Pikmin might not be one of Nintendo’s best selling franchise, but there is no denying that its fans can be just as vocal as those who enjoys the likes of Mario, when it comes to asking for new titles. Even the press pestered for information on a new title Shigeru Miyamoto for years, until he finally confirmed a Pikmin 3 release on the Nintendo Wii U. Ironically enough the announcement of a handheld Pikmin title on the Nintendo 3DS didn’t quite get the best reception and all because it was being handled by external developer, Arzest. The same development team previously worked on handheld titles for the likes of the Yoshi franchise, with lukewarm results, but will this be the same for its handheld Pikmin title, Hey! Pikmin?
It’s important to note that those expecting a fully fledged Pikmin experience on the go will be disappointed when playing this title. Developer Arzest doesn’t seem interested in just making a handheld version of the main console titles. Instead Hey! Pikmin takes on a more traditional side scrolling platform persona – albeit one that has been severely simplified to accommodate for the touch screen controls that are used for most of the title’s various functions.
In this latest installment, franchise survivor captain Olimar has yet again crashed on a planet on his way back home and must at first collect an obscene amount of a natural resource called Sparklium, in order to have enough fuel to get back home. Fortunately it’s populated with free labour (a Conservative’s dream) in the form of Pikmin who are willing to do just about anything for the captain.
Not constantly putting the pressure on players by giving them deadlines, such as running out of oxygen does make for a less stressful experience, but it also means that it doesn’t feel quite as challenging as the main titles. It’s hardly fair to make comparisons between this handheld adventure and the main titles, which are more strategic, but it’s difficult to not do so when the handheld title makes use of most of the key ideas that made Pikmin so popular with its fans. Albeit it does so in a severely simplified manner to accommodate for the fact that it’s a handheld title that is best played on the go.
At first it feels like Hey! Pikmin lacks the depth and intricacy in level design that made it so satisfying to overcome the many ordeals and horrors that players faced in the console titles. But the areas Olimar explores do become far more engaging with progress, such as one where the captain is being slowly moved forward by flying Pikmin, which makes for some enjoyable moments that even manage to offer an adequate challenge on the rare occasion.
The controls like most of the game are very simple. Most levels merely consist of just pressing forward. It’s clear that Hey! Pikmin is charming to look at and enjoyable to play, but it rarely manages to impress in the way that the console titles do. One advantage the title does have is giving more direct control of Pikmin with the touch screen controls. As with other titles, Pikmin can be thrown to fetch various objects and take on the disturbing oversized predators that are constantly on the prowl for their next meal. The buttons or d-pad/analog are only used for moving the captain, with the touch screen being used for controlling Pikmin and also some basic abilities for Olimar, such as the use of a jet pack.
It’s commendable to see the use of both buttons and d-pad/analog stick to move the captain, since it makes it easier for left handed players to play the title (hi!). Although it does make it somewhat difficult to always see what is going on the screen for someone who is left handed. The use of buttons to move the captain also caused some discomfort during prolonged play sessions and this felt more apparent during sections where Olimar was swimming.
At first areas within the initial sectors tend to make use of only one type of Pikmin. As different types are introduced, the title continues to add more areas where one or more of different Pikmin types are used. This does make the puzzles more appealing, given the fact that they make use of the weaknesses and strengths that each Pikmin type has. Making good use of these little creatures and trying to keep them alive is a major aspect that made the console titles so compelling to play.
Whilst it’s not quite as advanced in this version, it’s still enjoyable to see some glimpses of this in advanced areas in the later sectors. Even if the use of tiny icons that are so close together does make it difficult to quickly change between Pikmin types, with a tap of the stylus on the touch screen, which does mean occasionally killing one or two by accident.
The AI of the Pikmin is also not always accurate and there were various occasions where the little creatures got stuck on a lower section that the captain couldn’t go back to. Pikmin will literally panic and die if left unsupervised for a short amount of time, which is why the captain can use a whistle to call them, but it only works within a short distance. The whistle is also used to call out Pikmin hiding and it seems like about twenty of them can be found in each area.
Interestingly enough, the captain can make use of his abilities to find treasures (worth more Sparklium) on his own by briefly separating from the Pikmin. It’s a nice addition given how useless the humanoid characters have usually felt whilst playing the Pikmin titles.
The Pikmin themselves also have their own use outside of the areas being explored, where they are sent to different areas within a Pikmin park sector, to look for Sparklium and treasures. Pikmin that survive to the end of each of the areas explored are sent here to help speed up the process. The ship’s AI then notifies Olimar when the Pikmin have found anything, so that they can then be sent to look for more resources. The ship’s AI can be quite needy at times as it constantly reminds players to check the records that it has worked so hard on compiling. The Pikmin Park is not exactly groundbreaking and yet it could come in handy for anyone who is somehow struggling to gain the amount of Sparklium needed to get back home.
It’s a shame that such concepts that made the consoles titles so endearing, such as the blossoming of flowers on Pikmin representing their growth, have been simplified and not particularly well executed in the title. Still, there are various nods to the franchise to be found scattered all over areas, such as the adorable short animations that usually involve Pikmin being typically silly.
At times Hey! Pikmin can feel like a title that has no serious consequences, given that restarting an area is enough to undo any mistakes. It’s only normal given the nature of a levels based system. But it can also be frustrating to for example fall in a bottomless pit and only lose some life force, but have to restart an area after falling into a pit full of a toxic liquid.
Visually, Hey! Pikmin does a remarkable job of making the most of the handheld’s limited resources to create an oversized world that makes Olimar and the Pikmin looks tiny and insignificant in comparison. As usual, it’s a world filled with all sorts of dangers, like a creepy creature that resembles a parrot with really long legs. The boss battles are not particularly challenging, but they do make use of some intimidating creatures that are sometimes so large that they appear on both screens of the handheld. Each sector takes place on a different location that makes it interesting to at least explore and find out what new perils await the characters. Like with the console version, the soundtrack for Hey! Pikmin manages to somehow be sad and yet inspiring.
There are other special areas that players can explore with Pikmin, but these are mainly used as an easier way to gain more Pikmin for the park and Sparklium. Some of these are also only available for those who own amiibo that are compatible with the title, which seems rather unfair given that it feels like it’s making players pay for content that is already in the title, or at least for those who want to experience everything that it has to offer.
What the title does right though is remind players of a Nintendo that used to focus more on the unique capabilities of its two screen handheld. The use of both screens helps to immerse players in the world of Pikmin and the touch screen is a handy way of using the Pikmin.
Hey! Pikmin might not be the new entry in the franchise that fans were hoping one, but it’s still an interesting and somewhat flawed experiment that is best enjoyed in short bursts.