Game Review

by Dustin Bailey,

Hey! Pikmin

Nintendo 3DS

Hey! Pikmin
Captain Olimar is shipwrecked on yet another alien world populated by Pikmin. This time his adventure is a sidescroller, blending Pikmin management with 2D puzzle platforming.
Up until now, the adventures of Captain Olimar have seen him and a legion little plant people called Pikmin in a long-term battle for survival, racing against the clock or dwindling food reserves to gather the materials necessary to repair the latest spaceship crash and get Olimar home. Commanding an army of Pikmin while making long-term strategic decisions felt like a Nintendo-fied approach to real-time strategy, and the series has remained uniquely delightful through a decade-and-a-half worth of sporadic entries.

Hey! Pikmin isn't really a Pikmin game. It has the trappings—the characters, the cute alien descriptions of human junk, and the quest to repair a broken spaceship—but this 3DS game is a side-scroller that dispenses with nearly all the strategic elements that define how Pikmin plays. The genre jump isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as Hey! Pikmin offers some moments where the potential of a Pikmin-powered puzzle platformer shines through. Unfortunately, those moments are overshadowed by the simplicity of the puzzles, uninspired progression, and uncharacteristically poor controls for a Nintendo-published platformer.

Captain Olimar has somehow gotten himself stranded on another alien world populated by Pikmin, and yet again finds himself on a quest to gather resources—this time 30,000 bits of “Sparklium”—to fix his ship and get home. Though this isn't the post-human Earth that served as the setting for the previous games, it may as well be, since you're still digging through gardens and old parks for bits of trash ranging from chess pieces to toenail clippers that can be converted to fuel.

Olimar can collect those items himself, but to get them out of hard-to-reach places—and to defeat the predators coming after you—you need Pikmin to toss around. Rather than collecting food to breed them and deciding on what types to bring along, you've just got to find their spawn points in each stage, which will conveniently only provide exactly the Pikmin you need to get the level done. Electricity-filled levels will have an abundance of resistant yellow Pikmin, while stages with breakable crystals will offer all the rock Pikmin you could need. Getting to the goal is rarely a challenge, so the navigational puzzles are all about finding the two or three objects per stage that will give a big Sparklium boost. Getting to those isn't especially challenging, either, but consulting the map and exploring nooks for entrances to hidden areas serves as the most entertaining part of the game.

What really lets Hey! Pikmin down, though, are the controls. You control Olimar with the circle pad while using the stylus to toss Pikmin around on the bottom screen. Two on-screen buttons let you activate Olimar's whistle to gather nearby Pikmin, or his jetpack to reach distant areas. These buttons are tiny, and often easy to miss. You're rarely required to do any precision platforming, so that issue isn't a game breaker, but it's a constant source of tiny frustration throughout the adventure.

The jetpack is a much bigger problem. It's the only way to “jump” in this platformer—which makes it pretty essential—but every second of it feels so bad it's tough to believe this is a Nintendo-published game. In theory, you hit the button, get a few inches off the ground, and have a limited amount of time to hover horizontally to your destination. In practice, you've probably already clipped the pixel of an awkward ceiling and been knocked out of the sky. Sometimes you can start flying again immediately, and other times you have to wait for an entirely unclear recharge. When Olimar lands, he does this weird bounce that seems entirely disconnected from the surface he's hitting, splicing together seemingly unrelated animations as the game appears to decide where the floor is. Worst of all, there are occasions where it seems you can hover across a gap to take an alternate path to your goal, except you can't, because invisible walls—the cheapest of video game obstructions—block your path.

Hey! Pikmin rarely asks you to do anything precise, so it's entirely possible to work around those control issues. But even as puzzle and exploration focused as the game is, it's still a platformer, and being annoyed every few minutes by the limitations of your controls isn't how you want to play that type of game.

When you're in the midst of it, the straightforward combination of exploration and light management of Pikmin types gives the game a simple charm. That's helped by the visuals, which do a good job of translating the ant's-eye view that defines Pikmin to a 2D perspective. (Oddly, there's no option for stereoscopic 3D at all—the feature might be dead weight to most 3DS owners by now, but it's rare to see a complete lack of support.) The items you collect and enemies you beat still get entered into an encyclopedia featuring Olimar-penned descriptions, whose tiny alien misunderstandings of our leftover junk remains endearing.

There just isn't very much substance to Hey! Pikmin. With few exceptions, the levels all follow the same formula, repeated 5 levels per world for the length of the game. There are hidden stages that offer a one-off challenge room that's pretty much exactly like the rooms which hold items in the standard levels. The Pikmin who make it through to the end of a stage get added to a park where they work tirelessly to uncover collectibles over time—one of few bits of metagame progression, and not a very compelling one, especially when you have to sit through a 10-second, unskippable cutscene of new Pikmin arriving every time you check in on it.

The straightforward stages of Hey! Pikmin aren't that memorable, and when you couple that with the often frustrating controls it gets more and more difficult to recommend. It inherits some of the charm from its bigger brothers, but that charm is spread too thin in a game with little of its own to offer.

Overall : C+
Graphics : B
Sound/Music : C
Gameplay : C
Presentation : B-

+ Satisfying exploration, the charm and personality of the originals remains intact
Controls are often frustrating, level design is often simple, and it's a repetitive path to the end

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