I’ll Pik minimum work over maximum backache

Pikmin (2002)

So how do you know when you’re old? You could go off physical signs, but they can be misleading. After all, unexplained pains in muscle and joints? I’ve had them all my life, or at least since I turned 18. It tends to happen to me only after nights out, which only adds to the mystery.

But in reality, although I read about people turning 30 and suddenly getting all kinds of aches and pains, I just have to wonder how decrepit they are. What, do we all just collapse past a certain age? I don’t know, I’m in my 30s now and I feel fine. Having grey hair is another obvious symbol of elderhood, but again, I’ve confounded follicle science by having greys since I was 15. And you could never accuse me of being 16 going on 60, could you?

A sign of one’s impending senility, one that I had always truly feared, was that weekends would no longer be fully dedicated to a lie-on of ungodly length, followed up by a massive fry of a Saturday, or roast dinner of a Sunday. You hear people who get older, who pretend that they’re still somewhat competitive, and they talk about how they now love getting up early on the weekends because it gives them so much more time to do everything.

How is that a win? You’re happier because you’re putting your sweat, back and eyesight into a thousand DIY jobs, or unblocking the toilet for the millionth time? When did you become such a square? I don’t bother with any household tasks or DIY or any of that lark, because I know that it will never end, there’ll always be something new to get done.

Best to just abdicate your duties early, say to your missus when she looks pleadingly at you to unblock the toilet, “no no, that’s not for me” and get yourself a quiet life. If you think I’m a lazy good for nothing at this point, and you want to tell me that there is merit in doing things around the house, then I’ll counter by asking you to take a look outside at your own garden.

That is of course, assuming you’re unlucky enough to have one. You could live in an apartment or a flat and be sitting pretty, here. If you’ve got a garden though, you’ll find it worse than any needy child you could have spawned. It’ll be down to you to mow it, assuming your mower hasn’t given you yet another problem to fix. There’s also weeds that spring up from nowhere that’ll need some of your precious spinal fluid to combat – it’s a lot easier dealing with them in Animal Crossing, put it that way.

If you want to go down the fancy road of having flowers and well-trimmed bushes to make Mr. Jones next door feel bad, then that’s a heap of effort too, and it’s never just a one-and-done sort of thing. You’ll need all kinds of pruning, mowing, trimming, strimming and God knows what other tools as well just to keep on top of all this, so it won’t be cheap. Without tools, you’ll just have to go in and get your hands dirty, at least once a week.

So where will you find the time? Well, it’s the same predicament little Captain Olimar has to face in Pikmin for the Nintendo GameCube, an early title for the console that typified everything about the experimental stuff Nintendo were trying in the early noughties.

There was nothing safe about your beloved franchises on the GameCube, you know. Fancy some Mario? He’s got a water jetpack in a tropical environment. You like Zelda? You’ll eventually get Twilight Princess, right at the tail-end, but for now here’s Link looking like a cat in a cartoon. Metroid fan? Here it is in 3D, and somehow it works a treat. If you wanted safe, you had to go to Game Boy Advance. On the eclectic purple cube, though, anything went. 

Hence Pikmin, a game which famously came straight from the brain of the man himself, Miyamoto, when he made the colossal error of moving to a new house with a garden (an almost unheard of luxury in Japan, by the sounds of it) and was fascinated at once by the wee colonies of ants he found outside, how they all worked together to carry objects and complete tasks. Well, the Japanese like industriousness, don’t they?

The character you play as, Olimar, is generally useless – I’ll give him a bit of slack since he’s just crash-landed onto a strange planet, but all he can do is scurry about, and he can also use a whistle if things really get hairy. But otherwise he’ll need to rely on his newfound friendly army of colourful stick insects, the native Pikmin themselves, to round up all of the parts of his ship and get off the planet. He’s only got 30 days to do it, too, because oxygen is poisonous to the poor bugger and his breathing tanks won’t go forever. Talk about a waste of annual leave.

With the Pikmin, though, this isn’t your classic symbiosis. They will look to you for every little thing, you had best direct them well because the Pikmin AI can and will jump into water that they absolutely can’t handle, and they’ll tend to follow a set course regardless of any large enemies up ahead. Whenever there’s a bit of a fracas, they’ll usually take some time to gorge themselves on sweet nectar, rather than fighting back against assailants that are in the process of crushing their fragile frames into the hard ground.

But that’s just what you have to remember about the Pikmin, and it’s the whole spirit of the game: they will follow every one of your instructions to the letter, and without question, so make sure never to lose your cool under pressure. I may have been left completely open-mouthed when a Yellow Pikmin threw a Bomb Rock right at me in the middle of a brouhaha, but he only did it because I mistakenly told him to. There’s no Private Pyle Pikmin in this game, at least I’m sure of it.

The short length of those 30 days means that you’ll be hard-pressed to spend that day doing more than one major task. Well, micromanagers will be at home doing it, but slackers like me, bare-minimum merchants, we are going to struggle. It can sometimes mean a frustrating, forced hiatus on your progress as you take an occasional day out to spawn more Pikmin for yourself, so that you’ll be fully prepared for the next day. It almost feels like an RPG grind at times. Not always a bad thing at all; I know I’m well used to it. But you don’t want to get yourself stuck in a grind when the days are only 13 minutes long.

I did establish earlier that you will end up with plenty of time for the whole playthrough, and that you really needn’t worry about the time limit. But on your first couple of runs, you have no real way of knowing how much time you’ve got to grow Pikmin, and how many of each type you’ll need in their habitats, the Onions, and how many you’ll need with you on the field – something that could hinder the less patient gamer.

Now, I’ve never felt that a high difficulty curve was a fair thing to beat a game with, but you’ll need to be strategic, prepared and methodical in this game, lest you lose scores of Pikmin in an instant to a small puddle of water or to an enemy’s fiery breath. One wouldn’t consider the game difficult but you’ll need to be switched on, because the clock won’t stop for you after the first day and there’s no shortage of work to be done.

With a total of 30 spaceship parts in the game, one might expect an evenly distributed number of parts per area, but actually there are only five areas, two of which contain only three parts between them. Although this doesn’t mean a compromise in the size and scale of these areas, it does mean that the bulk of the game is really only spent in three zones, which can feel a little limited.

For a game intended to show the powers of the GameCube, a couple more environments shouldn’t have been too unreasonable to expect. But then, it’s a frightfully alien planet, I can’t blame little Olimar for not wanting to get his toes too wet, can I?

Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot to do after the main game. At some point during the single player action, however, you’ll unlock Challenge Mode. It’s a fun though not particularly meaty mode where you try to grow as many Pikmin as possible in one area in one day – good for those of us who arbitrarily love to watch numbers go up.

At least that represents tangible progress, something to work towards and be proud of. A little bit better than constantly weeding and mowing and groaning in the garden, let’s say. Old duffers like myself and Miyamoto, we’re not dumb – we know going out there in the garden is, all said and done, a foolish errand. Better to get yourself a garden simulator instead, and I reckon little old Pikmin might be the best one out there.

14 June 2022

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