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Games Level By Level

‘Pikmin’ Level by Level: The Forest of Hope


As rumors of the long-awaited Metroid Prime Trilogy Switch port ebb and flow, another Nintendo series remains desperately due for a similar HD trilogy package deal. Shigeru Miyamoto’s singular Pikmin franchise is a quirky and inimitable game series that at once brought real-time strategy games to consoles and kids alike. And while Pikmin 2 may be the largest and most daring, and Pikmin 3 the most gorgeous and refined, the original Pikmin laid the groundwork for the cult favorite series as a Gamecube launch-window game back in 2001. In anticipation of both the confoundingly-long-teased Pikmin 4 and the unannounced (and perhaps nonexistent) Pikmin HD Trilogy, I will be swarming the original Pikmin to analyze its design level-by-level. In this entry, I will examine the game’s second level, The Forest of Hope.

After finding the Main Engine on The Impact Site, Olimar ventures to The Forest of Hope in search of more missing ship parts. Much like The Impact Site, The Forest of Hope is primarily grassy fields with some water — in this case, a few puddles scattered around the map. Indeed, while subsequent Pikmin games would aesthetically differentiate their regions more noticeably, The Forest of Hope looks like an extension of the first level, despite it supposedly taking place in the center of a vast forest. This is a bit of a letdown, since it doesn’t allow either level to feel completely unique. Instead, each seems to be a minor variation of the other, which gives the sense that despite having to fly from place to place, the world in which Pikmin takes place is actually fairly small, with minimal environmental variation.

In terms of layout, The Forest of Hope is much more complex than the tutorial level, though it is still easy to navigate. With a large field and a small lake in the center of the map, Olimar works his way clockwise, avoiding water until discovering Blue Pikmin in the next level. By having a large central area and three loops that tie back into the start, the game is able to organically push the player in the right direction, while still ensuring that it feels like a choice the player makes. As the player progresses down the one true path available to them, they will loop back into the center area, likely able to break down walls they were not able to deal with at first blush. This design would be used repeatedly throughout the series, and it’s easy to see why — it enables player choice, but guides them down a clear path while essentially also creating checkpoints that allow the player to access other parts of the map more easily as they progress through both the map and the game as a whole. Water and walls both work as effective barriers in this regard, though it must be noted that walking over bridges can result in many Pikmin spilling over the side due to a mix of poor AI and mediocre control over them. This is especially disastrous in some locations where narrow bridges lead over water.

Since The Forest of Hope is lacking a clear aesthetic identity, it makes its mark primarily through being the first true level in the game, and what makes it such a successful one is the aforementioned balance between its open and closed design — something developers continue to struggle with today, but which Nintendo somehow nailed here in one of their first attempts. Since The Impact Site acted as a tutorial, it was okay for it to only have one short path forward, and for that path to be obvious and straightforward; for The Forest of Hope, Olimar starts off on a similarly straightforward path, but he does so organically by experimenting with his surroundings in order to learn that Pikmin can destroy walls and Red Pikmin can’t swim. After being left with one path forward, he ventures forth until stumbling upon Yellow Pikmin, whose ability to throw bomb rocks offers further options. After discovering four ship parts, Olimar can leave for the next level, where he will discover Blue Pikmin, which allow him to finish off this stage in full.

By slowing and deliberately opening up the stage to the player in an organic fashion, The Forest of Hope becomes a space the player doesn’t realize they are being intentionally led through like a child on their first trip to a playground. It is as if Nintendo is standing with their arms outstretched, ready to catch the player should they fall, but the player feels as though the world is theirs for the taking. And by the time they return to the level with Blue Pikmin in tow, they’ll be ready to confront the bosses and tougher areas now accessible to them, because they’ve naturally matured through a mix of their own decision-making and the game’s near-invisible hand-holding.

After breaking down a wall near the landing site and defeating a couple nearby Bulborbs, Olimar runs across another onion, this time introducing him to Yellow Pikmin. Yellow Pikmin are nearly identical to Red Pikmin, but they can be thrown higher and can carry bomb rocks. The latter ability is certainly their biggest draw, as those bombs deal heavy damage and destroy the various stone walls scattered throughout the level. However, a couple of finicky aspects of the controls can lead to accidentally throwing the Yellow Pikmin holding the bombs, thereby wasting a bomb and/or unintentionally killing fellow Pikmin in the process. In terms of items, The Forest of Hope houses eight ship parts, including the Whimsical Radar, which identifies where other ship parts are located. Integrating lost ship parts into gameplay is a fantastic idea, and it would have been wonderful to have this taken a step further by linking more ship parts to mechanics, which in turn could have deepened player strategy, impacted optimal runs, and diversified the experience on subsequent playthroughs.

The level features eight common enemy types, including two types of Bulborb, two types of Sheargrub, Wolpoles, Swooping Snitchbugs (which don’t appear until day fifteen), and two enemies that only help the player (Iridescent Flint Beetles and Honeywisps). With only a few easy Wolpoles in the lake near the start, the true stars are the Bulborbs and Sheargrubs, of which there are thirty-five in total. While the Bulborbs are quintessential Pikmin enemies that expertly teach the basics of combat through their design (throw Pikmin on enemies for extra damage, sneak up behind for a surprise attack, etc.), the Sheargrubs can be a pain, as they burrow underground when Olimar isn’t near. Furthermore, their quick movement and tendency to arrive in swarms can make it difficult to target individuals (though this is improved in later games as the controls grow more precise).

The Forest of Hope also features two boss battles — the Armored Cannon Beetle and three (!) Burrowing Snagrets. While the Armored Cannon Beetle is a wonderful concept, his one attack can kill Pikmin in droves, and it can be tough to clog his blowhole due to the game’s mediocre controls. Meanwhile, the Burrowing Snagrets also dish out massive damage, and their large health bars ensure that they each take substantial time to defeat. As a whole, both bosses suffer a bit from repetition, since the player will likely have to go through the same cycle dozens of times (especially since there are three Snagrets in a row), ultimately proving these bosses to be shallow, each with only have one attack and one weak spot that can be tough to aim at. Moreover, fighting them all is not worth the effort, since the Armored Cannon Beetle can be easily shimmied around for the item he guards, and only the last of the three Burrowing Snagrets has an item.

As a whole, The Forest of Hope does a fantastic job walking the tightrope between linear and non-linear design through its map, some well-positioned “checkpoint” obstacles, the broad and evolving enemy variety, and a surprising array of difficulty. The way the map gradually unveils itself through player-directed choice while organically pushing players in specific directions at specific times via naturalistic barriers and difficulty spikes is a hallmark of a great open world design that many games are still trying to figure out. Though its art style is forgettable and its bosses are somewhat shallow, The Forest of Hope manages to seamlessly educate while also embodying Pikmin’s exploratory nature, gradually revealing a world full of wonder.

For deep dives into other levels from Pikmin, as well as levels from other classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, click here.

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