A Look at the Latest: Hey! Pikmin (3DS)

When Hey! Pikmin was originally revealed, many people were understandably wary of the step the Pikmin series seemed to be taking. Most Pikmin games are 3D games where you guide a large group of Pikmin around open environments, but Hey! Pikmin decided to change up the genre and perspective entirely, shifting to linear levels viewed from the side. I, however, was not quite so skeptical. Experimentation with genres and broadening the scope of a series can allow it to find new and equally fun gameplay styles. One need only look at Mario to see a franchise that can sustain multiple genres, and there is potential that the different genres will broaden the appeal and drum up more interest in the entire series. So, needless to say, I went into Hey! Pikmin with an open mind.

Hey! Pikmin is a 2D platforming game where you play the role of Captain Olimar, an inch-high space deliveryman who crash lands on an unusual planet and must collect a fuel source known as Sparklium to fix his ship and head home. To gather the required 30000 Sparklium, you will need the help of creatures called Pikmin, plant-like creatures that come in a few different colors and forms that allow them to perform unique tasks. For example, the red Pikmin can move through fire unharmed, and Blue Pikmin are able to join Olimar as he swims without drowning. The Pikmin’s main use is that Olimar can throw them at enemies or throw them to places he can’t reach to collect items or activate things, although Olimar also has a jetpack to do some solo exploring if he needs to. Sparklium is collected either by picking up seeds or by finding “relics of a previous civilization”, with the heavy implication that the world Olimar is stuck on is an Earth after humans have long since gone extinct (although this was the set up for Pikmin 1 as well, and somehow we’re on a different planet this time). Olimar adorably misinterprets items he finds, thinking that a pair of glasses must be some sort of bicycle or mistaking a chess piece for a small lighthouse, but unfortunately the game is quick to recycle the items you find. The novelty of the found treasures wears off a little when Olimar somehow finds his fourth battery, yo-yo, or trophy and the game struggles to have him interpret it differently somehow. It’s never made quite clear how he gets Sparklium from these treasures as the game implies he is not breaking them down for parts, but I suppose we’re not supposed to question it too much.

The gameplay is viewed from the side and has Olimar traversing levels with the help of up to twenty Pikmin at a time. Levels are fairly straightforward in that you can complete them by going straight forward, but to get the Sparklium you need, you’ll have to explore them and solve small puzzles. One might think this would be where the game would prove to be its most enjoyable, but I legitimately feel the game might have been better off without the series’s distinctive treasure collecting mechanic entirely! The levels in Hey! Pikmin require you to move at a snail’s pace in order to ensure that you can check every branching path or suspicious wall to make sure you don’t miss any of the hidden treasures, and even when you do go down the other path and find one of the puzzles to get a treasure, the “puzzles” are so often simple “see puzzle, solve puzzle” situations where you know the solution immediately instead of having to figure it out or really think on it. Even then, these might be decent optional diversions if the game wasn’t so punishing to you if you didn’t keep your eyes peeled for them all the time. There are many points of no return in levels, making it impossible to go back if you realize you missed a treasure, and since you’ll sometimes come to a path of many branches and have no way of telling which is the way onward besides the vague hint that right is usually the way on, you might go down a path and be locked into it, missing the secrets on the sides. If the levels had any form of checkpointing or a way to reset to an earlier point that might be good, but if you die or chose the restart option, it resets all your progress on the level and kicks you back to start. Meaning: you will have to play the level all over again and do it RIGHT this time!

Besides the treasure collecting and puzzles, Hey! Pikmin’s levels have a bunch of enemies you need to work around and kill to continue. Usually, the enemies come in two types: ones you can kill by throwing a Pikmin at them, or big ones you can kill slowly by throwing a bunch of Pikmin at them and waiting. The small enemies aren’t bad, but the big enemies end up being roadblocks you have to slowly wait to clear that don’t really offer any challenge once you realize they almost all require the same tactic to kill. Surprisingly, the game’s bosses are actually rather enjoyable! They aren’t too challenging, but you do have to figure out a tactic to kill them and they have some energy to them, a nice break after the slow crawls through most level types. One thing I will say about the levels on a whole is Hey! Pikmin does its best to give them each a unique gimmick, and some of them are actually rather interesting and fun. Unfortunately, its desire to make every level unique means that it rarely reuses the more interesting gimmicks. It would have been interesting for a level to mix and match aspects to test how far I’ve come in handling Pikmin and avoiding danger, but what most levels boil down to is a series of samey environments dotted with the level’s unique formula to set them apart. Despite all the gimmicks, the universal structure applied to most levels quickly grows repetitive, and I quickly found that even though the game has an abundance of levels, I was not happy to see new ones, nor was I happy to have to replay one to find a secret exit to get another new level.

Hey! Pikmin also has a little side mode called Pikmin Park, wherein the Pikmin that manage to make it to the end of a level will head off to a little area and can gradually search for Sparklium. It’s more of an amusing thing to look at on the side than something to play, but I can’t really fault it either for its simplicity and giving you something to look at besides the core gameplay. The payoff for it isn’t that big though since the Sparklium gathered is so small. Speaking of the Sparklium, I hit 30,000 about 55-60% into the game, but I was picking up every treasure and playing every level. I meticulously collected the seeds and did the side stuff religiously. You can try and go through the game casually and it may be possible to get to the end with enough, but I feel you would likely have to replay levels if you didn’t remember to explore and thus engage in the more tedious elements of Hey! Pikmin because of it.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning this game has amiibo functionality. Buying the little Nintendo figures can have a few effects on your game. They can provide extra Pikmin in a level or the Park, they can unlock unique treasures that aren’t required for completion but are interesting to look at, but most importantly, there are Secret Spots you can only unlock by scanning an amiibo. You get to go to quite a few Secret Spots naturally, and thankfully, it doesn’t seem like you’re missing much if you don’t want to scan those figures. Secret Spots are again of the “see puzzle, solve puzzle” breed, so you aren’t missing much from those simplistic side puzzles. Working amiibo functionality into a game is still a strange area Nintendo hasn’t figured out how to do properly yet, so I can’t really fault them for putting in these small bonuses for players who own the figurines.

What I can fault though is the game’s biggest problem. Almost every level will grind things to a halt CONSTANTLY to play about a 10 second scene of some Pikmin doing something. This can happen up to five times in a level, slowing down the momentum incredibly and refusing to allow you to skip it unless you’ve already seen their little presentation before. I can be in the middle of actually enjoying one of the better designed levels or one with a unique gimmick, and suddenly all that grinds to a halt as four Pikmin jump out and try to act cute. It baffles me that the designers thought this was a good addition. This seems like something that might appeal to little kids, but the Pikmin puzzle solving and throwing mechanics seem a bit much for the people of the right age level to enjoy Pikmin just being cute for no reason. Sometimes, these little scenes will introduce a new mechanic to you yes… and sometimes they’ll introduce a mechanic to you way after you’ve used it before in the past. Other times, it really is just the Pikmin trying to be cute, as if they had to appeal to the player to get them to like them, unsure of their inherent cuteness. The most egregious moments though are when the little scenes have nothing going on in them. The Pikmin hop out of a bush and just stand there. Glad you interrupted things to show us that. Sometimes they’ll even repeat previous jokes or setups with no variation on the last time we saw it! Imagine if while reading this review, every paragraph was followed by a mandatory ten second ad of a koala simply existing. You might think its cute once, but it would get grating as it constantly interrupts you while doing nothing itself! These scenes do not appear to mask any loading as some require you to whistle to trigger them or appear at areas that already have loaded, so I feel they must be trying to sell the Pikmin’s cuteness, which they could have just as easily done by having the Pikmin do their little acts in real time instead of forcing me to watch them and not interact. The game does this very VERY rarely, but once, it had a few Pikmin tossing a ball back and forth, and I actually thought it was cute! I felt a bit bad interrupting them since it was actually interesting and adorable now that I could appreciate it instead of being told “APPRECIATE THIS NOW!”

Those “Pikmin Appreciation Cutscenes” really get at the core of what is wrong with Hey! Pikmin. There are plenty of moments of enjoyable fun with the Pikmin when I’m allowed to use them to progress or have to carefully work around a hazard. The game simply finds too many reasons to interrupt its own momentum with bland exploration, simplistic puzzles, or just trying too hard to be liked.

THE VERDICT: Hey! Pikmin does some things right. The game is on the whole a charming adventure with cute creatures in a somewhat atmospheric and interesting world, but for everything the game does right, it seems to do something to hamper it. Each unique or intriguing moment is dragged down by the consistent elements that it forces upon every level, interrupting your gameplay or punishing you for not going so slowly that you won’t appreciate what the game is trying to do with its level gimmick. There are certainly enjoyable spots to be found, but it does such a good job at burying them that it’s hard to find the motivation to continue playing.

And so, I give Hey! Pikmin for the Nintendo 3DS…

A BAD rating. Hey! Pikmin’s core gameplay has potential, and if the game had spent more time exploring that instead of requiring you to explore and giving you little interesting to find, I feel it could have at least been average. I did want to like this game, and there were parts where I almost felt it could earn an AVERAGE rating instead, but the more levels I played, the more I wanted it to just be over already. Hey! Pikmin might be an enjoyable experience if you only play one or two levels and put it down for a while, but you’ll still encounter the issues with its relative simplicity and its desire to slow you down. Levels that can take two minutes if you ignore everything and rush to the end are dragged out to ten by the various paths you need to go down to get the Sparklium. However, without the Sparklium searching, the levels are mostly too simplistic to be engaging. It’s a Catch 22. The development team should have spent more time fleshing out the core instead of trying to figure out a gimmick for each level and how to make four Pikmin play with a leaf in different ways.

Honestly, because of what must be at least 100 different scenes of Pikmin just playing around and acting cute, I’m pretty sure the game just exists as a pretense to make those scenes.

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