Let’s Talk About the history of Pikmin

 A series nothing like Mario.

This Friday, October 30th, Pikmin 3 Deluxe will hit the Nintendo Switch. This niche Nintendo franchise is finally getting its due on Nintendo's most recent and very successful hybrid console and will introduce many new players to the series. In case you're interested in Pikmin 3 Deluxe, how it plays, for example, I recommend you to download the free demo available on the Nintendo EShop. It's a fun experience and a wonderful introduction to the game. However, there's more to Pikmin then that demo tells you. Pikmin is almost 20 years old by now and there are a lot of big and small tidbits about the franchise that not even its most diehard fan knows about. So, I thought that it would be interesting if I compiled may of those titbits and wove them in with a piece on the history of Pikmin. What was the inspiration for the franchise, how did it evolve over time and what might its future be?

So, without further ado, let's dig in shall we?

 

Pikmin has its origins in a GameCube tech-demo from Nintendo Space World 2000. This demo, built from assets created from multiple builds for a Super Mario 64 sequel under the name of 'Super Mario 128', was developed to show off the consoles processing power. Think of brand new gameplay mechanics for example. In the demo, a large Mario spawned increasing numbers of smaller Mario's, independently walking across a circular board, until the number of onscreen Mario's was 128. The terrain in the demo was manipulated, rotated, and spun like a floppy saucer to show the physics engine software. The Mario could also interact with the environment, shown off in them picking up and carrying away a set of blocks that made up a large 2D Mario.

At around the same time of this large Mario sequel project, a development team under the instruction of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of both Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, were working on a new brand new game. They were instructed by Miyamoto to make a game that "was nothing like Mario". Originally the developers had created the prototype for a game, using Super Mario 128 infrastructure as a basis which they called 'Adam & Eve'. The game would have been more like a civilization simulation game. The player would have guided 'Adam' and 'Eve' through the world, helped them survive and eventually build and manage a settlement. 

While 'Adam & Eve' matched the original idea the team had, "to see a bunch of small creatures doing something" this build of the game left them unsatisfied. It lacked both personality and direction they felt. Inspired by Miyamoto increasing interest in gardening at this time he suggested giving the game's characters a plant-based spin. After seeing the aforementioned mini-Mario's carrying the blocks in that demo build of Super Mario 128, the developers imagined their plant-creatures doing the same. The game had finally found its direction. Not everything the team made for 'Adam & Eve' was thrown away though, many concepts and assets were carried over like the Bulborbs.

In other words: the bulborbs actually pre-date the Pikmin series itself!
 

Eventually, the game evolved into the Pikmin we all know and love today: a strategy game in which the player controls a large group of plant creatures, the Pikmin, to complete objectives like finding treasure. It centred around the Hocotate Olimar whose spaceship crashlands on an unknown planet, whose oxygen-rich atmosphere is toxic to the brave little astronaut. This planet would later be named 'PNF-404', derived from the internet error code 'Error 404 - Page Not Found'. To rebuild his ship and escape the planet before his air supply runs out, Olimar enlists the help of the planets friendly inhabitants, the Pikmin. The Pikmin help Olimar fight off enemies like the Bulborb find (replacement) pieces for his ship. A very loud Geiger Counter for instance. 

Some fun facts about Pikmin 1 for you: there are multiple hints and nods to Mario in the game. Most prominently is Olimar himself. Not only does he share physical similarities with the famous plumber, short and stocky build with a large nose, brown hair and red as (accent) colour in name as well. His original Japanese name, Orimā, is an easy to spot anagram for 'Mario'. There are also Mario assets left in Pikmin 1's code, like a giant statue of Mario, but these can only be accessed through cheating and are more likely just unintentional leftovers from development. Still fun to know about though.

Nintendo had a lot of confidence in Pikmin, no doubt in no small part due to Miyamoto's involvement. This confidence led to quite a marketing push, especially in Japan. Nintendo released a song called 'Ai no Uta' featured prominently within the game's commercials and trailers. Interestingly enough, Ai no Uta became much more popular in Japan then the game it was created to promote. It remained came in and remained in the top 10 music charts for several weeks and buyable version even outsold the game with about 100.000 copies. But that's not all, Nintendo also bred an entirely new species of flower, based on the flowers found on the heads of yellow Pikmin, to promote the game. Never thought I'd ever write such a sentence but here we are. The flower, a member of the plant Genus Sutera, is a whole new breed called 'Bacopa Cabana' and is officially named 'The Pikmin Flower'. Google it if you want to know more, there are still a few places where you can purchase this flower and/or its seeds.

Pikmin was a mild success, moving over 1.2 million copies of the shelve world-wide enough for Nintendo to greenlight a sequel. Arriving only three short years after Pikmin 1, once again on the GameCube. Pikmin 2 was a very much an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' type of deal. There were tweaks made, but the game was largely more of the same. Returning to his home-planet, Olimar finds that the transport company he works for is in serious financial debt. After the souvenir he brought back from PNF-404 proves to be extremely valuable Olimar, together with his co-worker Luie (like in Luigi, get it?) are sent back to the planet to find more treasure (bottlecaps and such) to save the company from bankruptcy. The gameplay tweaks, along with what some improved AI and visuals, contributed to another strong critical reaction. Unfortunately, sales were lower than its predecessor and the title was hard to find in certain Western territories. You're still more likely to come across a 2nd hand copy of Pikmin 1 then Pikmin 2. It's hands down the hardest Pikmin game to find nowadays so if you're interested in playing it for yourself you've got quite the struggle ahead of you.

For those of you who do have Pikmin 2, there are a few Easter-eggs in the game that you might have never heard off. If you got exactly 20 Pikmin of each colour in your squad, for example, the Pikmin will start to sing 'Ai no Uta'. You know, that song from Pikmin 1's marketing we just talked about. Digging into the game's code also gives us a glimpse in some of the game's features and assets that never made it to the full game. Most prominently it shows that an eight type of Pikmin was worked on, but was scrapped in early stages of development. The only remnant of this Pikmin is an unpolished model found in the game's art assets. We know that they were orange and looked like carrots, but that's all we know about them.

The orange, carrot-like Pikmin hacked into Pikmin 2.

While received very well by fans and critics alike, Pikmin 2 did not sell all that way. Due to this, the Pikmin franchise was relegated to guest and cameo appearances in other Nintendo products for almost a decade. Instead of a Pikmin 3, the first two Pikmin games were brought over to the Wii under the 'New-Play' line which added motion controls. Aside from those two Wii ports, Olimar and Pikmin also appeared in Super Smash Bros. as playable fighters yes, but that's about it for significant stuff. The Pikmin made an appearance in Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour while mini-games in WarioWare Smooth Moves and WarioWare: D.I.Y also show them pop-up. There was also my personal favourite: when you initiated a system or data transfers on the 3DS or Wii U console, the Pikmin would carry the blocks of data from the old console to the new one. That's just adorable! they pop-up

After a few years of this and constant teasing from Miyamoto, Pikmin 3 was fully revealed during E3 2012. Launched on the Wii U the following year, Pikmin 3 continued to build on the foundations the original two games had but changed the narrative somewhat. Captain Olimar is no longer the playable character getting replaced in this role by three newcomers: Alph, Brittany & Charlie from the planet Koppai, a reference to Nintendo's original name 'Nintendo Koppai'. They travel to PNF-404 to find food to bring back to their home planet as its population is suffering from Famine. The mission becomes complicated when their ship crashes, scattering the three Koppaiets across the globe. The three explorers also find data-files left behind by Olimar and find that something much more sinister is afoot. 

The gameplay is once again largely the same, the game really only implements minor quality of life and convenience changes and two new Pikmin types: grey and pink. One notable change that has been made however is that you're now able to have multiple explorers out in the field at once meaning that you can now multitask. Managing multiple squads at once is a large part of the gameplay. There were even originally meant to be four Koppai explorers in the game but the number got cut down to three sometimes in development. The game was once again a critical darling but, in no small part due to the Wii U's small install-base, did not sell all that well. It sold well enough for the game to receive 3 DLC packs, mostly focused on adding new missions and co-op battle stages. Neat. Especially considering that many of these maps take place in more man-made areas, ruins and such, showing the developers experimenting with Pikmin's formula.

What's very interesting about Pikmin 3 in comparison to the first two games is the redesign that PNF-404 underwent. It's not uncommon for such redesigns to happen in-between games but what's so intriguing about this one, in particular, are the implications of it. The new PNF-404 has a striking resemblance to Pangea Ultima, a prediction of what Earth might look like 250 million years from now. If you put this together with things from the series that we've already discussed, the Geiger Counter that just won't shut up, the plethora of human and the ruins it all paints a bleak picture. PNF-404 is what remains of our dear little planet after a nuclear apocalypse. Miyamoto even said that PNF-404 is a planet were "humans are extinct" so it really isn't that farfetched of a theory!

Behold: the connection between PNF-404 and Pangea Ultima! Credit to whoever made this.

You might have thought that this would be the end. I discussed all of the Pikmin games, even highlighted a pretty dark theory about. Now it's time for the closing remarks about Pikmin 3 Deluxe and the much teased 'Pikmin 4'. Well, not quite. There is one more thing, a small little detour, that I want to at least mention. In between Pikmin 3 and its Switch re-release another Pikmin game saw the light of day: The Nintendo 3DS spin-off title: Hey! Pikmin. While it certainly has the charm of its console siblings people weren't all that pleased with it. Hey! Pikmin switches out the real-time strategy for a side-scrolling platformer. The game is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, it's just that the gameplay felt too far removed from the Pikmin series that many fans were put off by it. The lack of depth in the simplicity of the game's puzzles was also a problem for many. The game is still 100% Pikmin in many other aspects and the story is canon, so if you're a die-hard Pikmin fan it's still worth a look if you ask me.

..........

Pikmin is one of Nintendo's most unique properties. It has a unique charm that sets it apart. Its real-life strategy gameplay and attention to quality have always been lauded. While the franchise has never been a top performer, it isn't going anywhere soon either. Pikmin 3 Deluxe will arrive on the Switch only a few short days from now. A package that includes a new prologue and epilogue focusing on Captain Olimar and Louie, cooperative play in the story mode, the reintroduction of the Piklopedia, and all DLC. With the wonders a Switch release had done to franchises in the past, don't be surprised if Pikmin will finally manage to shake away its status as 'niche' and become more popular than ever before. With Miyamoto himself confirming that Pikmin 4 is in development, the future of this delightful series is looking bright.

Comments