Last week marked ten years since the original Pikmin released in Japan. In the decade since we've had just a single sequel, but Olimar's adventures are far from over.
The story of an alien who crash lands on a mysterious planet and must recruit tiny plants to work for him, like many of Shigeru Miyamoto's franchises Pikmin is inspired by a real-life hobby: gardening. Whereas The Legend of Zelda was inspired by Miyamoto's exploration of the expansive woods and caves around his childhood home, Pikmin hones in on the minuscule, taking the action right down to ground level.
On the surface, Pikmin was perhaps an odd choice to launch with the GameCube, but then it's an odd game and the 'Cube was arguably an odd console, though we love it all the same. While there's combat, exploration and scale, it's not what you'd call an action game: nor is it hugely strategic, though your followers' varying attributes add some depth. Pikmin is perhaps best described as a time management game: you only have 30 days to recover Olimar's ship debris before his life support fails. There are specific tasks to perform each day before sunset and managing your reserves of Pikmin is essential to success. It's a workplace simulator: leave your employees to their own devices and they'll achieve nothing. It's only by leading the way, issuing commands and making sure nobody's eaten by ferocious animals that you'll get anything done.
On the surface, Pikmin was perhaps an odd choice to launch with the GameCube, but then it's an odd game and the 'Cube was arguably an odd console, though we love it all the same.
The sequel, Pikmin 2, added a subordinate in the form of Louie, letting you split your workload between two characters and increase productivity. It also dropped the 30 day time limit, letting you play at your own pace without one eye on your mortality.
As with all of Miyamoto's creations, Pikmin is a game about finding joy in the (very) small things and nurturing a sense of wonder: tiny Olimar must send 30 Pikmin to stomp on a paper bag blocking his path, or order them to carry a battery to power his ship. It's a Toy Story-like fantasy of what happens beyond the human eye, and dotted with tiny touches that delight: it's classic Miyamoto.
All this makes it all the more baffling, then, that we haven't seen a Pikmin game since the European release of New Play Control Pikmin 2 in 2009 – a re-release that never made it across the pond. Shigeru Miyamoto announced Pikmin 3 all the way back in 2009, but no platform was mentioned until the revelation of Wii U at E3 2011. What could Olimar's adventures look like on Nintendo's new platform?
The New Play Control versions of Pikmin used the Wii Remote's pointer to enhance aiming accuracy, but with the touch screen controller flinging soldiers should be equally straightforward. That's really only the tip of the possibilities though: Pikmin is an invisible version of a world we recognise, and makes you want to believe you could see it for yourself with the right equipment.
While we certainly don't envision augmented reality Pikmin 3 on Wii U, the controller's gift is what Nintendo does best: offering a window into another reality. Point it at the TV to reveal hidden items and extra information; use it to command armies in separate areas easily. The co-operative potential here is immense, too.
The opportunities don't just end at Wii U either: the 3DS is bundled with six AR cards including one of the little Pikmin themselves. How about hooking the 3DS up to the Wii U and using it as a portable Pikiopedia, viewing items from the Pikmin world in the real world via the wonders of augmented reality? Nintendo has dabbled with linking its portable and home consoles before, but none blurs the boundaries quite like Wii U, and we're certain Miyamoto and team have plenty of ideas for how 3DS and Wii U can bring the Pikmin to life.
We haven't had a new Pikmin game since 2004, but we're under the impression Pikmin 3 will once again accompany Nintendo's new hardware close to launch. While the company's vision for Wii U is laudable, we're waiting for real software; if Nintendo can show off a high definition Pikmin that takes full use of the Wii U's new controller, it could really put the console on a lot of radars.
What would you like to see in Pikmin 3, and how do you think the Wii U will be utilised? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, and keep an eye out for our retrospective of the original Pikmin later this week.