Hey! Pikmin review: Pik-Pocket

When it was first announced that Hey! Pikmin would be a drastic departure from the Pikmin series’ regular, 3D puzzle-strategy gameplay, many fans felt some trepidation over how it would turn out. I can confidently assure you there’s nothing to worry about here; though different from the previous instalments’ gameplay style, Hey Pikmin manages to develop and bring its own unique character to the Pikmin franchise. If you’ve never played a Pikmin game before, don’t stress: The plot is straightforward and simple enough for even newcomers to enjoy the premise, and being a spin-off, the game itself is fairly standalone.

Hey Pikmin begins with Captain Olimar finding himself yet again stuck on a foreign planet with the goal of collecting Sparklium to enable his trip back home. He quickly finds out he’s not alone, as he discovers familiar-looking Pikmin and other not-so-friendly creatures. Olimar is able to use his whistle to collect the Pikmin, who have different passive abilities depending on their colour, then throw them onto platforms and enemies to solve puzzles. This control set up felt a bit awkward (you move Olimar with the circle pad whilst controlling Pikmin with the touch screen) but it was easy to get used to once I started playing through more of the levels.

The majority of the game’s puzzles don’t require an enormous amount of thought thanks to the game’s gradual difficulty curve; generally,. Most of the puzzles are a combination of throwing Pikmin onto platforms to collect an item or turn a switch, using the whistle at the right time to ensure your Pikmin’s safety, manoeuvring around elemental hazards, and using Olimar’s jetpack to scale small ledges. These puzzles won’t prove drastically challenging once you’ve grasped the basics, but the combination of these mechanics can make the levels significantly more challenging if you’re going for full completion.

Each level has three collection objectives to fully clear it: Finishing the level, finding all three key objects, and not losing a single Pikmin. I only had one gripe with this aspect of the game: If you’re aiming to complete every map objective, it can get frustrating having to restart after losing a single Pikmin accidentally. Otherwise, the difficulty curve is smooth, and it’s very easy to understand and grasp the mechanics. The Pikmin that you collect at the end of each level then get moved into Pikmin Park, where you can set different types of Pikmin to overcome map challenges and win you more Sparklium and treasure. Although you unfortunately can’t do a lot with Pikmin Park, it’s mesmerising to watch the cute little guys picking grass blades or running in circles.

My favourite thing about the game, much to my surprise, was the soundtrack. Each level and overworld has a theme that fits the ‘alien world’ theme to a T, with a mixture of active and more ambient tracks that are all relaxing (except for the boss themes). It’s definitely a game to play with the volume up, just so you can get the full ‘eerie but somehow peaceful foreign planet’ experience. The log of items you’ve collected and seen is also surprisingly fascinating, with Olimar’s curious and amusing commentary on Earth’s household items contributing to the game’s universe lore.

Hey Pikmin is a solidly enjoyable game that’s very cute and satisfying to play. Though I didn’t find any significant gameplay flaws, the game itself isn’t hugely innovative or fresh like its predecessors; it provides fun puzzles and collection goals, but that’s about as far as the gameplay goes. If you’re a fan of the Pikmin series or you enjoy 2D puzzle platformers that aren’t too strenuous, I think you’ll definitely get some good play time out of Hey Pikmin for 3DS, even if you’ve never played a Pikmin game before; and if you are a fan of the series, this little gem will satisfy your need for Pikmin action until we see the eventual release of Pikmin 4.

Miitopia review: Swords With Friends

Miitopia is a new addition to Nintendo’s line of games featuring its Mii avatars. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s never made a Mii before, whether on their own console or playing Wii Sports on the family Wii over a decade ago (feel old yet?). Most recently on the 3DS, the Miis appeared in Tomodachi Life, which offered the opportunity to put the Miis of real and fictional people into hilarious and unexpected situations together; Miitopia follows on from this. Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to put four of your best friends together as characters in an RPG? Perhaps even your favourite cartoon characters, or maybe you’ve wondered what it’d be like to party up with celebrities to kill an evil overlord? If so, Miitopia could be right up your alley.

Miitopia begins with a basic fantasy plot with a bizarre twist. It’s your job to defeat the Dark Lord, who has been using magic to steal the facial features from citizens all over the land, putting them on dangerous monsters. As the hero of your story, you (or whichever Mii you decide to make the main character) must kill these monsters in turn-based RPG combat to restore the facial features to their rightful owners. In case you couldn’t already tell, the game itself is a fairly light-hearted take on the fantasy RPG genre, making it enjoyable for both younger players and older gamers looking for a fun — and frequently silly — experience.

The customisation of characters in Miitopia is where the game’s charm lies. Assigning a variety of Miis to roles, as if casting roles in a play, can lead to some hilarious and bizarre narrative implications. While you play, you could have the Great Sage Kanye West watching over you, working together to defeat the Dark Lord Michelin Man, provided you’re able to make the Miis for such an absurd situation. If you’re more creative, you could even use your own original characters, making the experience your own personal fantasy narrative. As you can imagine, the possibilities for a wacky RPG adventure are significant, which I thought was a pretty cool premise – after all, it’s rare to find a game that will let you do what Miitopia does.

In terms of gameplay, Miitopia is simple and straightforward. The map exploration itself reminded me very much of Streetpass Quest; in fact, if Streetpass Quest and Tomodachi Life had a child, this game is what would result. In the overworld, you can choose a section of the map to advance through, after which exploration starts. Your party moves through the map automatically, chat bubbles appearing over their heads to show you what they’re talking about; true to life, my own Mii wouldn’t stop talking about how hungry and tired she always was. If you’re not happy with the Miis in your game, or just want to add your own, don’t stress. You can change the Miis of townspeople and story characters in the menu at any time.

Eventually you’ll run into random encounters where you can control your Mii in simple turn-based combat. You learn new skills and abilities over time, though combat strategy is nowhere near as involved as larger turn-based RPGs such as the Final Fantasy series. Towards the end of maps, you can find inns, where you can rest up, feed your party food to increase their stats (as in Tomodachi Life, Miis have set likes and dislikes, which can prove frustrating when your cleric will only eat attack-boosting Goblin Ham). They can also rest to boost their relationships, causing them to perform better in combat together, and you can spend your hard-earned gold on new items and food. Afterwards, it’s back to adventuring.

After a while, combat and exploration can become somewhat repetitive; there’s nothing you can really control during map exploration until you hit a random encounter, and you can’t control party members during combat outside of your own character. Thankfully, the party AI isn’t bad, and it’s unlikely that your characters will pass out from your cleric or chef not doing their job, but it does remove a layer of complexity that would make combat skills more relevant. The auto battle feature is great for times when you want to play while doing something else, but also makes the game feel unchallenging; over the many hours I played, I didn’t lose a single auto-battle, making me feel like there wasn’t much point to even turning it off. Then again, it’s hard to lose when your only combat choices are to attack or use restoration items. The game’s lack of complexity is both a benefit and a drawback; though easy to get into and play, especially for a younger audience, it lacks gameplay depth that would help to prevent it from stagnating. Also, as a lot of the game’s novelty relies on having Miis you’ll find fun to play with, it’s easy to imagine Miitopia’s appeal being lost on those who haven’t opted in to the Mii phenomenon.

For what it is, Miitopia does a great job. If you’re looking for an expansive, grand RPG adventure that wants you to min-max stats and equipment, this might not be the game for you. If you’re looking for a cute, fun and lighthearted game with a lot of amusing, fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, you’ll find an enjoyable experience in Miitopia. I couldn’t stop smiling every time I picked it up to play for one reason or another, and my other friends who played it really enjoyed sharing their screenshots of some of the amusing situations our Miis ended up in. As long as you’re not expecting a grand adventure with considerable gameplay depth, Miitopia is a colourful addition to the 3DS lineup that’s worth checking out.

Metroidvania Returns: Hands On With Metroid: Samus Returns

Samus Aran’s place in the Nintendo lexicon is well known: the protagonist of the Metroid  series has appeared in many genres, but basically invented the side scrolling exploration platformer. While in later years we saw her appear in first person and whatever Other M counts as, there’s a reason “Metroidvania” is still used as a descriptor for many games released even today. So with that in mind, it was an interesting experience to play Metroid: Samus Returns, the ground up remake of the overlooked GameBoy sequel to the NES classic.

Firstly, let’s just clear up what you want to know: it plays very much like a “traditional” Metroid game. It is a side-scrolling “Metroidvania” exploration platformer, which will be a welcome return for a lot of fans. The setting and design, while rendered in 3D, capture the feel of the series very well, however with a few additions from the later 2D outings. Ledge grabbing from Fusion makes an appearance, wall jumps from Super are in and 360 free aim is available while holding L, removing a lot of the frustrations of the early games. The touchscreen acts as a quick toggle for weapons and Morph Ball, and Samus handles well on the 3DS’s stick, albeit a little looser than you might be used to on a D-Pad.

As mentioned above, the visuals in this one are rendered in 3D, a departure from the sprites of the other side scrolling titles in the series. While it definitely lacks the “charm” of the older artstyles, it does a decent job at reimagining it in a new way. The enemies look familiar, Samus herself moves with fluidity and the Chozo artifacts all maintain their own style. In the version we played, even the 3D movies looked impressive, though as per usual my eyes could only take 3D for a limited time. Either way, you can sense the effort that has been taken to realise the game in the frame of the series: Yoshio Sakamoto, a core influence to the Metroid series, was absent from Metroid 2’s original release, and seems to have taken great pains to bring his unique take on the series to this remake.

The only concerns with the game are somewhat obtuse and easy to dismiss. The game now has a “Scan” ability, tied to an expendable energy bar. With it, all “hidden” blocks in a certain range are highlighted, making the “exploration” a little more straightforward. Of course, it is entirely optional on whether to use it, and it still requires you to have the instinct to know where to look and how to access said secret. The more concerning point is around amiibo functionality: the new Samus and existing Smash Samus figurines will unlock an energy tank and concept art, so no great loss. However, the Metroid amiibo unlocks “Fusion” mode, a more difficult version of the existing game with Samus donning her suit from the Fusion game. While the game ships with a “Hard” difficulty setting, effectively paywalling the Fusion mode purchase behind a limited physical item is a very slippery slope to look down.

Those concerns aside, everything about Metroid: Samus Returns seems to be a great addition to the series. While a simple re-release of the Game Boy original would have been welcomed on Virtual Console, the effort that Nintendo have put into bringing Samus Returns into the modern franchise is noticeable, and leaves a good impression that an important chapter in the canon will be treated with enough care to make it worth a look come September.