One of the more common complaints you'll hear from Nintendo ex-fans is
that the Big N hasn't made any new franchises in a very long time. For
evidence, critics often point to Super Smash Bros. Brawl,
the game that has become a showcase for iconic Nintendo characters past
and present, and correctly note that none of the game's playable
characters are from a franchise created after 2001's Pikmin.
You'd think the one game that celebrates the whole history of
Nintendo's creations would put some recent stars at the forefront, and
yet there are none.
There's a point to be made there, but I don't think it's that Nintendo isn't creating new experiences. Nintendo has been delivering unique titles all along, but skinning them with familiar faces in an effort to grab the mass-market that buys based on brand name alone. It's a practice that probably went into full swing after the amazing success of Super Mario Kart, a racing game that could have been released with the image of any other combat-focused racer and nobody would have ever thought to liken it to the Super Mario series. Nintendo found a way to make the racing formula mesh with a beloved franchise and exploited the mustached plumber's image for instant brand recognition on a whole new product. It wasn't long before every Nintendo character became a pitchman: the ever-adaptable Kirby was a given, and other Mario-verse mascots like Yoshi and Wario weren't stretches either, but even seemingly untouchable characters like Samus and Link are now lending their images to genres that only vaguely fit into their traditional roles.
Enter DK: King of Swing on the Game Boy Advance in 2005. The game could be categorized as a platformer, but the focus on running and jumping had shifted to climbing and swinging, using the system's shoulder buttons. King of Swing received enough positive reviews and sales to spawn a sequel, DK: Jungle Climber, for the Nintendo DS in 2007. Like many hardcore gamers, this game launched well under my radar, but I recently gave the game a shot. Is the stigma of a spinoff warranted, or will I see something new underneath the same old monkey business?
Pikmin is the brainchild of Shigeru Miyamoto, released for the GameCube in 2001. It's a real-time strategy game starring a horde of plant creatures and a tiny space traveler. You control Captain Olimar directly, leading around the mini pikmin that come in three different colors. The goal is to collect 30 ship parts in 30 days. Now I am generally annoyed by timed games, but I finished it on about my 20th day with every piece, so don't feel rushed for time. The pikmin serve as Olimar's willing slaves as they carry each piece back to his ship while sacrificing their lives in front of giant ladybugs and fire breathing snouts. It's kind of sad when you think about it. Well, can't dawdle on that too much. Pikmin 2 was also released for the GameCube and Pikmin 3 is announced for the Wii. Olimar rolls on with his minions in tow.
Pikmin is a GameCube real-time strategy game set in what could be someone's backyard and featuring a large cast of inch tall plant creatures (and you thought it couldn't get weirder after last week's Katamari Damacy). Basically, our hero is Captain Olimar, a space traveler who gets stranded on the Pikmin planet. His ship is in thirty pieces and scattered across a few different levels, but Olimar only has enough life support to last thirty days. The only way he's going to get off in time is to recruit the Pikmin's help in gathering his ship parts back together. And thus, our story begins.
Pikmin did pretty well and received a sequel a few years later. Nintendo also recently announced Pikmin 3 for the Wii, so the series will keep on growing. Pikmin originally caught my eye because it was Nintendo's first original series for the Gamecube (well, if you don't count Luigi's Mansion) and was straight from the mind of Shigeru Miyamoto. Well, let's play the first hour of Pikmin.