Hey! Pikmin isn’t even a real Pikmin game. Who did Nintendo make this for anyway, babies? Yeah. Total baby game. Whatever. This better not be what Miyamoto was talking about when he said he was working on Pikmin 4.
Similar bluster was heard around the web when developer Arzest debuted its previous side-scrolling Nintendo platformer, Yoshi’s New Island, but I thought it was a great installment in what was at the time a long-dormant series. Its slower, more deliberate pace seemed to have been designed with younger players in mind, but it also presented a fierce challenge to those who sought to unlock and complete all of its hidden stages.
Now that Arzest has put its mark on the Pikmin franchise with the similarly languid Hey! Pikmin, I’m not at all surprised by the conversation surrounding the game; Nintendo fans have made a cottage industry out of complaining loudly whenever the company tries something new with an established franchise. But Hey! Pikmin has no aspirations for mainstream success. It’s its own thing: a warm and welcoming experience for younger players who might have struggled with Pikmin 3’s complexities, and a pleasant diversion with some fun surprises for fans of retro game design. There’s not much to it, and I think that’s just fine.
Hey! Pikmin is not a real-time strategy game, but the series’ core mechanics work well within the framework of a puzzle platformer. Olimar, having crash-landed yet again on a foreign planet, navigates strange but familiar environments using the 3DS’s circle pad, while the touch screen is used primarily for lobbing Pikmin at enemies, obstacles, and collectible objects. These relics, vestiges of a human civilization that seems to have faded from existence, yield “Sparklium”—a fuel source that powers Olimar’s ship, the S.S. Dolphin 2. Collect a certain amount of Sparklium and defeat the massive bosses waiting at the edge of each world, and Olimar can leave the planet and head back home to his wife and kids.
Hey! Pikmin does not utilize the 3DS’s stereoscopic display capabilities, but for good reason: stages span both top and bottom screens, necessitating a consistency of depth across both screens (the bottom screen can’t show the world in 3D, so the top screen isn’t allowed to either.) I twitch a little bit every time a 3DS game releases in 2D only, but in this case, it makes sense. The vertical screen layout makes for some mildly interesting puzzle challenges—mostly revolving around “how do I get my Pikmin from down here to up there?”—and allows for some impressively large bosses. I do wish the boss battles were a little more interesting to play through, though; they’re woefully unvaried, but at least cool to look at.
Five familiar flavors of Pikmin return from previous games, and for much of Hey! Pikmin, they act like you’d expect. Red Pikmin are impervious to fire; yellow ones conduct electricity; that type of thing. The basic gameplay loop is consistent from level to level: some obstacle is keeping Olimar from progressing or collecting Sparklium, and you’ll fling your little friends to clear the path or grab the item. Things start to get interesting, though, once the blue and pink Pikmin show up. Their unique characteristics—swimming and flying, respectively—allow an otherwise limited design to breathe a little, adding a sense of variety that recalls another black sheep entry in a popular Nintendo franchise: Super Mario Land.
Blue Pikmin stages often abandon dry-land platforming in favor of water-based exploration. Olimar’s an excellent swimmer, so these segments are breezier, more fluid, and overall just more enjoyable to play through than the usual on-foot areas. More interesting are the rare stages featuring flying pink Pikmin, during which Hey! Pikmin transforms into a scrolling shooter, with Olimar lobbing Pikmin at waves of enemies that soar across the screen in classic SHMUP patterns. I appreciate these experimental sections as they break up a game that can feel overly homogenous, but they don’t show up until about halfway through the game, and I suspect many older players will give up without ever seeing them. It’s a shame these segments weren’t peppered more evenly throughout the course of the adventure.
Hey! Pikmin can be completed in seven hours or so, but with eight hidden stages to seek out, a glut of human relics to discover, and a robust encyclopedia to fill up, you could easily stretch that out to 10 hours or more. An optional activity called Pikmin Park gives you something to do with all of the Pikmin you gather from each stage, but it’s pretty inessential: a cute little menagerie to watch over your growing collection of Pikmin and dig up a few more relics, nothing more. The top-down presentation of Pikmin Park actually reminds me of the core Pikmin games, which I find to be a bit unfair to Hey! Pikmin: it makes me want to play those older games instead of keeping me focused on what’s good about Arzest’s interpretation of the material.
Is Hey! Pikmin essential? Not really. But while it may be lacking in the qualities that made the first three Pikmin games so special, it succeeds on an arguably more important level: opening up that universe to a younger audience that isn’t quite ready for a complex strategy game. That, combined with its cute characters and innocent humor, should ensure it does just fine for Nintendo as long as the 3DS remains on the market. And maybe, once Pikmin 4 releases on the Switch, players weaned on Hey! Pikmin will be ready for something more interesting.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Hey! Pikmin is based on a retail copy of the game provided to us by Nintendo. The game launched on July 13th, 2017.