Poor Captain Olimar can’t catch a break. Seemingly on the same planet as before, the protagonist of the Pikmin series has lost his way yet again in Hey Pikmin. As the series’ debut on the 2DS/3DS, it's significantly different than the GameCube and Wii U iterations, but still uses the core game play of throwing adorable little Pikmin creatures at things to solve problems.
Hey Pikmin is very much a side-scrolling adventure that uses a lot of the basic mechanics of the earlier games to decent effect. Like most 2D platformers, the levels are chock-full of shiny things to grab, but you’ll get most of those by throwing Pikmin at them. Olimar can collect objects himself, but the levels are generally designed to put your little plant helpers.
While the original Pikmin games focused on the diminutive astronaut gathering various types of Pikmin to find the lost parts of his crashed spacecraft, he’s merely after fuel this time around. That fuel, Sparklium, comes in nearly any form--whether it’s the myriad golden acorns spread across levels or strange alien artifacts spread across the world. Everything Olimar and the Pikmin uncover helps him reach his goal of collecting 30,000 units of Sparklium.
For the uninitiated: Pikmin come in different varieties, each with their own strengths. Red Pikmin are tough and invulnerable to fire, Rock Pikmin can destroy heavy obstacles, Yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity and can be thrown extra far, Blue Pikmin can swim, and Winged Pikmin will catch Olimar and float him safely to ground. Unlike in other Pikmin games, however, you only use the Pikmin found within an individual level instead of collecting them in a repository and turning them loose as needed.
Hey Pikmin's levels are very puzzle-oriented and offer plenty of hidden secrets, such as areas only Olimar can reach, hidden exits, and several high-value treasures. However, Olimar can’t jump like most other platforming heroes; he instead uses a jetpack that you upgrade over time, allowing him to briefly fly. This lets him overcome gaps, but only the Winged Pikmin can follow him during flight.
Hey Pikmin offers no pressure-packed time constraints--and, until the final world, the vast majority of the game is a breeze to conquer.
His only other action is blowing his trusty whistle to call Pikmin. While Olimar is controlled via the D-pad, analog stick, and even the face buttons, all other actions are performed by tapping the touchscreen. This, however, is unwieldy. While tossing Pikmin by tapping the direction you want them to go makes perfect sense, using the jetpack can be frustrating when your tap doesn’t register or you accidentally toss a Pikmin instead (especially if it’s into a hazard). It’s not a huge problem most of the time, but it never feels natural.
A bigger issue is the overall difficulty level of Hey Pikmin. The game is divided into eight different areas, each with around five main levels (counting a boss fight), along with multiple secret and amiibo levels. In direct contrast to the earlier Pikmin entries, however, the game offers no pressure-packed time constraints--and, until the final world, the vast majority of the game is a breeze to conquer. Even the pattern-based bosses are easily vanquished, and normal foes go down with little effort. While some maps contain clever navigation elements, most levels aren’t hard to traverse even for Pikmin neophytes.
Hey Pikmin feels as if it’s directly aimed at a younger audience. That said, even if the game is easy, it’s still absurdly amusing. Each level has a couple of cute interludes of Pikmin antics, and the little buggers are just fun to watch. The impressive graphical quality shines on the 2DS and 3DS and looks very much like its console counterparts. Goofy enemies look fantastic, the levels are detailed and lush, and it’s just a beautiful, colorful game. The final boss, in particular, is a high note.
Outside of the platforming levels, Hey Pikmin also has a Pikmin Park. This is where all the Pikmin you rescue during a level go. The park is large, and it’s divided into several zones--each of which has treasure that can be mined with specific types of Pikmin. The more Pikmin, the more quickly they mine treasure in the park. The only interaction here is tapping on a type of Pikmin, then on a location in the park, so it’s a cute-if-superfluous addition to the gameplay.
The aforementioned amiibo levels can only be accessed with certain figures, but they’re disappointingly simplistic. Usually, it’s a tiny level with a straight run to an in-game version of the amiibo you scanned. Amiibos give you a hefty sum of Sparklium, though, and even non-supported figures bestow some treasure, so it’s worth using them. The actual secret levels range from clever puzzles to treasure-dropping minigames where you must gather as much falling treasure as possible while on the clock.
Overall, Hey Pikmin retains a lot of what makes this series great. The terrific character and art design, fun flinging action, and lovable Pikmin and wildlife all work well on the small screen. However, anyone expecting the surprisingly unforgiving nature of the main series will be shocked at how simple this is in comparison. That might not be a terrible black mark on Hey Pikmin, but it’s a little disappointing.