Translating a 3D series into a 2D puzzle-platformer is a big risk, and it’s easy to imagine the result feeling like a watered-down spinoff at best. Yet Hey! Pikmin is anything but diluted. It’s out here doing its own perfectly pleasant thing.
I’ll admit I initially approached it with some trepidation. At a time when the itch for first party Switch games hasn’t been completely satisfied, taking the traditionally console-based Pikmin franchise to the 3DS had me unsure.
The dramatic change in style felt like another potential red flag. Hey! Pikmin is unavoidably different from the games that preceded it, but not in a way that makes the experience feel cheapened. If anything, the newly flattened-out approach is a flattering fit for many of the basic Pikmin mechanics that have been carried through.
Things kick off with a minor cataclysm. Professional Pikmin wrangler (and series mainstay) Captain Olimar crashes and damages his spaceship, so rather than collecting fruit to fuel it he has to gather a resource called Sparklium in order to repair it and restore his own abilities. Sparklium is contained in small amounts in little baubles peppered throughout the world (or stockpiled, in the case of the game’s bonus stages) but the best sources are the little relics of human life that are slightly more well-hidden, and slightly more challenging to snag.
In the pursuit of these treasures, Olimar’s actions are limited to walking, climbing up short ledges, and using his jetpack to get a boost when needed. So, as per usual, his best way of interacting with the environment is through the use of Pikmin.
Pikmin come in five familiar flavors here, and knowing when to switch to what type is as crucial as ever when it comes to solving puzzles in the environment. Red Pikmin are good with fire and heat while blue Pikmin are best with water. Yellow Pikmin can handle electricity, but can also be launched much higher in the air than their counterparts. Rock Pikmin, meanwhile, excel at shattering rocks and crystals, and pink Pikmin can fly and slow Olimar’s falls. All of them can retrieve objects for him of course, or be tossed at looming (and often hungry) enemies.
Because his ship is out of commission, Olimar can’t haul his own stock of Pikmin from area to area. Instead he has to gather them when he arrives, which means that players are generally working with small numbers of Pikmin at a given time — usually around a dozen. Controlling them is also streamlined. As in previous Pikmin games, they can still be called back with Olimar’s whistle, but clusters of them can’t be directed en masse. Since these 2D levels are much tighter and the puzzles typically favour precise solutions over brute force, these changes feel more like a natural fit than a loss.
That said, the controls can take a little getting used to. Players use the circle pad to direct Olimar and the touchscreen to aim Pikmin and interact with the UI. I never shook my habit of trying to button-through screens even though the buttons do absolutely nothing. I also found supporting my 3DS with only my left hand awkward. It wasn’t exactly untenable or uncomfortable, but I caught myself hooking the pinky finger on my right hand underneath the 3DS just to make it feel a little more stable when using the stylus.
Between levels, the Pikmin that Captain Olimar rounds up go to the Pikmin Park. There they’re set to work clearing debris from a series of partitioned areas, gradually (and passively) uncovering more Sparklium for the restoration effort while the player leads Captain Olimar elsewhere.
Since its Gamecube days, the Pikmin series has been known for its charm and character, and Hey! Pikmin lives up to that. Although the daily diary entries are absent, logs are kept with in-fiction descriptions cataloguing every enemy, ever ally and every treasure encountered from a naive alien point-of-view. These are easily ignored if a player isn’t interested, but I definitely enjoyed dipping in here and there. New mechanics (and new hazards) are also frequently introduced through lighthearted Pikmin pantomimes. These vignettes steal the focus and slow the moment, helping to maintain the game’s relaxed pace and its playful attitude.
The art only reinforces this attitude further. Hey! Pikmin’s world is realized through beautiful, softly illustrated backgrounds that make exploring feel a bit like moving through the pages of a hidden object picture book. Although the contrast between these backgrounds and the 3D models can be a bit stark at times, I found the overall effect very pleasant to look at in the exact same way that such picture books often are. They’re just such carefully crafted, delicately realized things, to the point that actually solving a page is only half the fun.
And much like picture books tend to do with their page layout, Hey! Pikmin takes advantage of every bit of screen space available. Instead of reserving one screen for the action and one for UI elements and tools, both screens are used to display a tall, vertical column of the level. Learning to pay attention equally to both (and to pay particular attention to what’s going on overhead) is key to solving levels and retrieving all the hidden treasures.
In truth, getting used to that may have been the most challenging aspect of playing.
Hey! Pikmin doesn’t set out to punish players. It’s not particularly difficult, nor does it require too much backtracking so long as players are thorough and don’t act too impulsively. When I think about areas where I struggled or felt frustrated, it was usually when I felt a cutscene in Pikmin Park was taking a little too long, or when I destroyed a bunch of obstacles without noticing I needed to leave one behind so that I could reach a treasure just overhead. Those looking for intense head-scratchers may be underwhelmed by what this game has to offer, but frankly the laid-back difficulty level suited me just fine. It hit a personal puzzle-game sweet spot where I never had to stop and think about a solution long enough to feel stupid about it, but couldn’t just breeze past every single thing without consideration either.
Hey! Pikmin did exactly what it needed to do, without extending itself any further. It gave me a series of interesting places, a series of clever puzzles, a series of cute vignettes and soft storybook scenery. The worst thing to say about Hey! Pikmin is, simultaneously, a recommendation — it’s perfectly pleasant, well-rounded, and didn’t leave me dying for more.
Hey! Pikmin was reviewed using a pre-release retail copy provided by Nintendo of America. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.