“A dedicated game platform with a brand-new concept”: is how the late Satoru Iwata described Nintendo’s upcoming NX in March of 2015. This should come as no surprise to Nintendo fans as the company has earned quite the reputation for coming up with unique and original hardware ever since the 1980s. Thankfully, just as Nintendo’s consoles have remained innovative and distinct over the years, one would be hard-pressed to not describe their games in a similar manner. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the brilliantly quirky Pikmin series.
Celebrating its 15th anniversary this year, the original Pikmin was a RTS (real time strategy) GameCube title which featured Captain Olimar, an intrepid space explorer from the planet Hocotate. At the start of the game Olimar is piloting his trusty ship, when all of a sudden the ship is sent careering down to the crash land on a planet below. Hours later, Olimar awakes to find himself marooned on the hostile alien world. To add to his dismay he finds that the planet has an atmosphere consisting of unbreathable toxic oxygen, and worse still his beloved ship has split into 30 separate pieces which in turn have dispersed across the terrain of the uncharted world. So, with his life support systems failing, Olimar has only 30 days to recover all the parts of his wrecked shuttle in order to eventually get home. Thankfully for the troubled captain, he doesn’t have to go it alone. The seemingly desolate planted on which he now finds himself is actually home hundreds of lovable little plant creatures known as Pikmin. Olimar meets 3 different kinds of Pikmin along the way: Red Pikmin which are immune to fire damage, Yellow Pikmin which are lightweight, and Blue Pikmin which can breathe underwater.
The core gameplay mechanic of the series appears here as Olimar make use of the Pikmin in order to save himself. From attacking foes, to gathering up resources in order to multiply their numbers, Pikmin was crafted around the idea of using a variety of Pikmin with a variety of abilities to carry out tasks with the overarching objective of finding the scattered parts of Olimar’s ship. Certainly this was a unique concept if ever there was one, but the real hook of Pikmin was the way in which RTS and puzzle solving were blended in such a seamless manner. Also the multi-tasking and time management skills that inherently come with having to command dozens of tiny life forms were extremely engrossing.
Pikmin 2, which released to the GameCube in 2004, was a direct continuation of Olimar’s story that expanded upon these mechanics. Having escaped from the lonely planet at the end of the first game, Olimar makes it back to his home planet, only to find that his company has amassed a huge debt. Therefore Olimar, joined by a fellow Hocotation – Louis- this time, returns to the Pikmin planet in hopes of finding valuable treasures that will pay off this debt. Once again, Olimar and his companion build up an army of the vegetative locals in order to accomplish this task. There are a few changes however as Olimar and Louis come across two brand new types of Pikmin; the heavyweight Purple Pikmin which have ten times the strength of regular Pikmin, and poisonous White Pikmin which are superfast and effective at digging up treasure. In addition, being able to split groups of Pikmin between Olimar and Louis who can then explore the planet on their own without direct input was a welcome feature in Pikmin 2. Not only did it improve the pacing of the game, but also having two protagonists placed a greater emphasis on the multitasking aspect of the series.
This would be emphasised further in 2013’s Pikmin 3. Even though the Pikmin series had been in hibernation for the best part of a decade, this was a game that truly highlighted the potential of “the plucky little space captain meets indigenous vegetable people” formula, not just with regards to gameplay, but also presentation. With its vibrant colours and crisp high definition settings such as the Tropical Wilds or the Distant Tundra, Pikmin 3 was simply stunning on the Wii U, not least due to it being a radical graphical improvement over its predecessors. The story this time around features 3 new captains from the planet of Koppai in place of Olimar and his sidekick, Louis. Alph, Brittany, and Charlie’s home planet is facing a food shortage so they have been sent into space in search of a substantial food supply. Eventually they come across the Pikmin planet (now named PNF-404) and after an unfortunate crash landing it’s up to the three explorers to gather up the various varieties of fruit that the planet has to offer before travelling home to save their home world. With 3 protagonists and the addition of the new Rock and Winged Pikmin varieties, players could be significantly more efficient than in previous titles when traversing the mammoth game world. This coupled with entertaining and charismatic dialogue between the playable trio meant that Pikmin 3 was a hit on Wii U. Certainly, the game served a fitting reminder that even in the darkest places, there’s always signs of life
From exploration with Pikmin, to delegation with Pikmin 3; the Pikmin series has come a long way in a short amount of time. The refinement of the core gameplay as opposed to the introduction of different concepts with each new entry has led to a certain degree of consistency. With regards to the future of the series, despite the fact that there was a 9 year hiatus between Pikmin 2 and Pikmin 3; recent news suggest that there will not be such a long wait to return once again to PNF-404. Following a statement from Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto in September of 2015, Pikmin 4 was confirmed to be in development and “very close to completion”. So, thankfully we know that Pikmin 4 will be released to a Nintendo platform in the near future. If the game is to follow the series’ conventions, then we should expect the game to have 4 or more playable protagonists; these could be either brand new characters, returning fan favourites or even an amalgamation of the 2. Also at least 2 new types of Pikmin are likely to be added; perhaps spiky green Pikmin with capabilities similar to that of carnivorous plants? Or maybe a bioluminescent Pikmin with the ability to light up dark caverns or provide nourishing light to other Pikmin in your party? Truly the possibilities are endless. I would also like to see some new areas for exploration unlike anything featured in the series prior. The prospect of beginning a new Pikmin game after having crash landed into an active volcano or amidst an urban setting would definitely be refreshing.
For the past 15 years, Pikmin players have enjoyed travelling the lush undergrowth of the Pikmin home world across 3 of Nintendo’s charismatic and unique titles. Only time will tell what a fourth entry is going to bring to the table, but currently the future looks bright for the rainbow coloured Pikmin.