Sunday, June 12, 2011

E3 2011: My Thoughts

Another year, another crazy E3! Sorry I'm late...having a bit of a blue weekend.

Anyway, it's obvious as to what we'll be discussing for today's post, so no external preamble is necessary. That said, I'll be splitting my opinions into several sections just like last year: What I Loved, What I'm Not Sure About, and What I Didn't Like.

Let's get it on!

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What I Loved

Five home consoles have defined the realm of Nintendo. The Nintendo Entertainment System established not just the company's entrance into video games, but many of their current key franchises. The Super Nintendo refined these experiences into what many label as the finest moments of Super Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and Kirby. The Nintendo 64 revolutionized gaming and was also designated as the ultimate party machine. The Gamecube chose to focus on innovation, and those that stuck with it were introduced to magical worlds not found in its competitors. The Wii not only continued this trend with motion controls, but bridged the gap towards the expanded market and ended up being one of the most affluent of Nintendo's family.

And now, we have a new family member that is made just for your needs.

Let's give a warm welcome to the Wii U.

Yes, that iPad shaped tablet really is the controller! Let's take a quick peek at the following trailer in order to make sense of this wondrous device.



The big focus is, obviously, on the controller. The rumors of a touch screen on it turned out to be genuine, as the screen can mirror what is happening on-screen. This has a number of uses, as seen when a game of New Super Mario Bros. Wii is shown to be seamlessly transferred to the controller. For example, if your mother wants to watch the television you're playing games on, you can switch your game over to the controller while Mom gets to enjoy an episode of Desperate Housewives. While there's no information of how long the wireless range can last, it's a guarantee that you can play it anywhere in the house!

Of course, the big question is how this feature will aid in gameplay. A great example includes the tech demo Battle Mii, which features characters in Metroid's Varia Suits trying to shoot down a spaceship. Helming the ship via the tablet controller, the player must strike back amidst the firing of his Wii Remote-armed friends, who use the television to hunt down their prey. Notice how the person wielding the controller has his own screen to navigate, while the hunters only play on the television screen. A similar game on an earlier platform would have been cluttered with splitscreens, but the Wii U succeeds by not just simplifying the TV screen, but adding an unlimited amount of potential for strategy! As the hunters scramble around trying to locate their target, the ship has the added element of stealth thanks to having his own private screen. Plus, with the reported confirmation of FIVE PLAYERS, one can only imagine where multiplayer games will be taken with this system.


The Zelda HD demo excels at not just presenting another use for the tablet, but hinting at the Wii U's graphical prowess. Details on just how exactly the console will be remain elusive, but various comments from developers hint of a superiority to the Playstation 3. Of course, we'll be able to get a much better look at next year's E3, which will no doubt have a healthy selection of games to be admired right before the system's launch.

Are there any blemishes to this announcement? Admittedly, the initial reveal caused momentary confusion, as they focused so much on the controller that they didn't even bother showing the system itself, leading many to wonder if the actual controller was the console. However, the only real concern regarding the Wii U itself is that only one of these tablets can be controlled at a time with the Wii U. While the system provides support of the Wii Remote (unfortunately, no Gamecube controllers :<), I can see fights breaking out over who will be able to play with the special controller. The controller itself, understandably, rose many eyebrows and raised questions on how not only games would be played, but on the topic of comfortableness.

While reports from the show indicate the controller fits adequately into the player's hands, the lack of any real games at the show fail to quell these concerns. That said, I don't necessarily think Nintendo's showed their full hand with this system, and again, I'm sure all will be made clear next year. If there's one thing the company succeeds at, it's always designed to make sure the player is not just comfortable, but suited for their needs (which, obviously, is the whole point of the system). I'm looking very forward to what Nintendo and the entourage of third-party developers have planned for the Wii U.

Since the Wii U featured only a small selection of tech demos, the 3DS and Wii stole the spotlight when it came to their lineup. Let's first take a look at the new handheld on the block.



Super Mario 3DS
is here!!! Perhaps best described as the two-dimensional version of Super Mario Galaxy, the undeniable influence from Nintendo EAD Tokyo's greatest hits are unmistakable (which makes sense, since they're both being made by the same company). While the game features the three-dimensional movement of its home console cousins, it features a more streamlined level design not unlike it's Wii cousins. It's no doubt an effort to appeal to the expanded market crowd that can't seem to understand the 3D Marios, and I'm curious to see how the title works.

..Tanooki Mario, though? Not that I have a problem, but I thought the tail in the logo hinted at the return of Raccoon Mario.



Kid Icarus Uprising once again arrives on the scene with an explosive trailer. Who saw the multiplayer segment coming? No one did, and I'm excited to try it out. The single-player again impresses, and the addition of the buff Magnus (along with the cutscenes) really shows Sakurai's dedication to evolving the world of Kid Icarus. If you own a 3DS and haven't downloaded any of the E3 trailers yet, at least nab this one! The 3D effect is amazing!

Unfortunately, I've been reading that the control problems from earlier presentations are still present. I've heard it's similar to the controls of Star Fox Command, which I didn't have any problems with but wasn't easy for everyone. Here's to hoping there's alternate control schemes.



The big announcement for 3DS came in the form of Luigi's Mansion 2! It's been ten years since the original title debuted as a launch title for the Gamecube, and the time has now come for Luigi to once again rid his fear of ghosts. To be honest, I was never really sure if Nintendo was interested in the idea of a sequel, considering the mixed reception the original had received. But, hey, I'm ready for another go. The concept looks as goofy as ever, but part of me thinks we'll have some new gimmicks to spice up the experience. Either way, I'm eager to explore the multiple mansions this sequel provides (they gotta include the original!).

Also, I can't get enough of the ghost at 1:07. Nyutnyea!

...man, ten years since Luigi's Mansion. I feel old.



Mario Kart 3DS goes back to the drawing board with more gimmicks: Hand gliders and Kart Customization! While Double Dash!!'s two-person kart motif was an interesting experiment, these have potential as being permanently new features of the series. While the hand gliders will no doubt sharpen the ramp jumping thrills of Mario Kart, the kart customization will no doubt have a big impact. Here's to hoping we have a system that emulates the deep variety of Mario Kart DS (speaking of which, nice to see the Luigi's Mansion and Airship Fortress tracks return from that title!).

Even more interesting that Retro Studios of Metroid Prime and Donkey Kong Country Returns fame is collaborating on the title! I knew those Tikis weren't just for show.



I WANT TO PLAY THIS SO MUCH.

You have no idea. Now, I loved Epic Yarn, but I am SO HUNGRY for a traditional home console Kirby game. AND IT'S THE FREAKING RETURN OF THE LOST GAMECUBE TITLE!!! AND...AND..KIRBY HAS NEW POWERS. AND AND AND ITS STILL FOUR PLAYER AND DUDE YOU CAN PLAY AS KING DEDEDE AND METAKNIGHT!!!!!

AND...and...even the little Waddle Dee with the bandana from Kirby Super Star's Revenge of MetaKnight subgame!!! And he's carrying a spear! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW AMAZING THIS IS?!?! And it has the enemies from Kirby 64! I'm getting Kirby 64 vibes! That's a good thing, right? Getting vibes from the first Kirby game you ever played! No, scratch that! You're getting vibes of Kirby 64 AND from Kirby Super Star!!!

I'M PLAYING IN FREAKING DREAM LAND AND THERE'S ALSO A KIRBY GAME COMING OUT FOR THE DS WHERE YOU GET TO PLAY AS A MOB OF SQUISHY BOUNCY KIRBIES SHABUBUBUBUBUUBUBUBUBUBU.JAHAHEGEHEGHHE AHAHAHHhEMEMEMEM BAUAUAUAUBUUBUBUBU AMAMEMEMEMEM mmmmmm

Ahem.

Fanboy raving aside, I'm glad to say that I've finally had my mind turned around with a certain title. Last year, I was incredibly unimpressed with the latest chapter of perhaps Nintendo's most prestigious franchise, and those feelings remained intact well into the trailer presented at this year's Game Developer Conference. Nintendo's continued focus on the Motion Plus controls instead of evolving this franchise was not what I was looking for, and the bland, unimpressive art style did not resonate with what I had previously associated with the series. In all honesty, I really came to expect to hate the title.

How wrong I was.


The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has finally risen from mediocrity!

As details have flooded in, it becomes clear that the latest iteration of Zelda is ready to refresh to the series with a clean slate. Skyward Sword accomplishes this by going forward with the earlier promise of detailing the land of Hyrule's origins, right down to even the characters. In this title, Link and Zelda live amongst a clan living in the aerial island of Skyloft. The citizens bear no mind to the enigmatic Surface beneath them, choosing to live out their days by jumping off the island and soaring the sky by riding on awesome birds.

The relationship between land and sky serves not just as an introduction to the early days of Hyrule, but an enthralling gameplay dynamic that's sure to evolve the series. Link's origins in the sky allow him to explore his new domain, as his unnamed bird companion guides him to the various islands suspending in the sky (much like the islands in the seafaring The Wind Waker). Of course, Link must eventually descend to the surface, ruled by the new villain Lord Ghirahim (who, as various animated GIFs have displayed, is an expert at nightmare fuel). As opposed to the various dungeon structure in the series' past, The Surface is actually one big dungeon that Link must repeatedly explore. Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata have expressed a desire to return to Zelda's old roots of exploration, such as when the player could accidentally stumble across a brand new weapon by bombing a cave wall.

Personally, I'm very excited for this reboot of Zelda. I can't help but notice how strange it is for Skyward Sword to reinvent the Zelda wheel, yet it's also going to reintroduce the characters, myths, artifacts and other concepts we're all so familiar with. Link? Zelda? The Master Sword? Hyrule? The Triforce? As The Legend of Zelda is undergoing the process of transformation, at the same time we'll be discovering the backstory of just how all of these elements came to place. Already the ninja squad of Zelda detectives are on the prowl, having penned down the parallels between the village chief in the trailer and the King of Hyrule. To this day, I have never once underestimated their deducing prowess.

The only iffy part about all of this? Well, to celebrate the arrival of orchestrated music into the series, Nintendo chose to hire an actual orchestra to play various Zelda music (including the Skyward Sword trailer music). It was actually an pretty awesome idea, but unfortunately the impact was dulled due to the various failures of the livestreams presented. Nintendo's own livestream on their website didn't even bother to produce sound, and the rest didn't zoom in when the Skyward Sword trailer had begun playing. Plus, they messed up their audio cues during Miyamoto's on-stage shenanigans. Whoops.

Overall, though, the title has more than made up for its previous presentation sins, and I'm now hyped for the title. The rest of Nintendo's lineup has proven that this is going to be quite an eventful year for the company, and I'm ready to dig in starting with the Ocarina of Time remake (next week!).
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What I'm Not Sure About

Well, I only really have one thing I'm not sure about. Believe it or not, it involves two titles that we haven't witnessed a single screenshot or trailer for; in fact, they're not even in development yet!

I suppose I should get the obvious out of my system: THEY'RE GOING TO MAKE TWO SUPER SMASH BROTHERS.

I AM NOT KIDDING YOU.

TWO.

FOR WII U AND 3DS.

TWO OF THEM.

EEEEYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGGGAHAHHHR!!!!!1111

And yet, I remain apprehensive! But why?

I want to make absolutely one thing clear: I love Super Smash Brothers. I absolutely adore the concept of a Nintendo crossover consisting of their most famous and obscure stars beating the crud out of each other. I love the eye candy Nintendo fanservice that strokes my normally-hardened heart and turns it into a nostalgic pile of mush every time I glance upon its visage. I love the stark contrast between beating up Pikachu with Princess Peach in one moment and looking at freaking trophies of characters I grew up with the next. I love how it introduced me to Earthbound. I fell in love with the series the moment Tips & Tricks magazine previewed the first title. I waited eight long, arduous months for Melee that took the guise of an eternity. I waited two years for Brawl and stuck by the game even when its long time fans suddenly went batshit insane and raged against the title because it didn't live up to their bullshit standards (HURR DURR IT DOESN'T HAVE HITSTUN).

In other words, I LOVE SMASH BROS.

Am I not excited for the new titles? No way! How can I say no to Super Smash Bros.? Two of them, at that! But, it's just...so soon! While it would be silly to feel that the franchise had ended, I was so satisfied with where Brawl had left us off that I would've been fine with waiting at least another ten years while the series had time to recharge its batteries. But, man, it's coming! THEY'RE COMING! We're going to have two new Smash Bros.! I'm a freaking broken record about it! Yahoo!

But, even still, I have some strong concerns regarding these new titles. Thing is, though, these concerns weren't born out of this particular announcement. My worrywart status towards another Smash Bros. were born not long after Brawl graced our American shores, and it's for this reason that I had felt the series, as much as I love it, needed to take a long break before Masahiro Sakurai would attempt to create another brawling juggernaut. And it's for these three reasons.

-In the interviews following the announcement, series director Masahiro Sakurai made it clear that changes would be coming to the Smash Bros. franchise. He noted that both the Wii U and the 3DS versions would be made hand-in-hand and feature a very close kinship to one another, mainly in the form of a wireless connection. While I'm sure Sakurai has cooked up something amazing for the franchise, I feel that the biggest issue to to be addressed in terms of what we have already is to reinvent the character movesets.

Thing is, I fear that if we continue to retain every single move for every single character, the series is going to grow stale very quickly. While it may be a stretch to completely reinvent every moveset, I think there should be considerable changes made in them. For example, do we really need Donkey Kong's Headbutt move, or Luigi's cyclone maneuver? Why not give Donkey Kong his Coconut Gun, or Luigi his Poltergust 3000? Why not grant Sheik another selection of deadly tools instead of her tired tricks? Maybe some of Kirby's other powers could get in on the action instead of the typical Cutter/Stone/Hammer combo, and the same could be said for Samus (I know they're famous in competitive play, but god those missiles are boring).

Still, even though I'm sure Sakurai realizes the need to refresh the series, it's a tough idea to sell. Players everywhere have spent so much time with their favorite characters that such an outright change might disenchant their relationship with them. However, I remain adamant in that this step must be taken. Somehow, I feel it'll all boil down to whatever Sakurai has planned.

-Contrary to popular belief, I felt that Brawl's character roster was absolutely perfect, especially when it came to the newcomers. For starters, you had characters who've had a dedicated fanbase over the course of decades (Wario, Diddy Kong, Meta Knight and King Dedede); those who were contemporary additions to established franchises or had appeared in new series (Fire Emblem's Ike, Mother 3's Lucas, Pokemon's Lucario, and Pikmin's Olimar); innovative spins on character choices no one could have predicted (the three-in-one combo of Pokemon Trainer and the whimsical R.O.B); and, of course, third-party characters (Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog). All in all, it was the paramount assembly of Nintendo's finest.

Three years later, another Smash Bros. is in the works. But...who can be in?

The more I think about this problem, the more it scares me. There really isn't a lot of suitable characters left to choose from in the series, despite what the nonsensical character lists on GameFAQS would have you believe (my friend Vaztor crafted a list of characters that probably won't be in). The wait for Brawl produced a lot of horrid character request lists, and history is repeating itself for the new iterations. Thing is, while there is the occasional odd character choice such as Wolf O'Donnell from Star Fox, every character picked thus far symbolizes something in Nintendo's history. You have the mascot characters that lead their own franchises (Mario and Link), and you have the characters who represent the lesser franchises of Nintendo's history (Ness and Marth), and you have the characters who are just really popular in certain circles (Meta Knight, Pit, and Jigglypuff). Character requests such as Princess Daisy, Waluigi, Krystal, Ridley, Link Riding Epona, Vaati, and Dark Samus all have various problems, ranging from having absolutely no moves to choose from (how on earth could Daisy and Dark Samus not be clones?), irrelevancy, being too big, or just being too stupid.

This is actually a big reason as to why I felt it was coming too early. Not only would a longer period of time would've given birth to a larger number of characters, but Sakurai wouldn't be forced to drudge through lists such as the one above and be forced to pick them. Thing is, I'd be able to live with a playable Toad or Paper Mario, but I do not want Krystal or Daisy anywhere near my sunshine happiness that is Smash Bros. And, truth be told, the thought of a resized Ridley to Smash Bros. proportions gives me the heebie jeebies.

Could there viable character options? Well, I wouldn't mind Little Mac or King K. Rool, and I don't necessarily think that Golden Sun or Sin and Punishment characters are out of the question. Aside from the new characters in Skyward Sword and Kid Icarus: Uprising, not much. Third-party choices are tough, as the whole "this type of character wouldn't fit" idea was thrown out the window with the arrival of Solid Snake. Personally, I'd prefer the likes of Mega Man, Ryu, and Super Mario RPG's Geno. Not much else.

Time will tell.

-The inevitable reaction.

The other thing that I want to go over when it comes to Smash Bros. was that I loved it for what it was intended to be: A big, goofy Nintendo crossover party funfest that's full to the brim of nostalgic fanservice. I can't tell you how much of an impact the series made on my gaming life, and so much of it didn't have to do with beating Donkey Kong's brains out with a hammer. Whenever I played Super Smash Bros. Melee, I always jumped into the Sound Test so I could listen to the orchestrated Kirby music. I made up adventures with the characters and played with them as if they were virtual action figures (of which the stars were always Kirby and Ness). I relaxed in the All-Star rest area and gazed out into the park. I marveled at my collection of trophies, depicting the history and glory of Nintendo's characters. I lived Nintendo whenever I played it. And you know what? Everyone else felt the same way.

Every concept I had just described was broken into a million pieces at the time of Brawl's release.

The competitive Smash scene, which I had largely ignored over the course of Melee's lifetime, had by then hijacked the series and completely defined it as something else. Suddenly, it didn't matter what character was in or what new modes were introduced; all that mattered was that whether or not the game ran at a fast speed and that it contained hitstun in order to perform combos. When it was revealed Brawl's new gameplay engine had completely eradicated any trace of the cutthroat mechanics found in Melee, the fanbase went into a venomous, bloodthirsty rage. The game was treated as an abominable outcast, bashed and spat upon as if it had shot their mother. Sakurai was transformed into the community's verbal punching bag and Brawl (as well as its fans) was labeled with every slur imaginable.

Seeing as how Sakurai is again directing the new titles and that he announced they will use the Brawl engine as a foundation, I'm imagining that they're going to receive a similar reception. And my heart is probably going to break. Again.

What really made this hurt was just the fact that everyone loved this series. Everyone knew just how magical and fun this series was, and we could all fall back on it even when flame wars raged throughout the internet on whether or not the Gamecube was kiddy. And now, there's a split. You have those who are just satisfied with the gameplay and fanservice, and those who believe they should be ones pandered to (despite the fact that Sakurai has no obligation to do so) because they were the ones who kept the series "alive." People didn't even care about Pit or Wario or King Dedede or even Solid Snake or Sonic the Freaking Hedgehog being in because they were so concerned about factors they themselves had created. It just hurt, man.

You know, I'm still going to enjoy this. I know I'm going to love it. It's Super Smash Bros., after all. But the one thing I fear above all else is that the split will remain. People are going to whine and moan again. People are going to claim the heart of Smash Bros. is a heart-racing, short-hopping, physics-abusing mess. People are going to complain that Ridley and Baby Mario still aren't in. People are going to continue to swearing their allegiance to nostalgia and keep playing Melee.

But, you know what? They can do what they want. This time, I won't be taken by surprise. I'm going to stick with these new titles regardless of what everyone else thinks. Too slow? No hitstun? Who cares? These things don't even come close to defining the Smash Bros. experience. Not everyone will fall in love with Smash Bros. all at once, and it probably won't be like that ever again, but time just changes things. It's just something I've come to accept over the years. Not everything is meant to last exactly the way it is forever, and I guess that applies to everyone's unanimous love of Smash Bros. I'm ready to spend my last few years with Brawl in preparation, I'm ready to be bowled over with hype and anticipation, and I'm ready to move on.

We'll wait and see. We'll wait and see within the span of another three years.
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What I Didn't Like

No Pikmin 3.

Again.

You know something? I was so ready to have it released this year. I mean, I was not only replaying the original game but I am freaking blogging about it! And I bought the sequel earlier this year after it was stolen! And I'm going to play that one later this summer! I mean, dude! I'm going to COSPLAY as CAPTAIN OLIMAR at THIS YEAR'S OTAKON!! It was written in the stars! The writing was on the wall! They had to release it this year!

And it's not!
AND I AM PISSED.

Nintendo, it's been three years. It's been three years since Miyamoto let it slip at the E3 08 roundtable. "Oh, yeah, we're making it." And what I did get next year? "Oh, it's not ready yet." And the year after that? "Oh, it'd get lost in the clutter." And what did I see at this year's roundtable, my eyes fervently scanning the livefeed as I awaited for news on my absent sequel? "Pikmin questions are forbidden."

I was just ready to explode until Miyamoto revealed that development for Pikmin 3 had been shifted to the Wii U.

Am I still upset? You bet. I had to slave through three years for an absent title that bears no screenshot, trailer or teaser. Can you believe it? And that's not even counting the four years beforehand! I've waited seven years in all! That's just as long as Golden Sun fans had to wait for that Dark Dawn game! No, wait, it's worse! Now we're going to be waiting for EIGHT YEARS!

Am I happy they're still making it? Well, sure. I'll be honest in saying that I wasn't surprised Pikmin 3 had moved over to the new console. I mean, sure, it fit from my perspective, but Nintendo probably felt that Skyward Sword, which is now supplemented by sure-fire 3DS hits, would've been sufficient enough to carry the Wii this holiday. If there's a bright side to all of this, it means the game will have more time to be tinkered with and it'll be presented in glorious HD. If Pikmin was already gorgeous enough on Wii...*drool*

But, geez, I'm still upset! Three years with no information! You just don't do that! Something tells me that Miyamoto regrets his announcement considering he keeps getting badgered about it, and I have to say I too wonder if it was for the best. I mean, it's true was the only thing even remotely interesting that came out of the abomination known as E3 2008. But would I have been able to live without it? I may have been tortured with no information regarding a new Pikmin...but is that any worse knowing it's coming and NOTHING has been said about it! If this becomes the Nintendo version of Duke Nukem Forever, I am going to scream.

That said...I'm wondering who it'll work with the new controller. The Pikmin concept was such a perfect fit for the Wii Remote/Nunchuck control scheme that it's such a shame it was only taken advantage of with a port of the original game. Miyamoto had expressed the tablet works very well with Pikmin, so I guess I should be willing to take his word. Ah, well, I'm sure it'll still have the Wii Remote as an alternate option.

But..yeah, Nintendo. We're still cool, but just don't do this again. It's really not like you.

BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY.......


I SWEAR TO GOD IF THIS GUY ISN'T IN I WILL FEED UPON THE SOULS OF YOUR CHILDREN.

FATTIES!!!!!! TO THIS DAY I STILL LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!! I STILL LONG FOR THE CUDDLY TOUCH OF YOUR TUMMY!!!!! I STILL FEEL THE BURN OF YOUR ALL-KNOWING GAZE!!! I STILL AM OVERWHELMED BY YOUR SUMO RITUAL!!!!!! I STILL MOURN FOR YOUR LOSS IN A GAME OF BRAWL!!!!!!! I STILL HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN THE HALBERD CANNON INCIDENT!!!!!!!!


IN THE NAME OF SNOOKY!!!!!!!!!!!

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And that about covers it!

I'll be a bit busy at the beginning of next week, but expect another new post soon.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Pikmin ~Seed 4~ Connection with Olimar and the Pikmin

It's unavoidable. At one point or another, the characters we interact with in video games begin to grow on us. This connection is, obviously, strongest when we're children and are able to readily idolize whoever we're controlling onscreen. Whether it's Mario's affable warmth or Sonic the Hedgehog's hotshot attitude or Ryu's expertise at being a badass, we become starry-eyed fanatics as we grow up with them. Even as gamers embark on the transition to teenager and adulthood, many still bear nostalgic feelings for these characters and still regard them with much respect.

Of course, as much as I idolize Mario today, I can't exactly get away with calling him a complicated character. Is that a bad thing? Certainly not. Many of gaming's most popular characters are akin to the cast of Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse: They will not impress in terms of symbolism, character depth, or backstory, but their endless appeal and lively personalities entertain audiences to no end. However, just as graphics, gameplay, and even music have been radically transformed throughout the various gaming generations, so have the casts of characters that have been introduced to us within the past decade and a half.

While the Super Nintendo's RPGs paved the way for character development in video games, it truly became mainstream with the advent of the Playstation. While Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon picked up on Mario's parading enthusiasm, critics and older gamers found themselves enamored with the casts of Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII. These characters weren't stereotypes of typical archetypes; instead, they were characters with detailed personalities, tragic backstories, and even romantic relationships. As they progressed through these titles, players began to not only care for them but wanted to find out what would happen to them, which gave them all the more motivation to finish the game. The immense success of these titles was quickly noted by the rest of the industry, and the aspects of detailed characters and elaborate world-building soon became the norm in the game industry.

Did Nintendo follow this route? Not really, and with the continued success of Mario, Donkey Kong, and Pokemon, who could blame them? While their questionable business practices had sealed their ranking at third place, the non-evolution of their characters was not the cause of their financial decline. What really is beautiful about Nintendo's cast of characters is that since they don't have multi-layered personalities or established backgrounds, the players can have fun filling in the blanks. How exactly did Bowser obtain eight children? Who is Meta Knight, and what is his true purpose? How did Mario and Luigi take up their roles as defenders of the Mushroom Kingdom? Thousands of theories have been made on a variety of subjects regarding these characters, as their vagueness only wants us to know more.

Of course, some of Nintendo's characters have a bit more personality and history imbued into them. The Fire Emblem series and the enigmatic Mother 3 are recent cases, both of which produced dramatic storyline and developed characters. However, American audiences were first introduced to a developed character in none other than Pikmin's diminutive hero.
--------------------

If there's one thing that Nintendo's protagonists succeed at doing, it's leaving a great first impression. The cartoony, bouncy air around Mario and his friends immediately hook in any child within range of a television. The badassery of Donkey Kong and Samus Aran are second to none. Pikachu's cuteness captivated the female population, and players were able to become a hero through the blank slate of Link.
It should be obvious, then, that Pikmin's Captain Olimar does not leave a strong first impression.

Upon first viewing, he is a rather bizarre figure. Unusually short and stumpy, Olimar does not emanate any form of heroism or fortitude. His squinty eyes and plump nose are not exactly attractive features. He lacks Mario's party-going atmosphere. He does not possess Donkey Kong's prowess. He doesn't even come close to matching the sheer coolness of Link and Samus. How can he possibly be an appealing character?

Simple: He speaks.

While Samus Aran and Fox McCloud had previously conversed in their titles, Olimar is notable for possessing a well-established personality. While, again, he is not provided by a voiceover, his text boxes allow us to peek into his thoughts and feelings about what goes around him. His signature verbosity is well-suited, as he constantly tries to make sense of the distant world he's trapped on.

Olimar's first words serve as introducing the plot of the game. He's not only stranded on an unknown planet thanks to a ship crash, but his life-support system can only stand the poisonous atmosphere for thirty days. To escape this strange planet, he must recover his missing ship pieces. The sheer size of the daunting task ahead of him is obvious from the beginning, and he soon realizes he can't do it alone.

As Olimar chatters away in a text box, his observations and inquiries serve as a clever method for the player to get situated in the oddball mechanics of Pikmin. Through his constant documentation of the strange world, the player learns not just the goal of the game, but how to effectively employ the Pikmin and their many uses. We learn how to use their Onion pods, and how to throw Bomb Rocks, and discover that Blue Pikmin can use their gills to tread through watery areas. His analysis is key to understanding the game.

However, his analysis is not a robotic one. While described as being an expert freighter, his apparent love for research and zoology allows him to express a sense of wonder. His distinct speech aids in his surprise, as he can't help but to be in awe of the various going-ons around him. As noted when he meets his first Red Pikmin, "Here I am, stranded on a toxic planet, fighting to survive, and yet I'm intrigued... I must research this fascinating creature!" In a way, his reactions to the wondrous flora and fauna of the planet mirror those of the player. The world of Pikmin was unlike anything else in gaming at the time, and Olimar's constant feedback shares these feelings with the player, and a connection is immediately established.
As the adventure continues, it becomes clear that Olimar excels as a leader. Through his monologues that are peppered throughout the game, his quick thinking and analytical strategies guide the player on progressing through the game. His diminutive stature is all but forgotten as his astute assistance defines his character. Just as the Pikmin eased Olimar's loneliness and he came to depend on them for companionship, I came to depend on Olimar as my sole ally. The world of Pikmin, while captivating in beauty, felt more real and deadly than any other game world I had previously explored, and I felt scared at certain times. Even so, I could depend on Olimar's chattiness as my sole ally into this scary world.

What really drives this point home is his personal Voyage Log. As Olimar retreats into sky with his battered Dolphin during the nocturnal hours of the planet, he jots down a daily entry into a journal. The subjects of these entries vary, often reflecting upon events the player had engaged during that day's expedition or indulging in nostalgic memories. If, for example, a Bomb Rock had engulfed a number of Pikmin, he details the heart-wrenching expression of the deceased Pikmin. If a ferocious creature is encountered, he reports of their dangerous abilities. At other times, he remembers his family back home.

And that's the sharpest reminder of Olimar's predicament.

In the Forest of Hope, one ship piece requires the Pikmin to build two bridges over a small pond not far from the landing site. It's a process that takes a while, but it's far from the hardest job in the game (other than the danger of water). After both bridges are finished, you cross over the both of them and locate a small, green object known as the Sagittarius.

When Olimar locates a ship piece, he excitedly details the piece and its purpose for guiding the ship straight into the heavens. That's not the case this time, however, as Olimar reveals its origins:

"I've found my Sagittarius!

My son gave this to me as a present. It brings to mind vision of my son back home on Planet Hocotate. Oh, to be back there right now!"

This was my favorite ship piece documentation back when I first played the game, and it remains this way even today. The player is reminded here that Olimar's escape from the alien planet does just not mean bragging rights. We now know why Olimar is so adamant on his survival and trying to persevere: Because he has a family at home waiting for him. We eventually learn of his wife and daughter, and his nightly logs eventually consist of him yearning for their comfort, knowing that they must be worried for him.

A weight is suddenly thrown on my shoulders, and it was a big deal when I was younger. I was in control of Olimar's destiny. I was in charge in making sure he braved through the dangers of this mysterious land and had to crush every creature in my path. If I succeeded, Olimar would be able to escape the planet and be reunited with his family. If I failed, he would succumb to the planet's atmosphere and never see his family again.

Subtle, yet powerful. That is the way of Nintendo's characters. And that is why Olimar is one of my favorite game characters.

"I just recalled the day I took my son for a ride in this spaceship. He was so happy... I shall tell him of this journey when I return. And I shall return! I must! I can already see the look of wonder on his precious face as I describe my adventures with the Pikmin..."

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Olimar's monologues are our key to understanding Pikmin, but the titular characters are his own for survival. While Olimar eventually proves himself to be a likable character, it is the Pikmin themselves that draw players to the game. They instantly appeal, whether in terms of curiosity or admiration, and it's strange how they accomplish this besides having simple designs. Each type of Pikmin has a distinct physical feature that, along with their colors, distinct them from one another, but they all have the same blank stare. Even while looking at the picture above, it's as if they could come to life at any moment, ready for me to issue an order.

As the player gradually amasses an army of Pikmin, they'll quickly find out that the Pikmin are a lively bunch. When called out of their Onion homes, they slide down its legs with a bubbly banter. When new Pikmin are plucked from the planet's soil, they greet Olimar with a squeaky greeting (if one listens closely, a trace of English can be heard). They favor the sweet taste of the blops of sap found in tall grass, and immediately chase after the sparkling hide of a Iridescent Flint Beetle. They are quick to aid Olimar in forging a wooden bridge, and cheer for joy when one of the Dolphin's ship pieces are recovered.

And yet, when used in the right hands, they are deadly. When prompted to attack a monster ten times larger than they are, they waste no time in attacking. Their bubbly attitudes instantly become fierce as they assault and nip on the back of a napping Bulborb or on the tiny head of a Burrowing Snagret. Even as members of their own ranks are instantly crushed or devoured, none pay heed as they continue to thrash at their opponents. As the monster falls the ground, the Pikmin immediately revert to their energetic state and carry the body off as nothing happened, installing it into the Onion for more Pikmin seeds.

Olimar is not the only to be both amused and mystified by their actions (as noted in several of his voyage logs), as it's not long before the player grows attached to them as well. It's no secret that people grow more quickly attached to pets than they do to other people, and the same goes for the personal army of Pikmin. Their squeals and groans are not unlike a puppy's whines or a kitten's mews, and they gently soothe the player into exploring deeper and deeper into a dangerous world. Why, just listen to them trying to pick up a heavy object (Awp! Awp! Awwwuuuuuooo!)!

But, like all pets, they eventually die.

The life of a Pikmin ends without warning. A handful will be crunched and swallowed by the monstrous fangs of a monster. They will crushed by a gargantuan leg or wayward boulder. They will be burned alive by a fire-breathing beast. Others will be suffocated, or body slammed, or swept away by a monstrous tongue. Whatever the case, a Pikmin will force out a mournful squeal and dissolve into a lonely ghost, as depicted above.

And it will all be your fault.

The death of a Pikmin symbolizes not just a fatal mistake as a leader, but the force of attachment you've established with the little critters. When they die, you feel it. You commanded them to engage in a ill-fated attack on a deadly monster, and half of your platoon fell prey to a hungry monster. The scars of battle are evident. Suddenly, your gang of a hundred Pikmin has fallen to fifty. The petals of a flower Pikmin have been reduced to buds or leaves, and as such your fighting power has been halved. Your platoon is smaller. The harsh reality of the Pikmin world is at full force here.

The Pikmin have the spirit of children, the courage of a warrior, but are as fragile as a flower. As the terrain becomes rougher and the deaths pile up, the player learns that the protection of the Pikmin is top priority. By realizing this, the player learns they must eliminate the opposing creatures as quickly as possible through various strategies. As shown above, running frantically with a sloppily organized mob of Pikmin will do you no good. You must attack from behind, or when the monsters are resting from their assault. You must strike quickly, and not lag or mistime in your throws.

But even so, mistakes are made. Perhaps the most horrific sight is watching a drowning Pikmin. The Red and Yellow Pikmin cannot traverse in deep bodies of water, and immediately begin flailing for life as they desperately attempt to reach for shore. While they can be saved with a certain method later on, there will be times where it won't be avaliable. You can only watch helplessly as the Pikmin begins to sink under the deaths. Its struggles eventually begin to cease as it floats face down in the water, evaporating into a ghost.

The concept of characters dying had previously scared me during the Nintendo 64, but the Gamecube only frightened me in the case of Pikmin. Watching these characters I had being fostering so tenderly die in the jaws of a beast or in the depths of a lake chilled me to the bone. I always worked hard in making sure none of them would die, but I'd slip up every now and then, and I couldn't go through with it. I'd turn off the Power button, turn the system on again, and try again.

Many years later, it's different. When Pikmin die, I have to move on. As a young adult, I am able to steel myself forward even with a fatal mistake. A Bulborb has eaten ten of my Pikmin? Alright, then, I'll just have to slay it and replace my fallen Pikmin with its corpse. A Fiery Blowhog has torched my Pikmin? Same deal. While I felt sad, I had no time to mourn their deaths. Olimar's clock was ticking, and I had to move on without their sacrifices badgering my mind.

The other day, one of my Pikmin somehow fell off a bridge. I didn't have the necessary tools in order the save it, so I could only watch it drown. It was a particularly poignant moment for me, and I was suddenly standing between time. If this had happened nine years ago, I would've instantly turned the Gamecube off. Now? I could only watch, and then realize I had to keep moving. While I felt a little guilty for abandoning the Pikmin, I knew that if I moved on, I would eventually complete the adventure and fight on in it's memory. In a way, it showed just how far I had come.

And just like real life, even when Pikmin die in the game, life goes on. The Pikmin will continue to multiply and carry and fight. They will continue to laugh and serve Olimar's every command. They chirp and squeal and greet and cheer. Some die, some get crushed, some drown, but it's fine. The Pikmin may represent the game's darkest hours, but they also represent its brightest, and they continue to find joy in everything.

It just goes on.

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Loved writing that one! Sorry if it got a little gloomy at the end.

In any case, with E3 looming so close...I'll probably be taking a bit of a break from writing about Pikmin. While I already have the rest of the Seeds planned out, I don't want my excitement over NINTENDO'S NEW CONSOLE to distract me, so I'll bang that out real quick the day after E3's over and get right back to this.

See you Friday!