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Odd Game Cube Title Proves Positively Addictive

Pikmin Packed with Fun

by Jim Bray

Nintendo's Game Cube may not be the most technologically advanced platform on the market, but if the game Pikmin is any indication it certainly has the fun factor down pat.

At first glance, Pikmin didn't seem particular interesting, but after playing it for about fifteen minutes I was hooked and have since "lived through" its 30 day adventure twice. To no avail, as it turns out; despite the fact that I had it set to the easiest setting I still came nowhere near to finishing my task before time ran out.

Guess I'll have to go at it again.

The concept is relatively simple: you're Captain Olimar, an astronaut whose ship has crash landed on an alien world populated by strange but cute creatures you call Pikmin. You're relatively helpless and powerless except in your ability to command these unusual critters, who appear more than happy to do your bidding even if it means they're being sent into extremely dangerous situations.

Which is great! This means you can use the Pikmin to do your dirty work - and there's plenty of dirty work to be done.

Your task is to find the missing parts of your spaceship and reassemble them in time for you to blast off before your life support runs out in 30 days.

Pikmin are expelled from a water tower-like structure called an onion, and upon hitting dirtside they're planted into the ground and sprout like some kind of weird vegetable. Once sprouted, you can pull them up like harvesting carrots, and the happy little Pikmin follow you around like agreeable puppies until they die or are released by you.

You can control up to 100 Pikmin at a time, and there's plenty of opportunity to sprout more Pikmin as you go - and you'll really, really want to sprout as many as possible because you'll discover that these little creatures are nothing if not disposable.

They're also quite task specific: red pikmin are capable of withstanding attack by fire (and you'll need that!), while yellow ones can be thrown higher and can lob bomb rocks at barriers or enemies (and, if you aren't careful, themselves and you), and blue ones are the only ones that can swim. Unfortunately, while you meet up with the red ones (which are great as your primary cannon fodder) you have to discover the whereabouts of the yellow and blue ones' onions as the game progresses.

Periodically as you gather together pieces of your ship your search area expands, opening up new virtual vistas for you to search. Each of these has its peculiarities (for example, The Forest Navel is very dark and infested with some particularly nasty enemy creatures while the Crash Site and The Forest of Hope have plenty of opportunity for sprouting large numbers of Pikmin).

In my experience with the game (which as mentioned has been lots of fun but not particularly successful) you'll want to revisit areas even if you've already collected all the ship parts from them, if only to replenish your supply of Pikmin so you can unleash them on other areas.

The game action is easy to figure out and there are plenty of helpful hints that pop up on screen periodically. They can be repetitive, but you can click through them quickly.

Unfortunately, you can only save the game at the end of a "day." This is better than nothing, but I wish you could save any time, particularly just after you've retrieved a piece of your ship but before you do something really stupid just after that.

Oh well, I guess that's part of the challenge.

The graphics are good, and you're given a variety of views and camera angles to use, though I wished you could get even higher so you could see missing parts that might be up high or over a rise more easily. Fortunately, there's a map you can bring up to help guide you to your various destinations.

And don't be fooled by the map: sometimes it indicates a missing spaceship piece that, when you get to the area where it's supposed to be, still isn't visible. This is generally Bad News, because it means the piece is either inside or under the control of some horrible creature that's going to require sprouting more Pikmin to replace the casualties when you're done.

Pikmin is cute, extremely and annoyingly addictive, and a lot of fun.

And one of these days I'll beat the darn thing!

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006