Space World 2001 Hands-onPikmin

We get some time with Nintendo's simulation game for the GameCube.

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At Nintendo's press conference today, we had a chance to play an 80-percent complete build of Pikmin for the GameCube. First shown at this year's E3, the title puts you in control of an alien who crash-lands on a planet full of lush vegetation, poisonous gases, and dangerous creatures. Thanks to his dramatic landing, the little fellow must collect the parts of his spaceship that have scattered everywhere. On his travels, he meets the locals, multicolored creatures called pikmin. A simple folk, the creatures are quiet and take orders well, which is just what a lost alien needs.

Following a short intro that sets up the action, you'll find yourself in control of the space-helmet-wearing lead character. The game's first stage starts you off in an enclosed garden area. Surrounding your spaceship are yellow and blue structures that resemble spiders and large daisies. You'll find what appear to be leaves coming out of the ground. If you approach them and press the A button, you pull the nearest one out of the ground. Items can be fed to the spider structures, which create more pikmin to interact with. After the items are absorbed by the structures, they are converted into pikmin seeds that you can hatch for more pikmin. Once you have a small army, you head for the enclosed area's exit, which is blocked. In order to get through, you'll have to direct your pikmin to attack the door, which eventually collapses so you can pass into a larger outdoor area. Once there, you'll come across other creatures and hazards, which would very much like to kill your character. Fortunately, your pikmin are quite handy when it comes to fending off impending death. The corpses of their kills can also be fed to the pikmin, spouting structures to house even more of them.

Visually, Pikmin was one of the better looking GC titles on tap today, sporting rich visuals and good lighting effects. The main character was well detailed if a bit low-key--his most prominent feature was his transparent space helmet. The pikmin followed the same aesthetic, offering plain models whose most distinguishing attribute was a quail-like appendage on their heads ending in a leaf. The creatures terrorizing the pikmin were cartoonish, with big eyes and mouths, but they fit the feel of the game well.

The gameplay mechanics in Pikmin take a bit of getting used to, but they work very well in the context of the game. The goal of the first level is to retrieve a part of the spaceship and to do it before nightfall. An onscreen meter across the top of the screen tracks the passage of time to keep you aware of how quickly you should move. The control in the game worked well. The pikmin were basically issued orders through the A and B buttons. The A button launched the pikmin at enemies and objectives, and depending on the situation, they would either attack or carry what they were shot at. When a single pikmin or group of them are carrying an item or enemy back to the cenral area, their movement follows a cursor that you control. In other cases, if you launch your pikmin at certain spots on objects they perform tasks. For example, a group of pikmin launched at an incomplete bridge will finish construction on it and allow you to access a new spot in the level.

Pikmin looks interesting and presents gameplay that has an original, yet almost insantly familiar, feel.

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