Review – Pikmin 1 (Switch)

For years I have wanted to understand the fuss behind the Pikmin franchise. I had never played a mainline game in the franchise before this particular Nintendo Switch re-release, shadow dropped right after the latest Nintendo Direct. My previous knowledge about it stemmed from a mediocre 3DS spinoff, and Olimar being a playable fighter in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. That was it.

I have always been curious, though. How is this franchise still going strong, getting a sizeable amount of sequels, spinoffs, and even mobile outings, never selling gangbusters, while other iconic Nintendo franchises such as Star Fox and F-Zero are treated like black sheep by Nintendo? Does Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Pikmin, treat this franchise like his baby, being the reason for those games to receive sequels to this day? Are they actually hidden gems I have been missing out for the past twenty-two years? I mean, Tinykin, a game inspired by Pikmin, was awesome, so I guess Pikmin had to be good, right? Well, time to give this game a go on the Nintendo Switch and see if I was missing out on something special.

Pikmin Buttons

Welcome to the planet where numbered buttons grow on flowers… and can be used to generate aliens.

First things first, please understand that this version of Pikmin, as well as Pikmin 2, is not a remaster. If you want to pick this game up, expecting it to be an updated version like the Switch version of Metroid Prime, forget about it. This isn’t even a remaster. Barely anything has been revamped. This is, by and large, a mere upscaled port of the GameCube version of Pikmin, released a few weeks after the launch of the system way back in 2001. There are no motion controls, no textural upgrades, no 60fps. Anything I liked from this game was an achievement based on how well it has aged, but the (many) issues I have had with it are also a consequence of its age and original design ideas.

So we are off to a bad start even before the game begins. Even though this is my first time with Pikmin, it doesn’t take a lot of logic to come up to the conclusion that a game like this, inspired by real-time strategy titles, works best with any kind of motion controls that emulate the feel of a mouse cursor. Nintendo knew that well enough, and did add motion controls to the Wii port of Pikmin. The remaster of Metroid Prime also had the option to use motion controls to aim, if you wanted to. This is not present in this port, and that’s a terrible shame, because I don’t think this control scheme works well, at all.

Pikmin combat

Pikmin taught me that numerical superiority is more important than knowing how to guide your troops in battle.

You control both Olimar and the cursor to direct the pikmins with the left analog stick. It never feels ideal. It’s a clunky design choice, even for 2001 standards. The GameCube had two analog sticks, and the camera isn’t exactly complex enough that couldn’t have been mapped to, say, the D-pad or the L and R buttons. The fact you have a button to bring the cursor back to Olimar is a clear statement that Nintendo knows this damn thing doesn’t work as well as it should. You can get used to it, sure, but it’s very janky. Although, the fact that the game itself isn’t hard at all, despite throwing you a countdown timer, does mitigate things a bit.

The gameplay loop itself is… serviceable. You walk around a small map, look for small icons to take back to your base, and generate more pikmins to act as your mindless servants. At least until you have enough of them to destroy whatever obstacle is blocking your path towards the next piece of your broken ship. Then try to grab as many pikmins and parts before the day is over. Make your servants retreat back to their onion-shaped base. A new day begins, keep doing the same until you unlock the next area. It is simple, and despite the countdown mechanic (you only have thirty days before you die of oxygen poisoning, grim as hell), the game is not hard. The puzzles are simplistic, and almost everything can be solved by just bringing enough minions to get the job done. Pikmin teaches you that brute force is the best strategy.

Pikmin Olimar

I clearly did all the work. Don’t pay attention at the unpaid workers behind me.

After one single playthrough, which will clock at about seven hours, there is little incentive to replay this game. What you see is what you get. For the ludicrous $30 price tag, this is just too much for a game that has received no improvements whatsoever. This game also basically dictates that we should stop waiting for the GameCube online service that will never happen. It’s just easier to sell a barely improved port for a pretty penny instead. I know nothing had ever been stated about a GameCube library before, but considering how hard it is to legally get a hold of the criminally overlooked games of that console’s criminally overlooked library, it saddens me to know we’ll have to keep on buying breadcrumbs at a premium for the foreseeable future.

Pikmin graphics

Man, those textures did not age well.

For better or for worse, this is now the easiest and most practical way to play Pikmin, and figure out why has this franchise managed to stand the test of time for so long. I particularly didn’t understand the hype. To me, Pikmin is average at best. It’s a game that has aged poorly, especially when it comes to these dated controls. The fact this wasn’t even a remaster, but a bare bones upscaled port of a game from 2001, certainly didn’t help. It did nothing to fix its many issues, nor did it receive improvements in its visuals, audio, or performance. It can be fun for a while, and having yet another (costly) way to have it preserved for the future is nice, but I certainly am not enamored with the franchise after playing it. I’d rather just stick to Tinykin.


Graphics: 7.0

A cute art style with some adorable animations. But let’s not mince words: it’s the same game released in 2001, just with a bump in resolution and its aspect ratio. Nothing else has been touched, and while it still manages to look somewhat decent, it does show signs of age.

Gameplay: 6.0

The control scheme designed for this game isn’t a great way to adapt a real-time strategy gameplay loop onto a controller. Even if the gameplay loop is decent, the controls never feel intuitive.

Sound: 6.5

The soundtrack is calm and serene, but it’s not the most exciting I’ve heard, especially for its time.

Fun Factor: 7.0

It’s a practical way to play a fan favorite. A fan favorite that has aged considerably over the past 22 years. This version does very little, if anything, to mitigate those age-related issues, mind you.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Pikmin is available now on GameCube, Wii, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.