Hey! Pikmin 3DS
Our expectations were so low you’d have needed an army of Pikmin to excavate them. The past form of developer Arzest didn’t exactly augur well; an underwhelming reveal and mediocre demo hardly helped. But while this side-scrolling spin-off is certainly no classic, it does capture the mainline games’ gentle, bucolic essence. The classic strategy and micromanagement might be missing, but the series’ off-kilter personality is just about intact.
It all begins in familiar fashion with a spaceship crash and a repair job for Olimar, surely the galaxy’s unluckiest astronaut. He needs an energy source called Sparklium to power his stricken craft: seeds are in abundant supply, but household detritus, as ever, proves much more valuable. Per tradition, the Pikmin dutifully follow their bulbous-nosed leader in tight formation. You guide Olimar with the Circle Pad and tap the screen to throw his charges – using them to smash crystalline obstacles, pull vine platforms, and for their crude, but effective, combat technique of viciously headbutting enemies to death en masse. Some treasures are either inside or beyond these creatures; the rest require some light environmental puzzling to locate, perhaps by removing a sandy obstruction to let in sunlight, or
Any Pikmin you bring back can be pressed into service while you explore elsewhere. Areas around the crash site hold more Sparklium: send your recruits to unearth it and they’ll usually take a level or two to finish the job. Scan certain Amiibo, and they’ll appear as statues to be retrieved in rather basic, selfcontained puzzles. You’ll only get a meagre boost to your Sparklium tally, but it’s worth the effort for the amusing flavour text accompanying their entry in your ship’s database. using the sparks from an electrically charged caterpillar to unfurl a floral platform.
If its measured exploration is reminiscent of the Yoshi’s Island games, the need to keep a watchful eye on both screens brings the wonderful Yoshi Touch & Go to mind, particularly when you find yourself gauging the trajectory of a throw from the lower to upper display. Let your focus drift, and you might not see a burrowing grub falling from the ceiling to crush one of your tribe. You don’t need them all to survive, but you’ll want to keep them alive for more than just a gold emblem: that high-pitched squeak and mournful wail as the poor mites perish remains deeply upsetting.
At times it’s almost soporific, though Arzest finds the occasional way to break the plodding pace. Your journey is punctuated by short, funny skits, such as a quartet of tottering rock Pikmin dropping a glass tumbler, or a yellow scaring his friends with a leaf mask. And, miraculously, its underwater and airborne sections are cause for celebration, not least since flying and blue Pikmin return to Olimar with a satisfying elastic snap.
The closing stages raise the threat level from mild to moderate peril, especially during a climactic battle against a horrifying eldritch monstrosity. Otherwise, this is a soothing lullaby of a game: a leisurely bit of counter-programming that, contrary to forecasts, doesn’t disgrace the series’ good name.
Usually you’ll throw Pikmin to higher platforms to retrieve objects, but you’ll also need them to provide a route for Olimar to collect them instead. An air-brake in his boots will cushion his landing if his jetpack runs out