Arzest is back with a vengeance, but they traded the green dinosaur for little plants!
When I got a first look at Hey! Pikmin, I wasn't too thrilled about the game. Personally it was chilling to see Pikmin as a 2D exploration game, which had a different style and flair in the past. Sure, I could see a roadmap for a decent game, but had no interest in waiting that long. Surprisingly, my hand was forced by fate as I was invited to play the game at Nintendo's offices. To my surprise, Arzest may have developed a game that I will able to enjoy.
The story of Hey! Pikmin sees Captain Olimar traveling through the galaxy. Before he gets the chance to make his way home, asteroids cause him to make an abrupt landing on a nearby planet. Sparklium, the fuel for his Dolphin III ship, has suddenly been depleted and Olimar is stuck until he can find more. It is up to you to bring Captain Olimar home by completing 2D action stages and collecting everything that can make him fuel. This ranges from seeds to large scale treasures, which has always been a staple of the Pikmin series.
The way that you get to these treasures though is very different than before. You move Captain Olimar by moving the Circle Pad, while all other interaction uses the touchscreen. This can be blowing your whistle, throwing Pikmin or even touching certain objects. All in all, it is pretty straightforward while walking on land. It doesn't take long to get a hang of what you're doing. That is, for right now, likely the biggest gripe with Hey! Pikmin. It is fun, but a bit more resistance would be desirable. I did only see early parts of the game, so I am not going to give a full judgement just yet.
The worlds of Hey! Pikmin are called Sectors and I only mostly got to experience the first one, which is called the Brilliant Garden. You will have to get through areas (levels), find all the treasure and look for new passageways to complete a sector 100%. Depending on an area, it might take place across multiple screens in caves or one seemless experience across a field. Either way, it is filled with action that makes solid use of both screens. The game makes use of the full Nintendo 3DS real estate, which makes for grand viewing angles during gameplay. You immediately see this when you boot the first level called First Expedition. It gives you the impression of a lush forest that is beautiful to look at. This is the biggest step up from Arzest's previous work. The presentation, both visuals and audio, really blew me away.
How does that real estate benefit gameplay? Well, it is important for throwing Pikmin at higher plains. At the start of a level, you will walk up to random bushes and blow the whistle. Captain Olimar will scream HEY and the little critters are suddenly on board for your cause. The first puzzle that you will see is you building a bridge to continue onward. You choose a location on the screen, throw a Pikmin over there and it will immediately do the task you are requesting. Later on in that same level, you will need to throw them up high to clear a path. This will allow them to bring you a harmonica, which is worth 400 Sparklium and carries the name Song Sewer. Items like these do need a large sum of Pikmin, so management remains a key factor in this 2D adventure.
The various types of Pikmin continue to be an important element as well. The levels that I'm allowed to talk about only showcase one Pikmin type at a time. The first level showcases red Pikmin, the second area (Cavern of Confusion) uses Yellow and area 2-A has blue ones. With the yellow ones being lighter, you are asked to do some crazy maneuvers and throw them pretty high. They will put seeds and enemies in almost unreachable areas and you have to be precise with your movement on the touchscreen. Your rewards are more effective Sparklium seeds (worth 5), which will make the conquest somewhat easier to swallow. The blue Pikmin bring me back to the worst experience with the game so far. I didn't think it was all that fun to move about underwater, and seriously hope that those levels are kept to a minimum.
There are two more important factors that I noticed about the Pikmin in general. In the game, there will be moments that require you go out of your way to get more Pikmin. This can be done by defeating enemies that are holding them, which happened a few times per level. By collecting more and more Pikmin, the buds on their heads will blossom and that will make them stronger against opponents. That brings us to the second part, which is careful aim of the Pikmin is paramount. If you overshoot a Pikmin and it touches an opponent, the Pikmin will be defeated on the spot. This even occurs when you throw the Pikmin behind the enemy's back, which annoyed me more than it should. Among other changes, the Pikmin no longer bringing elements to an onion, but straight to Captain Olimar. When the object touches him, the item flies into a mysterious portal to never be seen again. Enemy corpses will now instantly disappear, and Pikmin will not carry over from level to level. The Pikmin you collect will be brought to a special Pikmin Park, where they will try to hunt for more Sparklium.
Overall though, I did leave the Hey! Pikmin demo with a positive feeling. It was easy during my demo time, but the title has the potential to be an enjoyable rump. The gameplay elements are quite novel and I had fun playing around with them. There was a laid back feel to it that I really enjoyed and will continue to like once the game launches. That being said, there are some spots for concern like the hard-to-control underwater area. I’ll need to give it a proper try when I get the game, but I was quite bothered by it. Arzest isn't out of the danger zone yet, but they are making solid strides at the very least.