chrono_Cross said:

@pik
I knew that. But I didn't really feel like ranting about EVERYTHING it did differently than the other entries in the series. Oh and you forgot Bob-omb Battles! :o

Luffymcduck

#13

Luffymcduck said:

Gamecube is my alltime favourite console and had so many great games. Sure SNES had DKC-1-3 and Mario World, but N64 had more of my favourite games and NGC even more. Shame that it didn´t sell too much, it´s games had better quality than "Wii this and Woo that". Pikmin 1 and 2, while not being my all time favourites were good games and earn a 3rd part.

DestinyMan

#15

DestinyMan said:

I played Pikmin on the New Play Control! version on the Wii, and the time limit turned me off. If Pikmin 2 was easy to reach for me, I would get it and try it out, but I'm sure that Pikmin 3 on the Wii U will really make me like the series. It was nice for Nintendo to create a new IP and I hope Miyamoto stays true to his word and makes a new one for Wii U.

CorbsAdmin

#17

Corbs said:

I still think this original is one of the most underrated video games ever made. I loved it. Great read Phil! :D

Token_Girl

#18

Token_Girl said:

Hard to believe! I just wish the series had been loved enough here to justify an NPC Pikmin 2 release in the US. I really like the first one, but I don't know if I can go back to GameCube controls. The wii's worked so well (plus the GCN version costs like $50 on eBay still, and the NPC titles were only $30).

edhe

#19

edhe said:

I need to get these games. I don't know why I've held out until now - especially after enjoying Little King's Story so much.

It might be becaue I play on the Wii less now. If a portable sequel or remake was made, I'd be all over that.

Rayman2

#20

Rayman2 said:

Pikmin 3 will be awesome. Loved 1 and 2, liked 2 more, 1 more traditional.

Sonomin

#21

Sonomin said:

I love the pikmin series! This was (and still is) a series that tried something different and completely succeeded at it. Can't wait for pikmin 3! :D

TheGreenSpiny

#22

TheGreenSpiny said:

I played NPC Pikmin, but I didn't like the game at all. Constantly having to fiddle with the camera was a huge turn off. The over all design seems all right but the interface was terrible, and the Wii version was supposed to be better than the cube one.

Dodger

#23

Dodger said:

I've played NPC Pikmin to death and still love it. I don't have access to a GC controller or card so Pikmin 2 is out of my reach for now. Why didn't we get Pikmin 2 NPC? :(

Olimar is a character with something to live for. He has a family. The small picture you get of his life is something Nintendo often doesn't explore. I wish the ship didn't talk as much in Pikmin 2. I watched Chuggaaconroy's LP of it and the game looks great but it looks like it tries to go for funny more then it needs to. Still want to play it.

I would love a 3DS pikmin collection with both games. I would buy that in a heartbeat.

Stine

#24

Stine said:

I've had a copy of NPC Pikmin for months now, but I still haven't given it a try. It's starting to look tempting, though, so maybe I should at least test it soon.

StarDust4Ever

#25

StarDust4Ever said:

The one reason why I never really tried Majoras Mask or Pikmin, was because of the time limits. I tend to take a casual approach when playing through a new game, exploring all of the secrets as I go along, rather than just burning through the game as quickly as possible. Sometimes I fire up Super Mario 64 or Sunshine, just to screw around in the levels and waste time. I believe the severe time limits on the main adventure would just frustrate me to no end. As wonderful as the dark premises may be in games such as Pikmin and Majoras Mask, I feel like they could have been made more accesible by not forcing players to rush through the game.

Dodger

#26

Dodger said:

I find that you do wind up having time to explore if you want and there are a lot of things to explore. Optional bosses, secret pellets, Etc. You can even just try to raise pikmin numbers for fun. It's really worth a try for $20.

If you aren't sure, there are a couple good LPs of the game on youtube. Chuggaaconroy has Let's Played both games in the series.

The Gamecube didn't have graphics or features, it lived or died by the games. I like a lot of gamecube games but there were too many 3D games. I wish there was a better mix of 2D and 3D. An average 2D game is easier to play through then an average 3D game. I have plenty of fond memories of playing Mario Sunshine at a friend's house. I play Melee at another friend's house. It's fun but I like Brawl better. Brawl is too floaty but Melee is too fast and heavy. I prefer a slower paced fighting game so it winds up being about strategy, defending until the right time to strike comes. is mobbed by every "real" Smash Bros. fan in the universe

The wii is the perfect system to me. Creative, useful, has an amazing mix of genres and it can access games from every nintendo console through the VC and Gamecube support.

phoenix1818

#27

phoenix1818 said:

I have fond memories of Pikmin when I bought it as my first GameCube game back in 2002, and while in my opinion Pikmin 2 surpasses its predecessor, the original is still a fantastic game, and one of my favourites on GameCube.

I never reached the 30 day limit (which wasn't as restrictive as most people thought), but after reading this, it sounds like it's almost worth doing just to read the logs and see the ending.

I can only hope that after all these years since Pikmin 2 (7 years today in Australia) that Pikmin 3 will live up to my expectations, preferably as a launch title on Wii U. For now I can only imagine the beautifully detailed and unique world of Pikmin in glorious HD!

RantingThespian

#28

RantingThespian said:

I actually have never played it. But then again, I missed out on the whole Game Cube era due to my focus shifting away from games when I picked up the guitar.

Maybe I'll hunt a used copy down at Pre Played or Game Stop one of these days.

FantasiaWHT

#29

FantasiaWHT said:

Brilliant game. Loved the time limit, nice to see real consequences in a game. So much wonder to explore! 10/10 from me.

Burning_Spear

#30

Burning_Spear said:

Regarding the time limit ... I never played the GameCube version, but the NPC version lets you start over from any day you've previously played. So if you want to waste a day exploring, you can just reset to the start of that day when you're done. Personally, I prefer starting from day one and taking my best shot, but those who want to explore have that option.

JayArr

#31

JayArr said:

Never played a Pikmin game in my life. I should probably get on that......

LeasTwanteD

#32

LeasTwanteD said:

Thanks for reminding me why i have to muster up the courage to restart and this time finish this amazing game. Man, i'm just such a wussy when it comes to time limits. :|


And while we're talking experimentation on the Cube i guess Baten Kaitos qualifies too. (For being a JRPG with trading card battles.) :)

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