A handheld Pikmin has long been an elusive dream for fans of the series. Strategy games and portable systems go together like Olimar and Louie, and a touchscreen would clear up a lot of the Pikmin control quirks Nintendo has never quite managed to iron out. Well, after over 15 years, Hey! Pikmin finally brings the series to the 3DS, although not in the form most fans have been hoping for.
Hey! Pikmin isn’t a strategy game, but a 2D action game, albeit one that retains a lot of Pikmin staples and requires some thinking. Does the Pikmin series’ oddball soul survive the transition to a more traditional mode of play? Or has Nintendo blanched the flavor out of their adorable little carrot men?
Put on your gardening gloves, and let’s dig in…
Hey! Pikmin (3DS)
Poor Olimar. The unlucky captain of the S.S. Dolphin once more finds himself marooned on a planet overrun with dangerous beasts and oddly helpful multicolored plant men. Nintendo has also changed Olimar’s goal again – in the first game you were looking for parts of your wrecked ship, in the second you were a mercenary on the hunt for treasure, in the third you were collecting fruit to feed your home planet, and in Hey! Pikmin you’re tasked with finding Sparklium, which is used to fuel your ship. You’ll need 30,000 Sparklium units in all order to escape, which may sound like a lot, but each stage is littered with the stuff and more can be gained by finding treasures and playing bonus stages. The focus on treasure hunting and slowly filling up that Sparklium meter gives Hey! Pikmin an almost Wario Land-like feel, which is definitely a compliment.
I’ve resisted calling Hey! Pikmin a puzzle-platformer, even though that’s what it appears to be at first glance, as Olimar can’t jump, only hover for a few seconds using his jetpack, and the game’s light on complex brainteasers. You progress through the game’s 2D stages by chucking Pikmin at anything that stands in your way – use them defeat enemies, break down barriers, retrieve items, build bridges, connect electrical wires, and more. Tossing Pikmin is a simple and intuitive matter of tapping where you want them to go on the 3DS’ touch screen. The arc Pikmin follow when thrown can be a bit unpredictable, but it doesn’t take too long to master.
There’s something fundamentally satisfying about chucking Pikmin at things, whether that be a wall that requires breaking down, a treasure that needs carrying, or a hapless enemy – it was fun in the earlier strategy games, and it’s still fun in Hey! Pikmin. As before, there are different types of Pikmin, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Red Pikmin are fireproof and strong fighters, but can’t swim, Yellow Pikmin can be thrown further and are invulnerable to electricity, but they’re weak against enemies, and so on.
Most of Hey! Pikmin’s 40-odd stages introduce some sort of unique element, like, say, springy mushrooms, bombs that rain from the sky, or platforms that need to be activated with electricity, and will occasionally require you to use your Pikmin in clever ways. That said, don’t expect elaborate multi-step puzzles – usually if you hit a wall, there’s a single, straightforward solution to your conundrum. Hey! Pikmin is more about exploration and observation, as the game packs its detailed stages with hidden Pikmin, Sparklium caches, and treasure.
The game also rewards careful play – Olimar will rarely (if ever) die in Hey! Pikmin, but you’re encouraged to keep as many as your little helpers alive as possible. You’ll need a certain number of Pikmin to retrieve most of the game’s treasures, and any followers left over at the end of a stage are sent to live out the rest of their days at the Pikmin Park. At the park, you can assign your growing collection of Pikmin to various cleanup tasks, and they’ll occasionally uncover extra treasures to add to your Sparklium tally. There isn’t a lot of real depth to the Pikmin Park, but having your little army working away in the background while you work through stages captures some of the appeal of older Pikmin games.
Speaking of appeal, Hey! Pikmin is ridiculously cute, bringing its titular critters to life better than any previous entry in the series. Olimar no longer sprouts his followers himself, he simply stumbles across them as they’re going about their Pikmin business, chasing butterflies, poking their heads into places they shouldn’t, and generally getting into trouble. The game does a surprisingly good job of making your troop actually feel like individuals – you’ll occasionally see a single Pikmin trip over its own feet or shiver when confronted with an intimidating enemy. From the lush worlds to the detailed animation of each Pikmin, this is easily one of the best-looking games on the 3DS. Sure, the game ditches stereoscopic 3D, but that just means it’s a perfect launch title for the newly-released New Nintendo 2DS XL!
Just don’t expect Hey! Pikmin to last you too long. The game serves up eight worlds, each of which consist of five main stages and a hidden stage, which sounds like a decent amount, but you’ll blow through them pretty quickly. Expect to hit your 30,000 Sparklium goal in around 8 to 10 hours, at which point the game doesn’t have much else to offer. Just like the Pikmin themselves, this one’s short but sweet.
Many will reject Hey! Pikmin out of hand for ditching the daunting strategy of its predecessors, but I was impressed by how true to the series the game felt. Pikmin isn’t just a collection of mechanics, as many series are, it has real heart, which this game captures. Hey! Pikmin is rarely difficult, but it isn’t unengaging – the game has a certain laid-back, relaxing charm to it.
Is Hey! Pikmin as good as past games in the series? No, but that’s an unfair comparison – this is simply a smaller, less ambitious project. As long as you like this strange universe and its adorable inhabitants and don’t measure a game’s worth by how many times you die, Hey! Pikmin is a fresh pick.
Score: 4 out of 5 stars
This review was based on a copy of Hey! Pikmin provided by Nintendo.