Portable Pikmin is partially pleasurable and partially ponderous.
Nintendo hasn’t been shy about bringing many of its most beloved characters and game series to the 3DS, sometimes dramatically rethinking them to fit the limitations of the handheld system. This is the case with Hey! Pikmin, a spin-off of the fan-favorite Pikmin series that takes the army-amassing, tossing, and goodie-collecting real-time strategy gameplay of Pikmin and reworks it into a 2D puzzle platformer. While it does an admirable of transplanting the inherent charm and cuteness into a smaller package, Hey! Pikmin’s lack of challenge and slow pace make it far less memorable than the real-time strategy games that came before.
In Hey! Pikmin, we find the always-adorable and misfortune-prone Captain Olimar once again in a heap of trouble on an unknown planet. His ship has crash-landed, and in order to repair it he’ll need to collect virtual heaps of a MacGuffin substance called “Sparklium.” Compounding that simple and cliched situation is that Olimar is nearly defenseless: all he has is a loud whistle and weak little jetpack that can only be used for a few seconds – he doesn’t even have a weapon. Fortunately for him, this world is teeming with cute and colorful pikmin: helpful little plant-like beings which Olimar can gather, toss, and use for a variety of purposes like attacking enemies, bashing down barriers, protection from pitfalls, and even conducting electricity.
Most of the puzzles Hey! Pikmin puts in your way aren’t terribly taxing.
You’ll find pikmin lurking throughout the fascinating and dangerous alien wilderness, and if you whistle at them with a somewhat awkward screen-tap you’ll summon them out of hiding and to your side. Throwing pikmin around using the stylus is key to solving many of Hey! Pikmin’s puzzles: since pikmin can be pitched over to places you can’t reach, they can attack enemies while you remain at a safe distance, pick up distant objects and collectibles, or trigger various stage gimmicks like opening platforms and pulleys. That said, most of the puzzles Hey! Pikmin puts in your way aren’t terribly taxing, and only a few require some thoughtful throwing or consideration of the various pikmins’ special abilities, particularly the “Secret Spot” stages scattered throughout.
But before you can become and expert pikmin pitcher, you’ll need to get used to the unusual control scheme, which bears some similarities to the updated Pikmin 3 stylus controls. You move Olimar with the circle pad or D-pad and use the stylus to aim and throw pikmin, as well as whistle and use the jetpack. It feels pretty good once you get the hang of it, though it can strain your arm after a while, especially if you’re using one of the heavier 3DS models. (You can also move Olimar with the face buttons if you’re left-handed, which is nice, but given that stages are mostly left-to-right scrolling your hand will be blocking a lot of the visible screen.) The control scheme is novel but it’s also restrictive, as Olimar himself is slow and doesn’t have a lot of movement options.
That might not sound so bad for a puzzle platformer that isn’t focused on combat or carefully timed jumps, but it’s a pretty big problem here for pacing reasons. Hey! Pikmin is a game that really wants you to replay levels, whether to find passages to hidden stages, grind for more Sparklium, or discover the hidden treasures in each stage. The problem is, these stages simply aren’t fun to play more than once. It’s neat to explore and see each stage’s gimmicks the first time, but Olimar’s slow, limited movement makes repeating sections of levels feel plodding and tedious because it takes far too long to get back to the specific areas you want to revisit. Even worse is when you trudge through an entire level to reach a certain point only to find that you don’t have enough pikmin in your posse to go where you wanted to or pick up a certain item. Fortunately, Nintendo has a solution for that in the form of a Pikmin Amiibo: use it to instantly summon four extra pikmin anytime for the low, low cost of another $13. (It is a pretty nice figure, though.)
Making the prospect of repeating lengthy levels even less exciting is Hey! Pikmin’s overall lack of challenge. Even though Olimar himself is incredibly weak, the majority of the stages are a cakewalk and the big bad bosses have laughably easy-to-read patterns that made their climactic battles feel totally toothless. Some of the hidden stages have more interesting gimmicks and hazards, like autoscrolling sections or areas with rising and falling water, but it still doesn’t raise the overall challenge level by very much. You’ll likely breeze through Hey! Pikmin if you simply pay attention to your surroundings and learn the abilities of the different-colored pikmin. The challenge comes from finding hidden areas and treasures – but again, it’s just not fun to replay the levels more than once. Plus, if you do mess up and Olimar’s health drops to zero, a dearth of checkpoints means you have to replay quite a bit of the stage to get back to where you were when you collapsed. For the same reason that replaying a level isn’t much fun, that’s not exactly an exciting prospect.