Release Date: Out Now
With the absence of an actual game starring Mario at launch, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Nintendo had lost the plot. For all it's cleverness, Luigi's Mansion didn't have the expansive adventure feel or the freedom that Mario's seminal N64 game possessed, and no precision platforming and adventuring like the earlier games. So Gamecube owners have been looking here, there and everywhere for a true sign of Shigeru Miyamoto's undoubted design genius…… And maybe here it is - in the unlikely form of Pikmin (a game based on Miyamoto's study of the behaviour of ants, or so we have been led to believe).
You control Olimar, a spaceman belonging to a diminutive race (they're the size of a 50p piece we're told) whose ship crash-lands on a strange planet. Damaged beyond repair with bits of debris spread all over the place, Olimar sets off on a search to gather all the missing parts - (yawn - enough of the plot) - so anyway, you soon come across this onion shaped ……thing that sprouts legs and ejects another……… thing that lands in the ground and grows - you curiously pick it, and this thing turns out to be a Pikmin (well, that's what Olimar decides to call it anyway). The game sees you finding more sprouts, returning them to the onion-shaped Pikmin craft to be processed and planted, finding different coloured Pikmin that have different talents (reds don't mind heat, yellows throw bombs and blues like water). Once you've found the engine the first day is over, and you can lift off for the night (many strange nocturnal creatures inhabit the planet the go hunting at night, so you have to dust off 'til morning), and judging by the designs of all the inhabitants of the game, you have to wonder what Shigeru and chums were on at the design stage.
In the second area you get to land at you will find your ship's radar dish, which supplies you with a neat scrollable/zoomable map a-la Luigi's Mansion, this means you'll never be lost (for long) and always know where everything is, and where to head (invaluable considering the importance of time in the game). At first, the days seem to last for ever, but after a while when you've learnt the finer points (and have teams of Pikmin 'multi-tasking' in different areas) they seem to fly by. This gives the game an edge of urgency that possibly only Majora's mask had before it (as far as Nintendo games are concerned , anyway). Miyamoto San has decided that time matters in his games, and that's that. Some people like time limits in order to give a game urgency, others like to explore at their leisure. So if you don't like deadlines you'd better stay clear of Pikmin then.
It would appear that the Gamecube pad was made for this game, because it's never felt so perfect for a game (well, maybe Luigi's Mansion). Placing Olimar right where you want him is easy as long as you zoom the camera in close, but it you often find yourself looking at the back of a bit of scenery as your default view is set at quite a low angle. This can easily be sorted out but it would have been nice if the game had done it for you…..
Sometimes separating the little gits (Pikmin I mean) can be annoyingly tricky, and they often get lost when following you due to the fact that they don't follow you in single file but in wide group, which means it's easy for them to fall off bridges or ramps - it can be mucho annoying when you have to turn around to pick up a gaggle of stragglers.
There's also an unlockable challenge mode sub-game in which you simply have to breed as many Pikmin as you can in one day. All of the levels that you've visited in the main game are available for play, but things have changed, things aren't all in the same place and there are more creatures to worry about.
Overall, Pikmin just falls short of greatness due to visuals that don't push the hardware, a few niggles control and camera-wise and gameplay that simply repeats after the blue Pikmin are discovered. A larger range of Pikmin with varied talents and abilities and a less abstract and fantastic setting would have helped (this clearly isn't the Pikmin's home planet so why couldn't Olimar have crash landed on Earth, and had recognizable oversized terrestrial creatures to worry about?). Addictive and fun for a while, and you will come back for more, but not the classic we were hoping for.