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Born for Wii: Pikmin

Wesley Fenlon

When Nintendo's little purple cube was released in 2001, gamers were put in an unusual position -- the old standby, a Mario platformer launch title, was nowhere to be found. In the trusty plumber's stead was his brother, standing on his own for the first time in a ghost-battling adventure. There were other solid launch titles, of course, such as Factor 5's Rogue Squadron 2 and Nintendo's own Wave Race: Blue Storm. These were the familiar. And then there was Pikmin.

Pikmin came straight from the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto, and like many of his landmark creations, it offered gamers something new. A delightful mix of strategy and discovery, Pikmin defied real-time strategy conventions and put gamers in charge of the smallest, most innocent army of creatures in gaming history. In 2004, Pikmin 2 brought a second protagonist to the series, allowing for far more multitasking and considerably more inventive puzzles. Four years have passed, and many of Nintendo's heavy-hitters have received sequels. Now that E3 is upon us once again, it's time for Nintendo to reveal their upcoming projects -- and what could possibly be more Born for Wii than Pikmin 3?


In the original Pikmin, the dimunitive Captain Olimar crash-lands on Earth and has only 30 days to collect the scattered pieces of his battered ship before his life-support system fails. Olimar soon discovers the Pikmin, who willingly follow him around and obey his commands. With the aid of the Pikmin, Olimar traverses a treacherous landscape, fights strange creatures, and recovers his ship parts so he can return to his home planet Hocotate. However, when Olimar arrives home at the start of Pikmin 2, he's in for a nasty surprise -- the company he works for, Hocotate Freight, is heavily in debt, and his recently-repaired ship is soon sold. But hope is not lost. When he discovers how valuable treasures from Earth are, Olimar's boss sends him back to collect enough treasure to get the company out of debt with the aid of another Hocotate Freight employee, Louie.

Despite sharing the same setting and gameplay, Pikmin and Pikmin 2 each have a unique ambiance. In his original exploration of the planet Earth, Olimar is alone, fighting for survival, with only 30 days to repair his ship. Even the Pikmin are struggling for survival, and if not for Olimar's leadership, they'd undoubtedly perish. The debt-driven plot of Pikmin 2, while not especially uplifting, offers a far more lighthearted adventure, and the original's 30-day limit is replaced by a far less ominous, open-ended quest for treasure. In the end, the more somber setting of the original is worth losing, as Pikmin 2 fixes many of its predecessor's flaws with a longer, more varied quest, subtly superior controls, and new gameplay elements.

Pikmin's core gameplay is built around overcoming the challenges required to explore a strange new world. By collecting nutritious pellets and defeated enemies, new Pikmin can be sprouted and used as Olimar's personal work force and army. Three basic types of Pikmin exist on Earth, each with unique abilities. Red Pikmin are flame resistant, blue Pikmin can swim, and yellow Pikmin can be thrown further. In the original game, yellow Pikmin can also handle bomb rocks, but this feature is done away with in the second game in favor of resistance to electricity. The sequel also introduces the poisonous white Pikmin and the heavy purple Pikmin, which do not sprout from Pikmin Onions like the rest of their species. To explore each level and uncover whatever treasure lies in wait, Olimar must work to each Pikmin's strength to knock down walls, build bridges over bodies of water, and defeat unique enemies.

Much of the challenge comes in properly managing the Pikmin during each day cycle- - Olimar and the Pikmin must retreat from the dangerous surface at night, lest they be devoured by hordes of monsters. With the introduction of Louie in Pikmin 2, managing multiple groups of Pikmin becomes much faster and easier. However, both games allow only 100 Pikmin to be in play at any one time, making it imperative to control the proper mix of units.

Pikmin features a unique control scheme that makes it simple to control a large number of units at once. On the GameCube controller, A is a multi-function button that commands Olimar's attack, plucks Pikmin from the ground, and throws Pikmin. The B button issues a whistle that calls the Pikmin to action, while the X button dismisses the Pikmin, causing them to separate into groups by color. L, R, and Z control the camera. The Control Stick moves Olimar, of course, but it is also used to move an on-screen cursor that indicates where Olimar will throw the Pikmin. By simply pressing the C Stick, any Pikmin under Olimar's command will move in the corresponding direction, and if they are near any interactive objects, they'll automatically take the appropriate action - - break down a nearby wall, pick up a piece of treasure, etc.

Pikmin 2 adds a few new functions to the mix. The Y button switches between command of Olimar and Louie, who can each control separate groups of Pikmin. Additionally, while holding the A button to throw a Pikmin, the D-pad can be used to cycle through the various types of Pikmin, making it much easier to avoid tragic mistakes, such as throwing a half-dozen red Pikmin to a watery death. Some of us still have nightmares about the dying whimpers of drowning Pikmin and their dissipating ethereal remains.

Few games lend their design to the Wii Remote as perfectly as Pikmin. Who knows what was going on in Miyamoto's mind when he came up with the game? With the nunchuk and Wiimote, the Control Stick could still control Olimar, while the Wiimote could independently control the cursor. The A button would remain unchanged, while the Z button would take over command of Olimar's whistle. Even though the Wii lacks a second joystick, the remote works better; instead of motioning Pikmin in the general direction of an object, the B trigger could be used to direct Pikmin to wherever the cursor is currently positioned. Y and X could be shifted to the - and + buttons, but this would leave the game without a Pause button. Instead of mapping each and every button on the GameCube controller to a corresponding Wiimote button, Nintendo could easily integrate some simple motion controls, such as a nunchuk shake or holding down the Z button for two seconds to dismiss the Pikmin. The C button and 1 and 2 buttons could be used for the leftover camera controls, and the D-pad would fulfill the same functions it did previously. Pikmin's control scheme on the GameCube was simplistic and fluid, and it would take surprisingly little to build upon the original setup with a Pikmin 3 on the Wii.

Nintendo could easily implement a more complex control system, but overall it would be an unnecessary change. Still, some basic Wiimote movements wouldn't be out of the question, such as a wrist-snap of the remote to hurl Pikmin instead of a basic button press. A port of both Pikmin games on one disc would be a wonderful offering on the Wii; still, with such a fantastic series that would function so well on the Wii, Nintendo would be remiss not to present us with a sequel. Pikmin 2 included a 2-player battle mode, but Pikmin 3 needs to take the multiplayer a step further. Online and local co-op for at least two players, one controlling Olimar and the other controlling Louie (or whatever characters star in the sequel) would be incredibly fun. Co-op gameplay is at its best when it forces players to simultaneously work together and compete; a score-based challenge mode would be a blast. Picture a race against the clock and your opposing captain to obtain all the treasure in a given level, but still being required to work together to solve puzzles and defeat monstrous enemies.

If they wanted to go all-out, Nintendo could even incorporate a world editor, with placeable objects, obstacles, enemies, and treasures. An online distribution of maps would extend Pikmin 3's replayability infinitely, and we have a precedent in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Unfortunately, a map editor in Pikmin would be a far more complex affair, but a guy can dream, right?

With Nintendo's E3 press conference mere hours away, it's entirely possible that Pikmin 3 is about to be revealed to the world. Will it be all we hope for and more, or will it fall short of its potential? The first step is confirmation that Pikmin 3 is on the way; after that, it's just a question of how much bigger and better Nintendo can make it.

Every week, Born for Wii digs into gaming's sordid past to unearth a new treasure fit for revival on the Nintendo Wii. Be sure to check out last week's entry in the series, Beyond Good & Evil, and for more great titles that deserve your attention, take a look at Virtually Overlooked.

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