The Pikmin series is one of those low-key Nintendo franchises that’s often requested by fans, but hasn’t seen many releases since its initial induction. It doesn’t quite have the pull of series like Zelda or Pokemon, but the games are well loved by players and critics alike for their gorgeous environments and creative strategy elements. Hey! Pikmin attempts to follow in its predecessors’ footsteps, but stumbles along the way.
Hey! Pikmin features a lot of “firsts” for the Pikmin series. It’s the first Pikmin spin-off, the first handheld entry, and the first to use side-scrolling puzzle-platformer gameplay. It’s also, sadly, the first Pikmin title that may be worth skipping.
Using both the top and bottom screen to display one extended world was a common theme on the original DS. Games like Sonic Rush, Yoshi’s Island DS, and Contra 4 all feature sprawling vertical visuals that gave a dramatic sense of grandeur. The 3DS, with its larger and 3D-enabled top screen taking center stage, rarely uses this approach when displaying games. Hey! Pikmin, which forgoes any 3D gameplay, brings this visual style back to the limelight and implements it well.
Though players can only truly interact with items and baddies on the bottom touch screen, Pikmin can be tossed up above to knock down collectables and follow routes outside of Olimar’s reach. The stages look wonderful and bright, inviting players to explore every nook and cranny in search of new allies and anything that will produce Sparklium (the material Olimar needs refuel his damaged rocket).
If you’ve ever played the late great Kirby Mass Attack for the original DS, then you’ll quickly understand the control set-up for Hey! Pikmin. Actually, you’ll probably understand it regardless. Poke the touch screen where you want toss a Pikmin and away it flies. Later levels allow for different kinds of Pikmin to be used at once, all of which can be selected by touching their picture in the lower left corner. Aside from this Olimar has a whistle to call back Pikmin in action or those hiding, as well as a jet pack to reach higher ground. Both are activated with a quick tap on their icon. There’s not much to it, but it works all the same.
As in past Pikmin titles, the music throughout Hey! Pikmin is a wonderful mix of The Legend of Zelda and Animal Crossing. It’s relaxing and subdued. A walk through nature, accented with the cries of Pikmin being flung left and right. You’ll most certainly want to crank the volume slider for this one.
When players stumble upon real-world items while journeying through a stage Olimar beams it back to his ship to be repurposed into Sparklium. But before this happens he makes note of the “treasure” in his logbook, the Pikipedia, giving it a nickname and a full description. Olimar’s uninformed entries are hilarious at times and always enjoyable to read. This goes for amiibo as well, which can be scanned in for quick bonus stages. Mario is dubbed Colossus in Suspenders, K.K. Slider becomes Seated Strummer, and an inkling is called Devious Drencher. It’s Nintendo silliness at it’s best, and makes collecting more and more treasures all the more alluring.
The core gameplay in Hey! Pikmin is based solely around its venture into the often-overlooked genre of puzzle-platforming. The pace is certainly on the slower side, but the developers have done an admirable job of attempting to introduce clever ways to use Pikmin, and their special abilities, in new ways as the game progresses. No puzzle is too difficult, nor is any platforming challenge too rigorous. Hey! Pikmin is a game that usually gives you time to think and plan out your next move. It’s predicable in many ways, but usually brings enough satisfaction to keep players moving slowly forward towards their goal.
There are eight worlds to conquer throughout the game’s main campaign, with a handful of hidden stages to be found. Each world has an environmental theme, but the stages within the worlds don’t vary much in their appearance or gameplay. Some clever uses of water, fire, electricity and encroaching enemies will keep players on their toes momentarily, but then it’s back to the basics once more.
When looking back at past main-series Pikmin games there are certain aspects that standout as memorable and well-executed. The main one being the time crunch that players feel while exploring environments new and old. The clock is always ticking, because at nightfall all the most terrifying creatures walk the earth. There’s a playful urgency to get items back to one’s ship in time for a safe launch, and players are tasked with directing and escorting their Pikmin on the right paths to make this happen.
There is nothing like this in Hey! Pikmin. No urgency. No need to bring items back to the ship at the end of the level. And honestly there’s just not enough Pikmin to feel truly powerful and resourceful. Players can only call upon armies of 20 to do their bidding. All of these major changes to gameplay have been tailored to accommodate the game’s side-scrolling view, and they make sense in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately without these aspects the game just doesn’t excite and frustrate with the same magic as the originals.
Hey! Pikmin is a well-crafted puzzle-platformer, but it lacks many of the gameplay aspects that make its main series predecessors so iconic and enjoyable. It’s not a bad game, especially for younger players, it’s just not a great Pikmin game.