As rumors of the long-awaited Metroid Prime Trilogy Switch port ebb and flow, another Nintendo series remains desperately due for a similar HD trilogy package deal. Shigeru Miyamoto’s singular Pikmin franchise is a quirky and inimitable game series that at once brought real-time strategy games to consoles and kids alike. And while Pikmin 2 may be the largest and most daring, and Pikmin 3 the most gorgeous and refined, the original Pikmin laid the groundwork for the cult favorite series as a Gamecube launch-window game back in 2001. In anticipation of both the confoundingly-long-teased Pikmin 4 and the unannounced (and perhaps nonexistent) Pikmin HD Trilogy, I will be swarming the original Pikmin to analyze its design level-by-level. In this entry, I will examine the game’s first level, The Impact Site.
At the very start of Pikmin, Captain Olimar’s spaceship is struck by a meteor, thirty pieces of it scatter across the world below and Olimar crash lands at The Impact Site. With only thirty days before the planet’s poisonous atmosphere kills Olimar, he must scour the surrounding areas in hopes of finding his missing spacecraft parts before time is up. Fortunately, he soon stumbles upon an Onion that lays a seed which sprouts into a Red Pikmin. Over the course of this first day, Olimar assembles a team of at least twenty Red Pikmin, which he uses to carry his engine back to his ship.
Like many levels in Pikmin, and the first levels of subsequent Pikmin games, The Impact Site is a small, grassy region reminiscent of a quaint suburban backyard garden. It is a non-threatening space, typical in many ways of the first level of a Nintendo game: brightly lit, minimalist, and almost immediately comprehensible. Unfortunately, the game’s blurry textures have aged poorly, and most of the area is defined by smeary greens and browns that shine a light on how much the series benefited by Pikmin 3’s move to HD graphics. Here, despite the innovative setting, almost nothing stands out aesthetically amidst the bland backdrop.
The Impact Site is essentially one small field with some surrounding tree stumps, one of which Olimar can eventually climb up to access a small beachy area with some water. Its tiny proportions allow the player to make instant sense of its space and how it fits together, but it leaves little room for the series’ signature exploration and Metroidvania-like ability to travel back with new abilities to access different parts of the map. Furthermore, movement through the map is extremely linear with there ultimately just being one path forward that leads in a small circle around the map’s perimeter. In terms of Pikmin map design, this is as simple as it ever gets.
However, this barebones simplicity allows The Impact Site to accomplish its primary goal: acting as a safe tutorial space and home base. Upon first visiting the level, the total lack of enemies and obstacles allows the player to practice Pikmin’s novel controls in a non-threatening space. Meanwhile, its incredibly tiny size ensure navigation won’t cause any concern, and that the player can come to grips with some of the game’s inadequacies, such as its sometimes too-dynamic camera, imprecise throw controls, and poor ally AI. Indeed, compared to Pikmin 3, the core gameplay in the original Pikmin feels slow and clunky, and combined with the inability to precisely direct Pikmin as a swarm as well as the game’s overarchingly drab art, simple actions like climbing a ramp without losing any Pikmin can be a daunting task. But having this safe space at the start of the game allows for the player to get used to some of the game’s idiosyncrasies, and the lack of a time limit on the first day helps ensure the player won’t feel the pressure of the ticking clock as they ease themselves into the game. Furthermore, the player can find pellets aplenty upon subsequently returning to the level, making the level the safest and most efficient spot to farm Pikmin.
As the first Pikmin type in all three games, Red Pikmin are arguably the quintessential Pikmin. Invulnerable to fire and excellent in combat, Red Pikmin are less defined by their abilities as other Pikmin are defined against them. This is especially true in the original Pikmin, as The Impact Site doesn’t even feature any fire to allow the Red Pikmin to prove their invulnerability. In terms of ship parts, The Impact Site features the Main Engine (earned on the first day) and the Positron Generator, accessible after discovering Blue Pikmin. While the Main Engine serves an important narrative role, allowing Olimar to fly to the game’s second level, neither piece tangibly impacts gameplay. And since there are only two parts, the player only has to return one after the first day, making this the region many players will likely spend the least time in.
The Impact Site features no enemies upon first arriving, but on subsequent days the player can find Iridescent Flint Beetles, which pose no threat and further establish this area as the place to grow your Pikmin army, and Pearly Clamclamps, which are a clever idea but can also be frustrating to fight since it can be difficult to quickly and accurately throw Pikmin and call them back in this game. There are also two optional bosses that appear on the tree stump starting on Day 8, Mamuta (who appears on even days) and Goolix (who appears on odd days). Since Mamuta can’t damage Pikmin, the battle against him is one of endurance and repetition. Though an intriguing idea and an interesting design, he adds little to the experience. Goolix’s watery amoeba-like shape provides a bit more of a challenge, but bombarding the nucleus with Blue Pikmin will lay him to rest shortly. Neither boss plays out as beguilingly as they look, which is unfortunate because each is a clever and unique concept.
As a whole, The Impact Site is a fairly characterless area that achieves little beyond its primary goal of acting as a safe space. With only two ship parts the level only lasts two days, and the player can easily miss out on its two bosses, both of which are ridiculously easy. Featuring only one normal enemy that can deal damage, an incredibly small map, generic art, and an incredibly linear layout, The Impact Site amounts to little more than a baby-proof closet for Pikmin newbies to learn the basics.
For deep dives into other levels from Pikmin, as well as levels from other classic Nintendo games such as Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, click here.