Hey! Pikmin, you are a disappointing game. Kotaku features editor Chris Kohler and I recently discussed our disappointment in this week's 3DS/2DS adventure that neither of us has been compelled to complete. He's halfway, I'm earlier in and even with the help of Captain Olimar, we just can't find the old Pikmin magic.
Stephen Totilo: Hey, Chris! You and I have been playing this new Pikmin game and I want to know if it gets more impressive after a pedestrian first batch of levels. But before you tell me, I need to know your credentials. Exactly how much of a Pikminologist are you?
Chris Kohler: Stephen! You know, I have this habit with Pikmin games, where I try to be as efficient as I possibly can, doing as much as I possibly can in any given "day" of the original real-time strategy games and wasting zero time, but what inevitably happens is I get overwhelmed with the pressure and I stop playing the game about 70% through. But of course I've played all three of the GameCube and Wii U games extensively.
Yourself? I think you have played them, yes?
Totilo: Not only have I played them, but while playing the last one, I invented the Nintendo Switch.
Kohler: Ah yes. I remember this.
Totilo: But alas this new Pikmin is not on the Nintendo Switch but on the 3DS and is but a side-scroller with little real-time strategy and no day/night structure.
This IS a Pikmin game, though, right? Can we say that much?
Kohler: Uhhh... depends on what you mean by that. It has Pikmin in it. Does it give one the same feelings as playing the original games? No.
Totilo: True. What feelings does it give you?
Kohler: Playing a very slow, very easy puzzle-platformer.
Totilo: It doesn't get harder? Because it's pretty easy so far. It's Kirby-easy, maybe even Starfy-easy? Though I haven't played Starfy so couldn't say.
Kohler: Cards on the table, I got through the game's first four worlds of 4-5 levels each.
It's very easy. And not only is it easy, it's... how can I articulate this. It's a side-scrolling, level-based Pikmin game, right? Well, within that possibility space, it's as if Nintendo asked the developer to simply create the most obvious, unsurprising, unoriginal interpretation of that idea that it could.
You walk through these visually uninteresting, very simple level designs. Pikmin are scattered around in groups, and they join you. As you make your way through the level, you throw the Pikmin around to collect stuff, manipulate switches, kill enemies. But none of it is clever or surprising. It's all just exactly what you'd expect and nothing more than that. (So far, I mean, but I've played quite a bit.)
Totilo: Yeah, you don't expect to play a Nintendo-published game and feel like they're doing what, I dare say, you or I would have done if we were asked to make a Pikmin sidescroller. You're looking for a spark of originality. I played through the first world and perfected some levels in order to open some alternate paths.
Those paths led to at least one tougher level, but I haven't been that impressed with the level design and am underwhelmed controlling 20 Pikmin max when the other games let me control 100. The Pikmin concept loses a lot when you control a gang instead of an army, you know?
Kohler: I mean, I think the concept could have worked well in a better game. You move Olimar with the circle pad and throw Pikmin by tapping the screen with the stylus. Unlike other games with forced touch controls, this makes all the sense in the world. And the scheme works well. It's just not married to an interesting world, or challenging levels.
Totilo: Excuse me, Mr. Right-Handed. You move Olimar with the face buttons.
Totilo: One of the first things that excited me about this game is that it is the all too rare dual-screen game that uses both screens as one big vertical screen. In the early levels, that ultra-tall display hasn't been used for anything all that cool, though, except for the world one boss who stands two screens tall. I like that!
Kohler: Yeah, they do make use of it. You can throw Yellow Pikmin higher, so you have to use them to hit very high enemies on the top screen, or toss them to high-up items. I think a lot of the fact that you haven't seen a game like this in a while is because on the 3DS, all the action was moved up to the top 3D screen. But Hey! Pikmin is all 2D, all the time, so they don't care.
Totilo: I do love the 3D effect on 3DS games, and I initially missed it from this game, though it makes sense since they're using the shared view.
I must say I enjoy seeing Olimar in a game again. I like him. I've never been quite sure how much I'm supposed to think of him just as "Space Mario" but I find him an amusing, bumbling character. Are you an Olimar fan? And without Googling, can you name his brother?
(For the record, there is a long pause happening right now. I wonder if Chris is Googling)
Kohler: Giilu? I forget. My wife's going to be mad at me.
Totilo: Let's see. I need to look it up.
Totilo: Oh, this is going to diminish people's confidence that we are Pikmin experts, Chris. It's not his brother. It's his partner. And his name is Louie. Clearly there's a Mario-Luigi thing going on with those names!
Kohler: Right, I was trying to work it out.
Anyway. I think Olimar, the Pikmins, etc. are wonderful characters! And that probably accounts for any and all enjoyment I had with this game. When you find Pikmin, sometimes there's a funny little pantomime scene with them before they join you.
Totilo: You're right about how charming the characters are. There are a lot of little canned scenes of Pikmin blowing themselves out of air-horns or running away from enemies that are cute little moments that play up the little plant-people's diminutive size and need for their spaceman buddy.
There are so many of these scenes that, as I've been playing the game, I've wondered how much those Pikmin movie shorts influenced the development of the game. Nintendo has given these odd signals that they see Pikmin as, I don't know, a multimedia property or something.
Kohler: I think that had a lot of influence, yeah.
Totilo: I keep waiting for you to tell me about way cooler stuff that happens in later worlds. Ain't nothing doing there, huh? The water Pikmin? They're kind of neat, yeah? I just got them and like swimming around with them. There's that at least!
Kohler: There was one level that was more vertical; you climbed to the top of a set of pipes, and then climbed back down the other side. And later, there are places where you have to stash your Pikmin, little tufts of dandelion, and they will hang out there so you can go swimming in the water without your red and yellow Pikmin, for example.
The game also does the, hey, there are multiple exits out of this level, but you have to go back in and do the whole entire boring level again at the exact same rate of speed so you can just walk to the other exit, which is usually pretty obvious to find.
Totilo: Super Mario World: The Bad Version
Kohler: Yeah. In Mario World you can, you know, run super fast through a level you've already did.
Totilo: I bet we can at least heap almost unreserved praise on one thing, though! The lore. Pikmin games' Bulbapedia (Correction: 439pm: Piklopedia!) info text is always a hoot. And it's good in this one, too. You're with me on this, right? Olimar's descriptions of the items he finds remain top notch.
Kohler: 100%. You find real-world objects in the game and the lore text is as they're interpreted through the eyes of an alien.
Totilo: I found this ring and in the item log he's lamenting how it makes him look skinny but how Skinny Olimar is something he just can't be. He's really stressed by his kids, I think.
Kohler: And it's really funny. You can find Nintendo game cartridges in this one, too, and... I don't want to spoil it. These are some of the funniest.
But once we've gotten to the point of "well, the gameplay is boring but the lore text is good," we're damning it with faint praise.
Totilo: Sure, but the lore text is still good. I get the sense that some of the lore stuff is some frustrated Nintendo designer's lament about his difficult marriage.
Kohler: Dang. Hope you're OK, Nintendo person.
Totilo: This is up there with Chibi Robo in terms of Nintendo game that barely hides its angst about home life. Speaking of Chibi Robo, though, Chris, that too was a game series that was good in 3D and recently was turned into a bland 3DS sidescroller.
Do you think that there's just something flawed with turning 3D series into 2D that we're seeing here again? That we're tough to please because a 2D experience, I don't know, just can't deliver what a 3D version does?
Kohler: I mean, both projects are obviously cut from the same cloth, a desire to turn slow-paced, methodical games into action side-scrollers for the 3DS, probably with the idea that they'd be played by younger players? I don't think it's always going to be doomed to failure.
Totilo: Right. I'm wracking my brain trying to think of a 3D-to-2D transition that I liked, that I could point to and say, I wish Hey! Pikmin did this instead. I'm blanking!
Kohler: Well, so few games have gone from 3D to 2D. But yes, maybe there's a fundamental conflict with trying to take mechanics that were developed for 3D and make them work in 2D? But I feel like the Pikmin mechanics on display here are fine. It feels like a good proof of concept white box that's ready to have a cool and interesting video game built around it.
Totilo: Maybe the game gets brilliant near the end. I'm going to poke at it a bit more, though, Miitopia has drawn me in more in terms of my 3DS playing of late (and Layton would have if it'd not been weirdly held back for October!). Are you going to keep at it or are you bailing?
Kohler: I might actually try to keep going, if only because I've now criticised it based on part of the game (a lot of it, to be fair) and would issue a mea culpa if things got better. But you know how these things go. It doesn't get better.
After my lukewarm reaction to Ever Oasis, I don't want to be the guy who drags on Nintendo games. I love Nintendo games! But not these ones.
Totilo: Yes, if this game becomes brilliant, readers, we will let you all know. Chris, may September bring us a truly great 3DS game! Until then...