This is a Japanese import review from NGamer Magazine Issue 33, on sale now
We're all for championing classic games that got somewhat overlooked when they were new, but is Pikmin really one of those? It was a big name on GameCube and it must have sold pretty well as it spawned a far superior, bigger-budget sequel three years after its 2001 debut.
Anyway, here it is again, virtually unchanged - save for a new control system - from the version you can pick up right now for under a fiver on eBay and play on your Wii.
It's a game based on a bizarre daydream Shigeru Miyamoto once had while pottering around in his garden. What if there were little vegetable-based aliens down there in the grass? What if you were stranded in their world? What if you could raise an army of them and battle fierce creatures while planning your escape?
There are three types of veggie Pikmin to control. Red ones are immune to fire, yellow ones can pick up the explosive volcanic rocks you'll find hidden in dark corners and blue ones can wade through the water that causes the others to drown slowly and horribly.
You can have a total of 100 out in the game world at any time, and they scamper along behind the spaceman hero, Olimar, until you fling them towards an object or creature you want them to interact with. If it needs killing, they'll kill it first - taking heavy casualties if you don't direct them carefully towards the animal's weak spot - and take its carcass back home to be processed into more vegetable brothers and sisters.
Pikmin live in flying onions that take off at sunset to avoid the predators that come out at night. You'll know if you've left any of them stranded when darkness falls because you'll see them running towards the onions, waving for help before stumbling and getting chewed up by some beast. One of our colleagues on GamesMaster magazine actually couldn't bring himself to play it on GameCube because of these scenes. Manhunt 2? No problem.
The days are short and you have just 30 of them to explore the familiar yet alien locations in search of the scattered spaceship parts needed to make your escape.
Exploration is the game's true pleasure: figuring out how many of each type of Pikmin you're going to need to summon from their onions at the beginning of a day, then taking them on an expedition filled with incredible scenery and outlandish creatures, placed curiously into context by the occasional rusty tin can or cardboard box towering high above the most intimidating monsters.
Once you've played through it a couple of times, and you know where all Olimar's missing ship parts are, the sense of wonder is diminished, but it's still possible to encounter new things if you keep looking. Rare boss monsters only visit certain areas on certain days, so you might never see them at all, and there are lots of cute touches such as scavenging animals trying to wrest carcasses from the Pikmins' grip.
The sunrise-sunset cycle is lovely to see, with misty mornings, warm afternoons and a lengthening evening glow that warns of impending darkness as precisely as the clock at the top of the screen. The music is every bit as fitting as the graphics - although on Wii some of the sound effects come out of the low-quaility remote speaker. It's one of the best looking, best sounding games on the console, despite being so old.
The only thing that makes this anything other than a GameCube title whacked onto a bigger DVD is the remote and nunchuk control scheme. Instead of pushing a targeting cursor around in front of Olimar, you can aim it anywhere using the pointer. It's confusing if you're used to the original way, as you can aim the cursor far beyond Olimar's throwing range. For us it makes targeting a lot trickier. Although we can ace the original game without breaking sweat, we wound up losing hundreds of Pikmin to enemies we would have steamrollered on Cube. We often missed them completely while fumbling with the finger-twisting combos used to squeeze all the original button controls onto the Wii. If it's your first time with the game you'll probably do a lot better.