I think we can all agree that Olimar, while loveable, is not the best starship pilot. The number of times he’s ended up stranded on planets filled with Pikmin is getting a tiny bit silly now, and I can only imagine what his insurance premiums must be like.
The key difference between Hey! Pikmin and his previous adventures is that this is a handheld game, and perhaps due to the 3DS slight lack of processing punch Olimar and his Pikmin pals have been restricted to a two dimensional plane. As a consequence, this game ends up being much more of a puzzle platformer than the much-loved RTS stylings of the numbered home console games.
Some things never change though, and Olimar is utterly dependent on his small following of Pikmin for getting around the world and collecting the new Sparklium element to power his ship. This can be found in various large and amusingly described objects in the world, such as a giant ring with a blue jewel being called the Blues Trapper.
Olimar just tootles around, hurling Pikmin onto platforms and towards objects to have them pick them up for him or to do whatever task he needs them to. Puzzles in the first few levels of the game amount to chucking a few Pikmin onto a log for them to butt stomp it into the ground, or throwing them to grab bits of pottery that can be made to create an impromptu bridge or ramp. It’s through this that levels open up, letting you grab all the Sparklium and find special objects.
Of course, there’s a more than a few obstacles to Olimar’s quest as large creatures roam the levels and would be more than happy to gobble the Pikmin up. It’s up to you to turn those Pikmin into weapons of a sort, again, throwing them at these creatures to defeat them. For the larger beasts you can deal extra damage if you manage to land your troops on its back and let them bounce up and down. You can’t indiscriminately throw, as you do need some of those Pikmin to survive to let you complete the level!
All of this is achieved using the touch screen on the 3DS, tapping away with the stylus (or a fingernail) to fling Pikmin to where you want them, call them to you with a sharp trill of Olimar’s whistle and now, for the first time, kick his jet pack into gear, letting him hover a little above the ground for a few seconds.
The game world stretches up to use both screens of the 3DS, which comes into play when you get to utilise all of the different types of Pikmin. The red ones, for example, can only be thrown a short distance, but to grab something up on the top screen, you’ll want the inherently more trustworthy yellow Pikmin that can be thrown further. I actually found myself on occasion trying to tap the top screen.
Trying the game out on the New 2DS XL, it only emphasises how poorly the ageing console handles busy graphics and small details. It’s all a bit of an indistinct mess of pixels and aliasing at times, even if it does the job and gets across what it’s meant to.
Away from the 2D adventuring you take all the Pikmin and the Sparklium you collect back to Olimar’s ship and a home base of sorts known as Pikmin Park. This has several areas that you can send rescued Pikmin off to investigate, with each colour better suited to different areas and the hazards they contain.
The red Pikmin love to dash into a clutch of endlessly burning bushes, removing sticks as they troop back off screen in what is the most unusual form of fire fighting I can think of, while the yellow Pikmin happily tramp into thorny bushes that bafflingly crackle with electricity – I had no idea electricity grows on bushes. Every once in a while, as you complete more levels in the main game, they’ll also uncover some more Sparklium to add to Olimar’s haul.
While a creditable attempt to adapt the 3D exploration of the Pikmin series to a lower powered handheld system, Hey! Pikmin likely won’t answer the calls of fans for the long-promised full sequel that has apparently been in lengthy development under the watchful eye of Shigeru Miyamoto. It’s a shame to say, but here’s hoping that we’re aren’t kept waiting too much longer.