Hey! Pikmin was met with a lot of questions when it was announced during a Nintendo Direct last year. How would the top-down strategy gameplay transfer over to a side scrolling handheld game? Would it play like a traditional Pikmin title or something new entirely? It seemed like an interesting new direction for the series, as fans were clamoring for a new title. Unfortunately, Hey! Pikmin’s changes in gameplay have resulted in a game that is both uninspired and unengaging.
Hey! Pikmin starts off with Captain Olimar’s ship crash landing on an unknown planet. His computer system then informs him that the only way to leave the planet is by collecting a certain raw material called sparklium, which the planet is conveniently covered in. Traversing the planet requires the help of various different types of pikmin, each with their own special properties and abilities. Rock pikmin can break crystals, red pikmin can stomp out fire, blue pikmin can swim, etc. Tapping the touch screen throws the pikmin at enemies and items in the environment, and once they make contact, the pikmin go to work.
The gameplay really boils down to throwing pikmin, calling pikmin, and using Olimar’s jetpack. The simplistic gameplay works within the confines of the game’s new style, as it’s a fairly linear side scroller now. There is certainly room for some exploration, as each stage has hidden treasures that need to be found. Each level is selected via an overworld map and plays out like a standard platformer. It’s certainly a new direction for the series, however, it produces mixed results.
The biggest issue with Captain Olimar’s latest adventure is it’s identity crisis. It wants to be an action game, yet doesn’t require any sort of engaging gameplay to complete its challenges. The slow-paced nature of Olimar’s movement also makes most levels feel dull. The game quickly begins to feel like a chore when playing more than a few levels in a row, and there are never any new gameplay elements that are introduced throughout the adventure. There’s nothing inherently wrong or broken about the gameplay, it’s just incredibly dull. Everything moves at a snail’s pace, and while that works for some genres (ie. strategy games like the mainline titles), it doesn’t work for an action game.
The sluggish gameplay is made worse due to the game’s incredible lack of challenge. Many players will be able to finish the game with no deaths at all, and there is rarely ever a time when Olimar is in any real danger. Enemies will rarely land an attack, as everything is so telegraphed and slow. Even the boss battles are completely predictable; each one can be destroyed quickly on the player’s first try. It’s clear that this game was made for children new to gaming, however, it will undoubtedly serve as a massive disappointment for fans that were expecting the challenging gameplay the series is known for.
Puzzles can be found from time to time as well, however, these are just as disappointing. The solution to each one never requires any real thought or planning, and there are usually no penalties for making a mistake. It feels as though the game simply wants the player to go through the motions rather than use their brain, which is a real shame considering the series’ heritage. The formula usually involves walking, throwing pikmin, waiting for them to do something, and then moving forward. At no point does this ever feel fun or engaging, and it gets old after the first two worlds.
Despite the lackluster gameplay, there are a variety of things that Hey! Pikmin does well. The environments look absolutely stunning, with a style resembling that of a watercolor painting. Blur effects are expertly used to create a unique sense of scale that shows just how small Olimar really is. Each world also has an interesting visual style ranging from gardens to caves and construction sites.
The treasure collecting also proves to be an interesting addition to the series. The treasure collected in each stage is put in an encyclopedia that can be viewed from the map screen. Each also comes with a hilarious name and description provided by Olimar himself. Because he has never seen these items before, the names are often based on how they look with no idea as to what their real function is. For example, a quill pen found in one stage is labeled as a “peace missile” by the captain. It makes collecting all the treasures very enjoyable, which is something that many games have been unable to replicate.
It’s not fair to call Hey! Pikmin an action title, however, that’s exactly what Nintendo said they were going for. In fact, it’s hard to really categorize this game at all. It’s not quite a platformer or a puzzle game, and it’s certainly not a real time strategy game like the ones before it. Hey! Pikmin is stuck in a weird place that hinders its fun-factor. There’s no real challenge during the entire adventure, puzzles require no thought whatsoever, and levels seem to repeat the same ideas over and over again. It’s a shame that Olimar’s first handheld adventure isn’t more interesting, as the concept certainly has potential. Children may find something to enjoy with this title, however, fans of the series will want to leave this world unexplored.