Better Late Than Never - Pikmin

Better Late Than Never is a feature in which I chronicle my experience playing a classic game for the first time ever. Without nostalgia to cloud my judgment, I'll discuss whether or not the game is still worth checking out, especially for first-timers like myself. After tackling Max Payne in the inaugural edition, I move on to one of the signature titles of the Gamecube, Pikmin.

I've fallen in love with all of Shigeru Miyamoto's creations (save for Wii Music) but Pikmin always eluded me. I never owned a Gamecube and my only experience with this fascinating title was a brief demo at an EB Games around the time of its 2001 launch. Because of this, I never really quite got what kind of game Pikmin was exactly. Despite having watched gameplay videos of all three entries, all I got out of them was that you lead an army of weird, multi-colored things just kamikaze'd them into even stranger creatures.

Years ago, I stumbled upon a used copy of the original Pikmin at Gamestop and immediately purchased it out of curiosity, excitement, as well as fear that it may not pop up again so easily. Since then, it'd been sitting on my game rack accumulating dust until the announcement of Mario Kart 8 free game promotion changed everything.

For those unaware, purchasing Mario Kart 8 granted the opportunity to download one of four select Wii U titles free of charge. One was New Super Mario Bros. U, which I already own, and another was Wii Party U, a game I had zero interest in. That narrowed my choices to The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Pikmin 3. I'd completed the original Wind Waker for the first time a year ago while I looked forward to replaying it again in high definition, did I really want to waste a free game on an ultimately familiar experience? Pikmin 3, on the other hand, would be a brand new adventure but, as previously stated, I had no idea if I'd even like what the series had to offer. The only way to find out would be to finally dust the cobwebs of the first game and give it a long-overdue shot.

Pikmin's miniaturized world hooked me almost immediately. The graphics have aged better than expected and I loved the imaginative creature designs. I want a Bulborb plushy, like, yesterday.

It took some time to find my footing, but I once I acquired enough Pikmin to perform multiple tasks at once, the game's beauty began to show itself. The specialties of each Pikmin are used to their full potential, with many puzzles calling for thoughtful and creative collaborations between the three types. Gaining a proper understanding of each Pikmin's strengths and weaknesses and combining that with some shrewd planning allowed me to accomplish several goals in a single day. I was surprised at the level of critical thinking many situations required and when everything went according to plan, I genuinely felt like a tactical genius.

Control-wise, Pikmin performs admirably for a game of it's age but the camera suffers by virtue of being from a Gamecube title in the early 2000s: it's not that great. Instead of a free camera, you can only cycle through different viewing angles by pressing a combination of buttons. That meant having to constantly fiddle with Olimar's positioning in order to line up the desired view. Many a Pikmin were lost due being inadvertently thrown into hazards while trying to adjust the camera. Any sort of lock-on mechanic would have also been welcomed.

I've always heard the 30-day time limit to be Pikmin's main criticism and, to a degree, I understand why. What I enjoy about the restriction is that it forces you to play as strategically and efficiently as possible in order to make every day count. On the flip side, watching that sun make its way across the screen was a source of genuine stress at times because a day gone awry usually called for a replay the entire day. Multiple save files were pretty much a necessity to cover my butt. To my understanding, the timer isn't present in the sequels and while I didn't loathe it like some people, I can't say I'll entirely miss it either.

One issue I have is that, unless you use a guide, you have no idea which ship parts are actually important and thus, how to properly prioritize your efforts. At first, I thought you had to collect all 30 parts. Later on, it's established that only a select majority are needed. That threw me for a loop and I became extremely concerned that I'd wasted precious time seeking out useless parts.

This came to a head around Day 27. I lost 99% of my Pikmin during a disastrous battle against the Beady Long Legs (a tall, long-legged orb thing) and needed at least two days to regroup. 25 ship parts were already in my possession and I was unable to collect more in the remaining time, so I could only hope that I had what was necessary to win the game. Sure enough, Olimar's take-off went about as smoothly as Challenger's and I was treated to the bad ending.

Technically, that could be considered beating the game, but that's about as legitimate as killing Richter Belmont in Symphony of the Night and saying "Mission Accomplished". After taking a couple of real-life days to refocus, I reloaded my oldest save (about 6 days prior), pulled up the list of required ship parts online, and dove back in. With my newfound knowledge, I was able to carefully outline each day and my anxiety evaporated. For those crying foul, knowing which parts to go after didn't make them any easier to obtain, so the challenge remained in full force. Things went so swimmingly that I actually managed to collect 29 parts with two days left, meaning that I could finish the game at 100% completion - and I did.

Pikmin definitely holds up and if you can look past a few old-school annoyances, it's still a joy to play today, especially for strategy fans. I'm already looking into procuring a copy of Pikmin 2 before I dive into my digital copy of the third game because I'm a stickler for playing a series in the correct order. If you missed it the first time around and have a Gamecube or Wii sitting forgotten, don't be afraid to give Pikmin it's well-deserved due.

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