Monday, 16 January 2012

Tribute to an old friend: Pikmin

I recently have been watching Let’s Plays of a couple of games very close to my gaming heart; the two “Pikmin” games that were released for the Gamecube. Now, as I have already mentioned I grew up on Nintendo consoles, so it’s not a massive surprise that I ended up playing these gaming oddities. With the keenness of hindsight, however, I’ve come to reflect on just how clever and unique this mini-franchise is.

In many ways, the Franz Kafka of gaming.

Even when the original “Pikmin” was released as an early Gamecube title, people didn’t really know what to make of it. One of the biggest issues potential players had with it was the unconventional gameplay style. It plays as a sort of dynamic real-time strategy game, with a focus on exploration and player-character action; in simple terms, you command underlings (as in many games), but you are also on the field with them, in the middle of the action.

Now, whilst many may be (and indeed were) put off by this slightly bizarre gameplay style, I feel “Pikmin” deserves more credit for this innovation. Firstly, I struggle to think of any games preceding it that had this style of gameplay, least of all any that execute it as well as “Pikmin” does. Moreover, the exploration elements of the game really serve as a great link to the story of the game, which sees you as Captain Olimar, stranded on a dangerous alien planet with only the friendly Pikmin to assist you in repairing your ship.

It is this element that makes these two games really stand out. In the first “Pikmin”, you are all alone save for your silent Pikmin companions. Throughout the whole game, the only lines of dialogue come from Olimar, who reflects on his discoveries, has memories of his family and even starts to face the apparent inevitability of his death far from his home. Pretty deep for a game generally written off as fluff for children.

“Pikmin 2”, whilst generally a more light-hearted affair, expands on the gameplay massively, creating a more complete gaming package. Since, however, the planet surface has lost much of its mystery since the first game, “Pikmin 2” has you venturing below into the numerous cave systems, again maintaining the exploration factor. Moreover, since the appeal of this world is so appealing and charming it has none of the occasionally overwhelming intensity of bigger fair, such as the “Metroid” games, but maintains the same tone.

In many ways, the Albert Camus of gaming.

I seriously recommend people who missed these games to give them a chance. They are charming, clever, surprisingly addicting (though not too so) and will make you think more than a collection of the biggest-selling FPSs of the moment.

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