Each new console brings with it the Herculean task of not only raising the technological standard, but also broadening the horizon in terms of game innovation and immersion. Shigeru Miyamoto has taken the power of the GameCube and used it to create one of the most playable and enjoyable strategy titles to date: Pikmin.

   While out for a joyride one evening, a lone spaceman's vessel is struck by a meteorite and forced to make a crash landing on an unnamed planet. Our hero, Captain Olimar of the planet Hocotate, finds himself stranded in a forest clearing next to his disabled ship, the Dolphin. Having only thirty days' worth of life-support, Olimar must reassemble his ship and escape or fall prey to the planet's deadly oxygenated atmosphere.

 It pulled out right in front of me!
Dude, don't tell my dad

   Olimar soon encounters a strange onion-shaped pod that produces a tiny sprout. Once planted, the sprout grows into a red ant-like creature that Olimar dubs a "Pikmin," in honor of his favorite brand of carrot. By collecting round pellets of its own color, the Pikmin is able to produce others of its kind from the onion. The captain soon finds himself aided by a small army of obedient and energetic critters, eagerly combing the area in search of the ship's missing pieces. Before long, the engine of the Dolphin is recovered and Olimar is able to expand his search to cover new areas of the planet.

   Eventually, Olimar enlists the aid of two more varieties of Pikmin. Yellow Pikmin specialize in reaching high areas and throwing small bomb-rocks, while blue Pikmin are able to venture into the planet's watery areas unharmed. These skills, when combined with the red Pikmin's prowess in combat and ability to withstand heat, give Olimar a fighting chance in recovering the thirty missing parts and getting back to his wife and son.

   Surprisingly, Pikmin's storytelling is one of its finer elements. While it may appear to be something more akin to ToeJam and Earl on the surface, Olimar's experience is much deeper. At the end of each day, a new entry is added to the spaceman's journal, detailing his encounters and thoughts for that day and giving the player new insight and information about the Pikmin themselves. These entries are made with a hint of Spaceman Spiff-esque overdramatization, although they are never overly hokey or unreadable. Olimar begins to question the Pikmin's origins, as well as their unconditional devotion and ability to group together for a common effort with little means of communication. Why do these creatures follow him? What will they have to show if Olimar repairs his ship and returns home?

The Red Army
Down with The Man!

   Pikmin's gameplay places emphasis on raising and organizing your new friends in order to manipulate the environment and overcome obstacles to reach the missing parts. Olimar is allowed to have as many as 100 Pikmin out working for him at a time, with any extras residing inside the three different colored onions that accompany him to each area. While one group of Pikmin is busy building a bridge, another might be bombing a barrier or ganging up on the planet's hostile inhabitants to earn food. Pikmin is all about working together.

   Fortunately, this emphasis on raising and assigning Pikmin to the multitude of available tasks never degenerates into routine micromanagement. Each area contains a host of new and puzzling situations, often requiring players to use all three kinds of Pikmin in order to clear a path and retrieve the next missing piece. Once enough pieces are obtained, new areas open up and the process of search-and-discover repeats. Every area contains multiple ship parts, with each one demanding almost a whole day's work to recover. If players want to earn the best ending, finding at least one part per day is exactly what they must do. It is quite possible to complete the game without finding all thirty parts, although this daunting task is no big chore for the man who knows how to use his Pikmin.

   The environments of Pikmin are stunningly beautiful. With textures taken right from Miyamoto's backyard, each new area is gorgeously lush and detailed, showcasing an array of lighting and distortion effects. As time passes in each ten-minute day, shadows lengthen and colors dim over the fields, forests, beaches, and rivers of the planet. Ripples in ponds and streams traversed by Olimar and his blue buddies are the most realistic yet seen. Monsters are cartoonish yet dangerous, and always look good. Flying puffer fish and fire-breathing elephants don't even look this nice in real life.

 Vwee hee hee!
With this slave crown, you'll practically own them

   Olimar and his friends also control very well. Miyamoto has made full use of the GameCube controller, utilizing every button to give the intergalactic castaway complete control over every aspect of his spritely minions. Pikmin will follow Olimar wherever he goes, or they can be controlled seperately by use of the C-stick. Olimar also has the ability to summon his Pikmin with B and dismiss them with X. One of the nicer features is that any dismissed Pikmin in a mixed group will immediately seperate themselves by color for Olimar's convenience, greatly easing the creation and deployment of specialized squads. Finally, the shoulder buttons offer control of the camera through rotation, zooming, and changing the point of view. Problems with the camera angle may occur during drawn out fights or travel through narrow passageways, but these are easily remedied with the Z button's ability to switch to an overhead view.

   Pikmin's soundtrack is generally calm and soothing, not unlike the lighter tracks of Super Mario 64. While they do get a bit repetitive over the course of the game, none of the songs are abrasive or annoying. The game's sound effects have a nostalgic SNES feel to them, remeniscent of Miyamoto's earlier works. The completion of a new bridge, for example, brings with it a chime that players can instantly recognize. Sound effects like this give the game a light-hearted, old-school feel without sounding archaic.

   Overall, Pikmin is a shining example of what new systems should be all about - new and innovative styles of play. Miyamoto captures perfectly the essence of exploration and discovery with a planet composed of one massive backyard that begs to be combed, climbed over, and swum through. Gameplay is smooth and fun, offering a very unique experience as the player becomes familiar with the Pikmin and their abilities. Pikmin proves once again that Miyamoto still has the ability to create a solid, well-crafted game that is a joy to play again and again.

Review by Alex Fraioli, GIA
Developer EAD
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Strategy
Medium Disc
Platform Nintendo GameCube
Release Date  10.01

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