In December 2001, Nintendo released Shigeru Miyamoto's latest creation, Pikmin. GameCube players didn't know what to expect from the title. The previews were very vague, and the screenshots didn't reveal any gameplay information either. All the press could get out of Miyamoto was that he got the inspiration for the game by observing his garden. Gamers were initially reluctant to take the plunge and invest in the title, but those who did found it to be another of Miyamoto's gaming masterpieces. The series debuted on the Nintendo Wii with New Play Control! Pikmin, which takes the original game and updates the control scheme, and the result is a title that still commands the attention of gamers everywhere.
For those who think that the name of the game sounds a bit familiar, that's because it isn't really a new game at all. New Play Control! Pikmin is part of a new program designed to take some of the more well-loved Nintendo games from the GameCube era and make them accessible to the Nintendo Wii generation. As a result, the fundamental game remains the same, but the control scheme has changed to be compatible with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
The premise of the game is a little different than what some Nintendo gamers are used to seeing. On his return to his home planet, Captain Olimar's ship collided with a stray meteor and crashed on a foreign planet. In the process, the ship broke apart into 30 different pieces, which have been spread all over the planet. To make things worse, the planet's atmosphere is poisonous to the captain, and his life support system is only good for 30 days. While all hope seems lost, he finds a mysterious race of beings that he calls the Pikmin. With their help, your mission is to find all 30 pieces of the ship within the 30-day time limit, before Captain Olimar expires.
Unlike most games where the main character can do almost anything, Captain Olimar is actually quite weak on his own. Luckily, the Pikmin are more than capable beings and listen to every command you give them. Each Pikmin, depending on its color, will have certain strengths and tasks that it can complete. Red Pikmin are your general Pikmin that can do almost anything and are especially useful in manual labor tasks, such as lifting pieces and harvesting more discs or creature corpses to transform into more Pikmin. Blue Pikmin are great for traversing over water, whereas Pikmin of other colors would drown. Finally, yellow Pikmin specialize in being resistant to explosives and can survive any blast, no matter how large it may be.
Pikmin is remembered for a few reasons. For starters, the title was one of the few that successfully brought the real-time strategy philosophy to a home console. To do so, it automatically handled some tasks, such as establishing your base of operations and the necessary buildings. It also took away some of the more natural worries that come from strategy games, such as putting up defenses in preparation for a rush of enemies. Resource gathering is also more simplified because anything you gather, with the exception of spaceship parts, can be used to gain more troops.
As much as the game simplifies a few things for you, however, there's still a good amount that you have to take care of by yourself. You're given a limit of 100 Pikmin that you can have out of their nests at any time, which means you have to budget your troops carefully and decide on exactly how many Pikmin of each color are needed for your task. You also determine the strength of your Pikmin by deciding how long they stay in the ground before picking them up. For example, you can let them stay in the ground longer to strengthen up, but doing so costs you precious time that could be used to gather more troops or resources. These are the tenets of a good real-time strategy game, and New Play Control! Pikmin brings out some of the best without making the player's life too complicated.
Another trait that people remember is that Pikmin was notoriously difficult. Not since The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask has a modern Nintendo title used time to be a driving point for a game. You have 30 days and have to find 30 ship pieces, so if one day goes by without you finding a ship piece, you have to fight the compulsion to restart the level. Each "day" only lasts about 15 to 20 minutes in the real world, the game forces you back to your ship once night falls, and you need to have your Pikmin back in their nests or risk losing them the next day. Combine all of this with very large and difficult enemies that are out to eat you and your Pikmin whenever you get too close, and you have a game that constantly begs you to make a perfect run each time you play, unless you're good enough to make up for lost time.
The controls have received the biggest upgrade, and here is where it can flaunt its superiority over the original GameCube title. The analog stick controls Captain Olimar's movements, while hitting Down on the d-pad makes the Pikmin go to where the cursor is located. The other d-pad directions control camera placement, as does the Z button. The B button calls Pikmin together, the C button disbands them, and the A button plucks and throws the Pikmin that are near you. This seems complicated on paper, but in practice, all of the commands will become second nature to you.
The advantage of the Wii version is the Wiimote. Unlike most games, it's relegated to simply being a pointer for the on-screen cursor. While that won't mean much in other games, New Play Control! Pikmin needs this because the cursor is used to aim thrown Pikmin and to direct them to a destination. In the original GameCube version, this was all handled by the C-Stick, whose speed was governed by how far you pushed it. While this was adequate for the time, the Wiimote is governed by your own movement speed and accuracy. The speed of the Wiimote ensures that you can target specific areas and enemies quickly and accurately, making the game easier, especially if you're prone to panicking when things go bad. For this reason alone, the game becomes a newer and better experience for anyone who's played the series before.
For a title that is over seven years old, the graphics aged quite well in some respects. New Play Control! Pikmin is now presented in widescreen along with the 480p resolution that was already present in the original GameCube title. The character models, from the Pikmin to Captain Olimar to the large monsters, are all rendered well. The look is very cartoon-like, but it's all been done very well. Best of all, each character animates smoothly, so whether they walk, run or eat other creatures, each Pikmin's movement is exhibited with fluidity.
While other games have handled large numbers of characters on-screen and managed to maintain a good frame rate, it's still amazing to see the game run smoothly when over 100 creatures are present and moving about. While the characters and special effects are top-notch, the environments tend to vary a bit. In some levels, the water moves fluidly and the foliage and barriers are well-textured. The same can't be said for the ground, though. Even on a standard definition TV, the ground is nothing more than a nicely shaped mess of green and brown textures. It looks somewhat fine when the camera is pulled back, but since most of the game will be spent in a zoomed-in fashion, players can't help but notice how the lack of detail in the ground textures contrasts with the rest of the environment.
Surprisingly enough, the sound in New Play Control! Pikmin is rather calm. Not once does the music remind you that you have a strict time limit, and the sound effects are also comical and non-threatening. The crash between the meteor and the spaceship in the opening sequence, for example, contains no explosions or crunches of metal. Plucking Pikmin from the ground sounds like the flower-plucking sound from cartoons, while the flinging of Pikmin (and their hits) also sounds silly. As for voices, there really are none. Like the rest of the sound in the game, though, the grunts of the Pikmin and the growls of each enemy sound cute and not menacing. While this would normally be a knock against the title, the fact that it helps to balance out the pressure caused by the time limit actually makes the player appreciate the sound even more.
The game may be as old as the Wii's predecessor, but New Play Control! Pikmin still remains a very challenging and engaging title. While the graphics haven't held up as well as one would have hoped, the sound and gameplay definitely remain timeless. This is especially true of the new controls, which side with the argument that a real-time strategy game can actually work well on a console like the Wii. Fans of the original will want to check this out, if only to see how the game fares with the Wii control scheme.
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