Who picked the Pikmin before Olimar showed up?
I never played the original Pikmin for the GameCube, but my friends told me that, generally, it was a very good game. My own hesitation sprang from the fact that I may be the worst real-time strategy player on the planet. My experiences in the genre began and ended with the first two Warcraft games; Starcraft was too much of a challenge for me. Of course, I was quite young, and with age and experience comes patience, so maybe I’d like the genre more now. Even so, those early failures have prevented me from even touching the genre for years afterwards. A foolish mistake, perhaps, and one that has (until now) stopped me from experiencing the joy that is Pikmin.
Pikmin is the story of a miniature space delivery man, Olimar, and his quest to recover the scattered parts of his ruined ship after an unfortunate encounter with a meteor fragment. Olimar crash-lands on a planet not entirely unlike our own, populated by a wealth of arthropods and familiar vegetation. The problem is that Olimar is about two inches tall. Flowers tower overhead, beetles stomp around like dinosaurs, and the smallest puddles become hazardous lakes! However will our hero repair his ship? With the help of Pikmin, of course! These tiny plant-like critters eagerly follow Olimar around and are perfectly willing to do his bidding. He can command up to 100 of the little fellows at a time and dole out orders accordingly. Have your yellow Pikmin bomb a roadblock while the reds take out a giant beetle and the blues build a bridge! Each Pikmin color has its own strength: reds are fire-resistant and deal more damage than the other colors, so they are good fighters. Blues can wade through water unharmed and build bridges. Yellows can carry and use bomb rocks for blowing up roadblocks.
You recruit Pikmin by finding power pellets (they’re everywhere) and having your Pikmin drag them back to their homes (Onions). The pellet is sucked up and more Pikmin pop out and await Olimar to pluck them from the ground. The key here is that the color of the power pellet doesn’t matter very much—more important is the predominant color amongst the Pikmin who are carrying it. If you want to recruit more reds, have reds drag the power pellets! If you give a red pellet to a blue Pikmin, he will turn the pellet into more blues. However, matching pellet and Pikmin colors will yield additional troops. Pellets come in all sizes, each helpfully displaying the number of Pikmin required to move it. Some require many Pikmin to drag it back to the Onion—up to twenty! Defeated enemies can also be carried back to the Onions, and the more Pikmin than required that are carrying an object, the faster it will go!
Pikmin have three power levels: leaf, bud, and flower. The longer you leave a Pikmin seed in the ground, the more powerful it will become. Additionally, Pikmin will drink nectar they find on the ground, which powers them up. The power level determines their running speed, carrying speed, and damage potential: an army of flower Pikmin will never stray behind Olimar and haul swag fervently!
Olimar has thirty days to collect all thirty pieces of his ship, and each day lasts roughly fifteen minutes. Since each landscape you visit is so different, you can spend entire days just exploring and getting the lay of the land, and, indeed, this may be good planning on your part. Most structures and enemies don’t reset overnight, so it’s good to spend a day blowing up roadblocks, building bridges, and taking out the most headache-inducing enemies so that you’re free to roam around looking for spaceship parts in subsequent days. And if you feel like you’re lagging, you can restart your game from any previous day, although that will overwrite any progress you’ve made since then.
The game utilizes the Wii Remote wonderfully, and you really only need to worry about four commands. You move Olimar with the control stick, dismiss your Pikmin into groups (for easy sorting) with C, throw an individual Pikmin with A, tell the entire group to do something with down on the D-pad, and call your Pikmin with B. Calling Pikmin re-activates dismissed Pikmin and stops active Pikmin from whatever it is they’re doing to come back to you. The rest of the D-pad controls the camera. The Wii Remote’s pointer functionality works great for aiming your tosses and recalling distant groups of Pikmin, and really streamlines what I imagine was a more complicated process of estimation on the GameCube.
Of course, leading a group of one-hundred Pikmin has its downsides, too. With a group that large, accidentally running into sleeping enemies becomes a liability. Also, Pikmin have a bad habit of getting caught up on the environment’s geometry and automatically dismissing themselves because they aren’t brainy enough to go around a tree root instead of through it. Yellows could be a whole lot more accurate with their bomb-rock placement. If you don’t act quickly, your entire squad could get blown to smithereens because the idiot yellow placed the bomb way too close to the group. It quickly becomes apparent that the best way to do things is to take your Pikmin through levels color-by-color rather than in a mixed group, giving each color group a certain task and letting everyone work separately, but simultaneously, to accomplish a goal. There will definitely be times where you will need to oversee a group’s success—almost every enemy encounter requires your presence (which can slow things down, honestly)—but on the whole, the Pikmin are good about completing tasks given to them.
Pikmin's daily time limit is concerning, though. Rather than feeling a sense of freedom and wonder, daily searches feel more like frenzied rushes filled with worry as the sun moves across the sky (helpfully displayed on a meter at the top of the screen). If you ignore the ticking clock and don’t get your Pikmin safely to their Onions at sunset, the planet’s nocturnal horrors will run around and gobble up the stragglers. I actually restarted my game after 12 in-game days because I’d only found 10 parts, and it took me about that long to really get comfortable with a routine.
Fortunately, the game bombards you with helpful tips and tutorials, so it’s a pretty easy game to get the gist of. And once it clicks for you, Pikmin is a very fun, rewarding game. There’s just something about watching your army haul back a bounty from a hard day’s work that’s very satisfying.