While he may only look like a bald, pudgy bloke in an ill fitting spacesuit, Pikmin hero Captain Olimar clearly has the "it" factor - that certain something that makes all the
girls Pikmin hang on his every word. All he needs to do is blow his whistle, and the strange flower people will be buzzing around him quicker than you can say "Olimar's one of the worst Smash Bros characters". While we can't understand what they see in him, we never understood the Millifans thing either - and at least in Pikmin, the strange cult is useful for something.
Hey! Pikmin marks the series first outing on the 3DS, and takes the much loved semi-strategy game in a very different direction. Played from a side on perspective, using only the console's analogue stick and Touch Screen, Hey! Pikmin is a side-scrolling adventure that sees the ill fated delivery man Captain Olimar crash land on yet another strange planet. Being only the size of a thimble, what follows is a quest through the undergrowth and shrubbery of a mysterious world, as you do your best to avoid getting eaten by the many giant enemies that roam the land, and try to find enough collectibles across the game's 50-ish levels, in order to repower your spaceship.
Of course, as a diminutive spaceman whose legs are so tiny he can't even manage to jump, you ordinarily wouldn't last long on your own amongst the foliage - which is why it's lucky you're not alone. Shortly into each level, eagle eyed explorers may notice a few distinctive leaves sticking up from behind a rock or tree stump - and if Olimar flaunts his body (OK, really he just blows his whistle), the Pikmin will spring forth, ready to help however they can.
A race of benevolent plant-like creatures who are more than willing to throw themselves at enemies and brick walls alike, in order to help someone they've only just met, the Pikmin are essential to making your way through each of Hey! Pikmin's often very puzzle based levels. Making full use of the 3DS's dual screen set up, you'll find that as Olimar can't jump himself, you'll often need to fling your Pikmin up the screen to explore the higher ground, as you figure out a way to get around the game's many obstacles. From pulling down platforms for you to climb, pushing heavy objects that Olimar can't shift on his own, or gathering bits with which you can build a bridge, you'll need to heavily rely on your Pikmin if you want to make it through each stage - and they're always happy to oblige.
With some refined controls, taking control of your Pikmin army is nowhere near as complex as on other Pikmin games. Using your stylus and touching the Touch Screen will bring up a targeting reticle, while letting go will fire a Pikmin head first at whatever happens to get in their way. Touch close to Olimar, and you'll only lob them a short way - press nearer the edge of the screen, and you'll basically be breaking the sound barrier, as you fling your Pikmin often well beyond the screen, and into the unknown. Tapping rapidly lets you lob your entire Pikmin troupe in short succession, which is essential for taking on the tougher enemies you encounter...
However, as important as your Pikmin are, they're also rather weak, and it doesn't take long for your maternal/paternal instincts to kick in. It's not so bad when you're just chucking them around the screen to pull down platforms - but as soon as an enemy pops up on screen, you'll want to draw your brood close. With enemies often being two to three times as tall as you, and as Olimar can't attack enemies himself, you'll need to fling your Pikmin at them if you want to get by - and sometimes, that can be a recipe for disaster. Throw your Pikmin at a large enemy, and they'll stand on top and start stamping it to try and defeat it - but when the enemy responds with a quick shake of its back, and sends your Pikmin flying, all it'd take is a quick stamp from the enemy, or a scoop with its mouth to decimate half of your team (and the noise the Pikmin make when they die is pretty harrowing too - not to mention the little ghost that floats up). Luckily, you can draw your team close by pressing the whistle icon on the Touch Screen, but even that's not a fail safe - we've lost track of the number of times we've started flinging our Pikmin at an enemy, only for it to sit there, open its mouth, and simply wait as its dinner comes to it...
Luckily, though, there are always plenty of Pikmin around, meaning that those who play their cards right will be able to amass a large team, while those who regularly commit Pikmin genocide will never be without the little guys for too long. There's also several different types of Pikmin for you to play with, which you can again switch between using the Touch Screen. Red Pikmin are fire resistant; yellow can bypass electricity (and also are light, so can be flung higher); blue can go underwater; rock Pikmin are burly; while winged Pikmin can fly - and although the game gradually introduces them, you'll need to make use of multiple types of Pikmin to survive the later levels.
So there's a lot of things Hey! Pikmin gets right. The puzzle based gameplay is almost perfectly paced, with the right mix of combat and problem solving to ensure things never get boring. The fact each level has three well hidden collectables also ensures there's plenty of replay value here, while the secret passages that some levels contain - which lead to entirely new, secret levels - give you plenty of reason to go back and explore some more (especially as you'll often need to have a pretty much perfect run, with a full squad of Pikmin in order to access the hidden locations). But Hey! Pikmin has one big problem. Its performance.
We reviewed the game on an old 3DS XL (the Smash Bros version, if you're interested) - or, in terms of hardware, the variety that the vast majority of people reading the review will own (not the New 3DS, or the New 2DS, which have slightly improved hardware, with marginally more processing power). And sadly, here, Hey! Pikmin seems to really struggle. While the cutscenes work fine, the second you get to take control, the game starts to chug, with a noticeably juddery frame rate. And while for the most part, the game's playable enough, there are times when things get much, much worse. At one point, our Pikmin squad got divided into two by a badly placed ledge, and the game seemed to barely manage a handful of frames per second (to put that into perspective, games usually manage 30). We were genuinely concerned that our 3DS was about to crash, or overheat, which should put into perspective quite how bad it was. Sadly, it's not an uncommon occurrence, and while the vast majority of the game is playable, if juddery, the general performance issues really let the game down, especially when they affect the gameplay.
This isn't the first time a Nintendo game's had performance issues on the 3DS - Pokemon Sun and Moon were similarly affected, albeit to a much smaller extent - but it does seem a lot less understandable in Hey! Pikmin. This is a 2D game, without much in the way of complex 3D models or lighting to worry about, and while there can often be over a dozen Pikmin on screen at once, even they aren't all that detailed. There have been much, much better looking 3DS games than this, and yet for some reason, the performance here is really lacking.
While we haven't been able to test the game on a New 3DS or 2DS, we have heard that the game still suffers from performance issues there, even on the newer hardware. As such, it's hard to know what to really give Hey! Pikmin. This a great game, and one you can have a lot of fun with, let down by sloppy execution, with a frame rate that's juddery at the best of times, and which does occasionally render the game all but unplayable. While you can work around most of these instances (keeping your Pikmin team together helps a lot), you shouldn't really have to. While there's a chance this sort of thing could be fixed in a patch (and if it does, feel free to add an extra star onto the score), Hey! Pikmin is a really clever game, yet one that shouldn't have been released with performance issues quite this bad on the original 3DS.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS