A couple weeks ago, I found myself randomly watching a ton of Pikmin videos on YouTube. Just a couple of days later, Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo posted an article on what made the series special. I took this as a sign that I should hop in and revisit the series again, so on my day off due to the extreme cold air in the Midwest US, I bought the Wii New Play Control version of the original Pikmin on the Wii U’s eShop expecting to play it over the course of the next few days.
Five hours after the download finished, I was watching Captain Olimar waving good-bye to his faithful Pikmin companions and blasting off for home in his fully completed rocket. I was far from disappointed that I had completed the game in such a short amount of time: on the contrary, I found the game simply so compelling that I completed the whole thing in just a couple of sittings with only an hour break thrown in.
For those unaware, in the original Pikmin, players take on the role of Captain Olimar who has crash landed on a mysterious planet and has 30 days to collect 30 pieces of his rocket, the Dolphin. To complete his task, he enlists the help of Pikmin: part animal, part plant. Pikmin multiply by picking up pellets or defeated enemies and dragging them back to their home, the Onion. Olimar can command them to do tasks like knocking down walls, building bridges, or battling enemies.
While using the controls to handle your squad of Pikmin is relatively easy, the real meat of the game comes from the fact that it is very much a real time strategy game. That’s not a genre I particularly enjoy: I’ve tried Starcraft and Age of Empires, but I’ve never had much fun with it. However, I feel there’s three things that really make Pikmin stand out. First, you are a character in the world, and that adds a bit more action to the proceedings. If you want to keep yourself and your squad alive, you can’t simply order your Pikmin to charge in and overwhelm the enemy. You’ve got to sneak around them and attack from the rear or strafe around them and dodge attacks.
Second, rather than going up against another army like in most RTS games, it’s you vs. a world full of puzzles, giant creatures, and hazards.
Third and most importantly, you have a defined limited amount of time to work with. Each day in the game is about 13 minutes long, so if you want to accomplish a lot in one day, you’ll need to multitask. This is especially true for this first game in the series. I got this game as a kid back in 2001 and immediately fell in love with it, but I was absolutely terrible at multitasking. My first attempt to beat the game’s 30 day time limit was a failure: I never ran out of time, but recognized that it was going to be mathematically impossible for me to get all of the necessary ship parts in time. As such, I reluctantly restarted the game from the beginning and picked up the pace, finally beating the game with a few days to spare. It’s for this reason that as a kid, I was much happier with Pikmin 2: there was no longer a 30 day time limit, and a majority of that game takes place in caves where the 13 minute day timer is no longer present.
As an adult, however, I’ve grown to really appreciate that strict 13 minute day timer and embrace the multitasking. Before starting each day, I come up with a plan of attack: how many Pikmin to take where and when, as well as which ship pieces to target. Sitting down and coming up with that plan, then executing it and seeing the whole thing come together fulfills a sense of accomplishment few other games match. Each time I beat the game, it takes me less in-game days to do so. First it was 24, then 18, and now this most recent playthrough at 15 days. The game itself isn’t very long and lends itself to relatively quick playthroughs by design: there’s an in-game leaderboard to keep track of this along with other stats to encourage you to improve.
One thing that changed with my most recent playthrough is that I was playing the Wii New Play Control version via and not the original Gamecube version. While I still own the Gamecube version, I’ve always wanted to play the Wii version as the Wii pointer controls in Pikmin 3 on the Wii U really enhanced the way you throw Pikmin. I was expecting the Wii version of Pikmin to be definitive.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. It ends up being less “definitive” and more “different.” Unlike in the Gamecube version where you controlled where you throw Pikmin by slightly moving the control stick, you now point where to throw with the Wii’s pointer. In Pikmin 3, this works fantastically as you point directly at the object you want to throw Pikmin at. However, in this version of Pikmin, your cursor always remains attached to the ground like in the original game, so if you want to throw Pikmin at something in the air, you have to do the mental math on the arc of the throw and aim at the required landing spot to create that arc. It works, but not nearly as precisely or easily as Pikmin 3. In fact, I’d say it wasn’t even as precise as in the original Gamecube version: I had a much easier time one-shotting Dwarf Bulborbs by landing a Pikmin directly on them in that version. What you lose in precision, though, you gain in speed. You no longer control Olimar with the same stick you use to move the cursor so you can quickly lob your Pikmin at objects in one direction as you run in another.
Another tradeoff with the Wii version’s throwing is that it lessens a technique from the original version. In the original version, you could combine Olimar’s horn on the C-stick with throwing to dramatically speed up the rate at which you can throw. However, in the Wii version, guiding with the horn is done by holding down on the D-Pad and pointing in the direction you want to lead. In other words, you can no longer throw in one direction while leading your Pikmin towards Olimar. You can accomplish similar results, however, by running around inside your squad of Pikmin while throwing which again you couldn’t do before, so not all is lost, but it does make some battles slightly harder to beat without losing Pikmin on the Wii. Speaking of the horn being on the D-pad, I did also frequently run into issues where I’d accidentally trigger the camera movements mapped to left and right on the D-pad while trying to use the horn which was irritating.
The Wii version also makes several other gameplay changes by incorporating some nice quality of life changes that were introduced in sequels. The numbers above objects being carried now change to the color of the onion it’s being carried to. You can swap between Pikmin colors while holding a Pikmin by tapping B while holding A which is a Godsend. Yellow Pikmin carrying bomb rocks no longer drop them when you whistle which makes them much less frustrating to use (although that does introduce one big issue as I’ll discuss in a bit).
There are a few other changes, however, that are a bit more baffling. Some sound effects were changed to be quieter and different like the jumping of the frog-like Wollywogs. Pikmin seem to automatically try to do things they bump into even if in Olimar’s control. In the original this would only happen with select objects, but here it kept happening to everything like objects being carried and bridges being built.
Spoilers for the final boss of the game. I know it’s 18 years old at this point, but just a heads up!
The change to bomb rocks also had a side effect of making the game’s final boss, the Emperor Bulblax, a much larger pain in the rear than before. In the original game, you could grab bomb rocks with Yellow Pikmin and whistle at them to drop the bomb rock as the Emperor goes to use its tongue attack so he eats only the bomb rock, stunning him. This strategy is much harder to use in the Wii version since the Yellow won’t drop its bomb rock when whistled to. You instead have to hope that it’ll throw the bomb rock at the mouth which didn’t seem to happen reliably making the fight way more frustrating.
There’s also still some quirks that the original version has always had that remain unchanged here. Pikmin can get caught behind objects trying to follow you, or will walk off into water when trying to cross narrow areas. They’ll trip every now and then requiring you to wait up. However, given the way Pikmin are presented as these cute creatures, you tend to forgive some of these quirks, and the Wii version makes them easier to combat given your whistle ability now has near infinite range.
On the whole, I’d say if you’ve got the Gamecube version and have mastered it, there’s no need to get the Wii version. If you’ve never played the game before, you’d be just fine with the Wii version (or in this case, the Wii U eShop version).
In spite of its quirks, there’s still a lot to love in the original Pikmin. The environments are still my favorite in the series: your landing pad is almost always in the center leaving you with plenty of choices on exactly how to tackle the area as opposed to some of the environments in the sequels which feel a bit more linear. The creature designs feel mostly natural. Later games added spiders with machine guns, walking fish turrets with shields, bugs with water canisters on their heads, and so on which are fun to fight but feel less like creatures in a world and more like enemies in a video game. The same goes for the world itself: everything has a more natural feeling. There’s no electrified gates or poisonous pipes randomly dotting the landscape. The Pikmin types also feel a bit more balanced in this first game: I found myself always gravitating towards one or two types of Pikmin in newer games.
The game may be shorter and more simplistic than sequels, but it’s still a ton of fun to play. As I said at the beginning, I intended to replay the game over the course of a few (real life) days, but after my first play session, I realized all I was thinking about was my strategy on how to tackle the next few in-game days, so I went right back and started up the game to finish it off. Heck even after finishing it, I’m still thinking of ways I could have saved time and lives along the way: that I think is the magic of Pikmin. 18 years later, it’s still there.