Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hey! Pikmin (3DS) Review

SuperPhillip Central heads towards the end of June with a cavalcade of new reviews! This next one is from a Nintendo 3DS game that released last fall. It's Hey! Pikmin, and hey! It's time for SuperPhillip Central's review!

Little Pikmin, Big Adventure

Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto is one of the most celebrated creators in the video game industry, and it's for good reason--he continually makes amazing games out of simple concepts that most often than not turn into long, thriving franchises. One such franchise is Pikmin, which debuted in 2001 on the Nintendo GameCube, thanks to Miyamoto's own interest in gardening. Since then, three main installments have been released on home consoles, and a fourth game, a bit of a spin-off, is on the Nintendo 3DS as of last fall, Hey! Pikmin. With a developer in Arzest that doesn't have the best reputation with many Nintendo fans, can Hey! Pikmin break new ground, grow, and prosper? Well, in a word, yes!

Hey! Pikmin once again sees Captain Olimar's ship, the Dolphin, crash landing on a planet that is mysteriously reminiscent of a certain planet we all live on. (Hint, hint.) With the help of his longtime friends, the Pikmin, Olimar must journey through dangerous plains, caves, mountains, and more to uncover a whole assortment of objects from the wild. These objects are then converted into energy for the Dolphin, in order for it to repair itself and leave the planet with Olimar in one piece. While the way the game sets itself up will be familiar to any Pikmin series player, instead of exploring a three-dimensional environment like in the console titles, Hey! Pikmin plays out completely in 2D through side-scrolling, relatively linear levels.

The game uses both of the Nintendo 3DS's screens to display each level. You utilize the Circle Pad (or face buttons for left-handed players) to move Olimar around, and use the stylus to toss Pikmin. Where you tap on the screen determines the place a given Pikmin is thrown. Pikmin can be chucked at various enemies, objects, and obstacles in order to proceed through levels, and this feels very nice and natural. The precision granted by the stylus/touch controls is great for picking off even the smallest of enemies with little margin of error. Of course, enemies don't just stand still, waiting to have Pikmin manhandle them. Timing is key to tap the screen at the right time and the right spot to successfully throw Pikmin at moving targets, or else they might be over or under-thrown, perhaps resulting in some grisly Pikmin deaths.

The enemies of Hey! Pikmin feature some well known buggers for fans of the franchise, but there are also plenty of new, exclusive creatures to contend with. Starting out, enemies are easy to dispatch and take care of, but as you progress through the game, they become more dangerous, offering greater offense and resistance. From oval-shaped birds that aim at your Pikmin pals to an overgrown bug that marches back and forth, intent on devouring any and all potential meals that are foolish enough to stick around in front of it, Hey! Pikmin's world definitely isn't too friendly to Olimar and his squad of helpers.

Thankfully, Captain Olimar and the Pikmin are more than capable of fending off any foe or challenge that rests on this perilous planet. Olimar himself has a helpful jet pack that he can use to hover for short distances. This acts as an admittedly clunky way of adding platforming to the game, but the mostly slow and relaxed pace of Hey! Pikmin makes it so the clunky jet pack doesn't ruin the experience.

Like the main Pikmin games, each variety of Pikmin has their own usefulness and abilities. For instance, Red Pikmin are the most common and can walk through fire and flames without being incinerated. Meanwhile, Yellow Pikmin are the lightest of the bunch, able to both be thrown higher than other Pikmin types, and can also defy the dangers of electricity. Blue Pikmin won't drown in water like other Pikmin, swimming and moving freely in the water. Then, there are the strong, crystal-crushing Rock Pikmin and the flying Winged Pikmin to help out as well. Each type is gradually introduced throughout the adventure, and the game teaches the abilities of the varieties of Pikmin in a steady manner as well through showing rather than telling. This is done through cute, animated scenes when Olimar comes across a batch of Pikmin in levels. Not only entertaining and adding personality to Hey! Pikmin, but also a great tutorial as well. Fortunately, not all of the Pikmin's abilities are revealed through these scenes. Some things you stumble upon yourself--particular uses of the Pikmin--and these moments really shine brightly in the game.

Hey! Pikmin isn't too difficult of a game in general, especially if your goal is to just go from the start of levels to their end. However, if you're exploring levels for objects to collect, there's more of a challenge to be found. This challenge is even greater if you want to collect all 20 Pikmin in a level without having any of them perish. Some levels are quite tricky to accomplish this task, and it can get very annoying proceeding through a level only to have a Pikmin get gobbled up or otherwise die at the final enemy or obstacle before the goal. The reward for completing all levels in the game this way is minimal at best, but it's an extra way to challenge yourself and add even more replay value to this 9+ hour game. If that doesn't do it for you, then each level's hidden areas and secret exits leading to unlockable levels can extend the fun of Hey! Pikmin, as well.

Hey! Pikmin's eight major sectors of 5-6 levels each (including a generally pleasing and interesting boss battle at the end of each sector) feature some smart level and puzzle design. Yes, I just said "smart level and puzzle design" when it comes to a game developed by Arzest. Hell hath frozen over. Regardless, levels where you explore a flooded cave that requires emptying its water for your Pikmin to be able to pass through, descend downward through a cavern where your Winged Pikmin carry you as you control your descent, avoiding enemies and hazards on your way down, and speed down a snowy series of slopes on top of a bottle cap as you fling Pikmin at enemies and deadly rolling snowballs alike, all offer excitement and nice variety.

Many of the passages, pathways, and areas leading to treasure have some nicely designed puzzle sequence to solve as well. One had me throwing Pikmin onto a sardine can in order to weigh it down and lift up the platform Olimar was standing on. Then, I could move Olimar over to where the treasure was located after figuring out how to raise up a second sardine can by correctly positioning his Pikmin squad in place. Many times I would be playing Hey! Pikmin and get a revelation as to how to interact with an obstacle in the game, or even realize that I could use this Pikmin in this particular way.

Another reason that avoiding treasure (which amounts to just ordinary everyday objects to people like us) is a negative is that you'll miss out on reading all of the incredibly clever descriptions of objects that Captain Olimar stumbles upon and makes note of in his journal. For example, a combination lock for a locker is described by Olimar as an ominous vault of sorts, complete with foreboding countdown. These entries of both objects and enemies are fun reads, and they add even more welcomed personality to Hey! Pikmin.

What isn't so welcomed is Pikmin Park, which seems like a throwaway mode in the main story of the game. Here, you send Pikmin off to various locations in the park to dig up Sparkium, the energy Olimar's rocket requires to escape the planet. However, the process is so slow and the rewards are so small in comparison to simply going through levels and collecting treasure, that it really feels somewhat worthless in the grand scheme of things.

Eschewing the more photo-realistic take on the visuals as seen in the home console, mainline entries of Pikmin, this 3DS spin-off has a more watercolor look, sort of similar to Yoshi's New Island. However, here it's more impressive with more appealing colors and lighting. With the use of both screens as the playing area, the stereoscopic 3D isn't available in Hey! Pikmin. Furthermore, even when the action isn't intense, some frame-rate issues occur. This is nothing that spoils the game by any means, but it's important to mention. Meanwhile, the sound side of Hey! Pikmin sports a soundtrack that is probably my favorite out of all the Pikmin games, I found myself humming and bobbing my head a lot to the music in the game, and the familiar sound effects of the Pikmin hustling and bustling brought a smile to my face.

In a time where the Nintendo 3DS is winding down, Hey! Pikmin stands as a successful experiment for the Pikmin formula. Controlling Captain Olimar with the 3DS's Circle Pad while commanding his Pikmin with the stylus and touch screen is absolutely stellar. Hey! Pikmin is a terrific conversion of the series's gameplay from 3D to 2D, offering an entry that keeps the franchise feeling fresh. It might not be the Pikmin 4 that many of us have been waiting for, but Hey! Pikmin succeeds at being a great addition to Shigeru Miyamoto's anything-but-garden-variety brain child.

[SPC Says: B]

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