Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pikmin ~Seed 1~ Introducing the Gamecube, Miyamoto's Habits, and Reveries


My college work schedule is finally winding down..time to get this thing started!

It is 2001.

The next generation of video games had begun to seep in. Sega's Dreamcast, the first combatant, was announced to be discontinued. Famously known to the gaming masses as Nintendo's ultimate rival, Sega was doomed thanks to its practices of pouring money into ill-fated console peripherals and failed hardware launches, and the once mighty company was relegated into a third-party developer. Sony had launched its Playstation 2 the year before, and the system wasted no time in breaking sales records. Microsoft, new to the gaming world, was preparing its entry into the sixth video game generation with its Xbox, stated to be the most powerful system the world had ever seen.
On the Nintendo side, things were looking up. The Nintendo 64 was breathing its last, but not before releasing its swan songs in the form of the innovative, lively Paper Mario, and the shocking Conker's Bad Fur Day. The Game Boy Color was still selling steadily thanks to the explosive success of Pokemon Gold and Silver, and was set to enjoy one more year of popularity. The Game Boy Advance, its successor, was slated for a summer release complete with remastered ports of classics Super Mario Bros. 2 and Rayman.

And then you had, of course, the Gamecube console. Nintendo's main combatant.

This writer recalls very little of what Sony and Microsoft had presented the E3 Expo during that year, as he was quite occupied with what Nintendo had to show off. Luigi's Mansion had been designated as the launch title for the Gamecube, symbolizing Luigi's big break in a starring role. Metroid Prime was to revive the legendary Metroid franchise with a first-person perspective, a decision that had mixed, yet passionate reactions from the fanbase. Star Fox Adventures was to ground the Star Fox team for land-based combat on Dinosaur Planet, and at the time was a graphical marvel. Third party content such as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2 impressed the media, but the biggest surprise came with the announcement of Sega developing for the Gamecube platform with a new title in the form of Super Monkey Ball and a port of the Dreamcast's Sonic Adventure 2.

A favorite memory, and what will always be the main star of the expo in many ways for yours truly, was the announcement of Super Smash Bros. Melee. Trailers and screenshots depicted Nintendo's all-star cast, characters who I had grown to know and love for the past three years, in 128-bit glory and ready to throw down with each other. My fanboy senses were stroked with each piece of news, rumors, and screenshot. I was flipping out as my mind went wild with possibilities of new characters, modes, and levels. Who would be in? When would it come out? Whatever the case, I was sure I had found the equivalent of the Messiah in my life.

Man, I just had a total nostalgia bomb.

Then we had this.

My thoughts were synonymous with the rest of the gaming populace: What in the world was this?


Shigeru Miyamoto, the man responsible for Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, is acclaimed and hailed as a genius by gamers everywhere for not just his vital contributions to the video game industry, but for his signature ability to think outside the box (a technique that some might suspect is second nature for him). Who would have, for instance, deduced that the most successful video game character would be a plumber who wields superhuman strength and fire magic, yet possesses an affable, friendly outlook on life? Innovation and creativity are without a doubt Mr. Miyamoto's most enduring attributes, and is the exact reason as to why Nintendo games don't just appeal thanks to their strong gameplay, but for their abundant artistry which fuels the imagination.

Perhaps his greatest strength, however, stems from his desire is to always make sure his games are comfortable and accessible to every facet of the gaming culture. The entire structure of Super Mario Bros., for example, was tailor-made to the budding game market. While the game was still incredibly hard, the mechanics found in the first set of levels made sure the player could easily figure out what was going on and always made sure they could spring right back after a Game Over. Thanks to these two elements, the man can seemingly get away with any game he wants.

It should not come as a surprise, then, that many of his creations were born from his hobbies.

During his transition to the expanded market, Nintendo fans have picked up an amusing pattern of our whimsical developer. His famed explorations into forests and mountains as a child served as the inspiration for The Legend of Zelda. After welcoming a dog into his family and taking the Sheepland to training classes, he pondered the idea of an interactive puppy simulator. The end result was 2005's Nintendogs on the DS. While taking part in his family's effort to get healthier, he came up with the concept of the smash-hit Wii Fit while standing on his scale, curious about how he could include health control into a video game. Even his familiarity with the guitar led to the controversial release of Wii Music.

While gardening, he came up with the concept of Pikmin.
Without a doubt the big oddity of E3 2001, the outlandish concept of Pikmin befuddled journalists and gamers alike. The game's scenario involved an astronaut who, upon crash landing on a distant planet, enlists the help of mysterious plant creatures he dubs Pikmin to help him repair his rocket ship. The game was set to be in the Real-Time Strategy genre, a type of video game in which you control your troops all at once to utilize them immediately; as opposed to your normal strategy game, in which you intricately plan out each and every one of your moves, unit by unit. It was something people never expected from the Big N, but journalists who played the game's demos at E3 were delighted to find that the game oozed with Miyamoto's creative style, and while some didn't find it to be their cup of tea, many still gushed about his latest masterpiece.

Gamers watching the events unfold at home, however, weren't sure how to percept this new title. Bizarre concept aside, it was surreal to learn this title had originated from the noggin of Mr. Miyamoto himself. While he had supervised franchises such as Kirby, Star Fox, and F-Zero, gamers had long since associated him with Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. The game that had made him famous. Games that were permanently ingrained into Nintendo fans' minds as being on the top of the gaming pyramid. The games that were Nintendo.

And now you had a new game to contend with.

Many were split on this new title. Convinced that Miyamoto's killer app for the Gamecube was a cutesy flower game, embittered Nintendo fans foresaw Pikmin as further distinguishing Nintendo's then-unfortunate status as being a "kiddie" company. Others were more open to the title, delighted that Nintendo was branching out to new ideas instead of relying on their usual brand of tricks. Then you had those who simply shrugged the title off, looking forward to the shiny sequels for Smash Bros., Star Fox, and Metroid.

Being an exuberant nine year old boy, I was, of course, the last one.

But then came a trailer contained with Luigi's Mansion.


This is the Gamecube.

I remember many, many things about this console. A lot of these things are negative. I remember gaming sites criticizing the "gaming drought" (or lack of games) between the port of Sonic Adventure 2 and Nintendo's release of Super Mario Sunshine between the months of February and August 2002. I remember even the most loyal of Nintendo's fans bashing every one of Nintendo's releases, including said Super Mario Sunshine, Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. I vividly recall Xbox fanboys labeling the system as for kids and I got pissed off over that label a lot. People loved to hate on the console, and they were right about one thing: Nintendo's business strategies for the console didn't work, and it ended taking third place in the sixth video game generation.

But I didn't care.

I possess so many more precious memories of the Gamecube than I do of ill ones. I remember waking up to find my mom had already purchased it from Target. I remember my brother watching me play Luigi's Mansion with interest, asking me if it was better than Goldeneye. I remember worshiping Super Smash Bros. Melee for two years straight and the same was true for the entire population of the internet. I remember me and my friend Josh being obsessed over Sonic Adventure 2, especially with the game's Chao Garden. I remember diving into the euphoria of Pikmin's detailed environments, bringing a warm, nostalgic fuzz in my heart that I shared with only Nintendo games. I remember playing Super Mario Sunshine in New York City a week before the game launched. I remember hosting three towns at once in Animal Crossing, a feat that only served to showcase my absolute adoration for the game. I remember my mom playing Animal Crossing and Super Monkey Ball 2. I remember grasping the feeling of being a legendary explorer, exploring the ancient crevasses of Zelda: The Wind Waker and finally managing to fall in love with the fabled franchise. I remember trying to complete all of the missions in Kirby Air Ride, screwing over my friends in multiplayer mode as I did so. I remember laughing my head off playing Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, marveling at just how much the game touched me on an emotional level.

I remember the Gamecube itself. I remember worrying about how I was going to play with that funky controller, but was instead astounded at how comfortable it felt. I remember waking up every morning and the system was the very first thing I saw every day. The thing of the future was sitting on my bureau, a fact I thought I would never be able to get over. I would make my way over to the purple cube and caress it, staring in wonder at its compact size. I would press a button and the lid would pop open. To this day, it is the only system I know that has a smell.

In terms of sales and numbers, the Gamecube was the loser of the sixth console generation. It was anything but, however, in terms of innovation. The Playstation 2 and the Xbox made their point with guns, vulgarity, your typical RPGs, and football; all which had immense appeal to the American market. The Gamecube didn't follow with conformity. It brought Mario a water jetpack, it turned the world of Legend of Zelda into a breathing cartoon, it made us see through the visor of Samus Aran, and it grounded the Star Fox team. We rolled eggs, explored Wario's plunge into insanity, stared with awe as Sonic the Hedgehog became a common staple on Nintendo consoles, leaped into the movie screen and became a superhero, made plant creatures perform our every bidding, placed two racers on a go-kart, migrated into the forest with talking animals, and yes, even played with monkeys in balls.

Nintendo made a lot of mistakes with the Gamecube, and this was obvious even when I was a preteen. But it didn't matter. I loved the Gamecube not just because it was manufactured in the name of my favorite brand, but because everything on it was just so different than everything else. The system may have lacked DVD playback and a genuine online structure, but being enveloped into the beautiful, creative realm of Nintendo's outpour of innovation made those complaints essentially worthless. My huge respect for Nintendo hails from the fact they're not afraid to deviate from the norm, for better or for worse, and that's why I stand by them no matter how many mistakes they make.

There are an abundance of things I associate with the Gamecube. I could tell you what my favorite cartoons were. My favorite school memories. What I did with my friends. What I read in both books and on the internet. The stories I had created. The websites I had visited. My vacations. Even my favorite internet memes. The Gamecube represents so much to me that I could probably write an essay on it, but I only have room for one thing.

With the Gamecube, I remember childhood. And that is why it is my second favorite Nintendo console.


I wasn't too interested in Pikmin.

My exposure to the content from E3 2001 was thanks to a webpage known as Nintendojo, and I was focused on initiating a salivating assault upon the screenshots and trailers for Super Smash Bros. Melee. I was too accustomed to taking in monthly news of video games thanks to magazines such as Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly, but I suddenly had the latest news of Nintendo at my fingertips. It was during the midst of my Melee frenzy that I came across the title Pikmin. I thought the site editors had misspelled "Pokemon," but nope, it was a new game.

I took a brief stroll through the plethora of screenshots provided and thought the game looked mildly interesting, but the captivating allure of Melee and Star Fox Adventures made me forget about the quirky title, and traveled back to the frustration of making those Melee images load.

It is November 2001. The Gamecube had just launched and I was making my way through Luigi's Mansion. The game held me captive without a moment's rest and I took in the essence of the Gamecube, exploring every square inch of the game and the console's features. It was about when I was arriving at the game's end when I took a troll through the option menu that I found a trailer for Pikmin.

I was spellbound.

In print, the concept of amassing an army of aliens while fighting for survival against carnivorous creatures wasn't too engaging in print, but seeing Pikmin in action was a different story. The vibrancy and animation of the creatures and characters showcased were unlike anything I had ever seen before. And the setting...never before had I been blown over by how beautiful a video game had looked, and proved to be a powerful moment as just how far video games had come in terms of graphical prowess. And that music...

I watched that trailer over and over without pause, falling deeper and deeper in love with this mysterious oddball.

It was so new.

What had originally been born as a mild curiosity was transformed into a passionate craving. I needed this. On Christmas, my wish was fulfilled.

Pikmin has become one of the defining staples in my experiences with the Gamecube. In terms of creativity and the innovation I had long since associated with the console, nothing ever matched the eccentric, artistic levels experienced in this one game and its 2004 sequel, Pikmin 2. When considering Miyamoto's goals, it's clear the game's strategic gameplay is not nearly as accessible as a simple game of Donkey Kong and Wii Fit. But it doesn't matter. Much like Super Mario Bros., Pikmin is special in that it's flexible enough to be played however you want to . The game's structure, time limit, attributes, and goals all mesh into one game that, with practice, anyone can play by their own rules.

But Pikmin granted me a gift even more special that that.

When I first received the game, it was around that time that two special elements were born within me that eventually grew into my defining backbones for playing video games. One, as I've already introduced in my Kirby's Adventure Dreams, was nostalgia.

"As I began to explore more of Nintendo's history, whether it was indulging myself in Earthbound or visiting websites such as Nintendo Land, something strange was happening. The more I read about these famous games that I hadn't played, their impact and legacy became known to me. Whenever people would lovingly recall what they loved most about Super Mario Bros. 3 or Kirby Super Star, I could feel as if I right there in the early 1990s, sitting down and playing Super Nintendo, watching Doug, and reading comic books. I was feeling nostalgia from other people's perspectives...feeling nostalgia for games I had never played. For times I never experienced or lived in."

Its counterpart was just as special, and central to my experience with Pikmin.

"While to this day I still have not been able to find a name for it yet, on a retrospective scale it's virtually synonymous with nostalgia. When taken into consideration the wild imagination of a growing child, it wasn't long before I began absorbing the very world of the games I was indulging myself in. The wide, open worlds of Super Mario, Zelda, and Kirby enveloped me immediately with their combination of lively characters, engaging musical scores, and beautiful backgrounds that only gave a hint of the supposed paradise my idols lived in.

When I remember my childhood, I tend to relive in the feelings I had felt while experiencing my hobbies. I still recall the soaring reverie of playing a Kirby game, soaking in the beautiful atmosphere, whether it was rolling fields filled with flowers or beautiful carnival atmospheres with auroras hanging in the sky. When exploring the cave levels in Super Mario 64 or the aquatic preservation of Hyrule Castle in Zelda: The Wind Waker, I felt as if I was a solitary archaeologist, discovering the world's greatest long-lost treasures and somehow living to tell the tale. When I played Earthbound, I was reminded of an earlier urban culture long lost, complete with the eccentric townspeople, hidden treehouses, and quaint houses found only in books and cartoons. I took the atmosphere of every Nintendo game I had played and created mental simulations of them in my mind, reveling in the beauty of the worlds I had visited."

It was a form of special daydream that I cherished so much. I would stare into the open forests and oceans of Pikmin, feeling as if I was exploring a whole new world separate from mine. I still feel it. It's not as strong from when I was a child, but I still feel it. It was around the very same time that Melee and the Super Nintendo's Earthbound and Kirby Super Star also contributed their own versions of these reveries. But for Pikmin, it was the core experience. It's something I can't really imagine the game without, and to me will always be central component of the game itself.

This is something I've wanted to discuss ever since I've started the blog.

For my Pikmin Seeds, these will be my goals.

-Going over how well Pikmin works with its creative gameplay structure, despite being short.

-Explaining just WHAT those aforementioned reveries are, how they were essential to my experience with the game and how they still make an impact on me today.

-how friggin adorable those Pikmin are.

-To be finished by either the end of May or (very) early June. Expect seven or eight posts.

Man, do I want Pikmin 3 already.


So, a couple of announcements.

-You won't be seeing Pikmin again for a week or two. I'd like to get all school-related work out of the way (college ends on May 9th) so I can concentrate entirely on this. To make up for it, though, the next post will be a new "Games I've Been Playing" involving Pilotwings Resort and Street Fighter VI!

-I did mention a new feature would be arriving this month, but unfortunately it'll have to be put on hold. Unfortunately, the tsunami of work that swamped me last month left me unable to get it off the ground and of the future posts I had in mind, it was the only one I could halt. It's not quite dead, however, and I do have some plans for it in mind. I'll give you a shout when it happens!

Seeya in week or two.

1 comment:

  1. I loved my shout out...Animal Crossing --->Rhoda!!! LOL!!!