TV Game


TV Game

Something that I’ve mentioned before is that my favorite era of Nintendo was during the Gamecube/GBA->Wii/DS era. As far as I am concerned, Nintendo was completely untouchable as a game developer during this time period, matched only by their output on the NES. I’ve spent a lot of years of my life trying to figure out why that is. Was it just a consistent art style that continues to age gracefully in comparison to other games of the time? Nintendo willing to experiment with their established characters, while creating new properties that were themselves experimental? Or was it simply a fundamental understanding of solid game mechanics during gaming’s extremely awkward adolescence? Whatever the case may be, the Gamecube kicked ass. There are many games that come to mind when I reflect on the era on Nintendo fondly, but the one that sticks out the most to me is Pikmin.

Pikmin is bar-none my favorite Gamecube title. Pikmin, no shit, single-handedly changed my idiot young-20s mind and got me to stop being an anti-Nintendo fanboy; I was still stuck in the pro-Sega trenches. When I bought my Nintendo Wii back in 2007 (specifically for one game), Pikmin was one of those Gamecube games I picked up, just to see what I had missed out on during the previous generation. This was during a period of my life where I was rekindling my love of outer space, and a game where you played as a little spaceman on a strange world seemed right up my alley. My feelings were right, because I very quickly loved Pikmin.

So, what is Pikmin? Pikmin is a violent, brutal, hostile game wrapped in a cute exterior. Pikmin is a game about surviving in the harsh climate on an unknown world (very very heavily implied to a post-apocalyptic Earth). Pikmin is kind of fucked up if you think about it for more than a moment. Most importantly, Pikmin is a game about loneliness.

Captain Olimar, the game’s protagonist, has crash landed on Earth. Due to his inability to breathe oxygen, he has to rely on his space suit’s life support system, which will only last for thirty days. Olimar has one month to search segments of the planet for the missing pieces of his ship, and go back home. The first thing Olimar discovers on this mission are the titular Pikmin, these small creatures that will follow Olimar’s orders without question, provide a surprising amount of strength when in a group, and have the ability to take creatures and turn them into new Pikmin. Olimar uses this free labor to retrieve the pieces of his ship, and to clear a path through all of the larger, predatory creatures left on Earth. In the end, if you’re good enough, you can completely rebuild your ship, and completely upset the course of nature by turning the Pikmin from prey to predator. Olimar is a surprisingly deep character, at least as far as Nintendo characters go, who mostly tend to be blank slates for the player to attach themselves to. He’s smart enough to almost instantly understand the biology and instincts of the various creatures he encounters, but he’s also a gullible man, admitting to spending more money than he should have on ship parts that he doesn’t even know the function of. He lives up to his title of Captain, not allowing himself to feel or show any fear for the situation that he’s in. Olimar is a dedicated family man, willing to whatever it takes to get back home to see them, and his use of the Pikmin is proof enough of that.

There is a twist that comes at the end of the game. After all the time you spend, directing bloody conflicts to rebuild your rocket, there is one final area to explore, with one last item you need. It’s a small area, with a few incredibly simple obstacles for the three types of Pikmin to clear. Clearing these obstacles leads to a small sand pit, playing host to a massive Bulborb (Bulborb’s being a frequent enemy species you’ve fought and sacrificed Pikmin to throughout the game) known as the Emperor Bulbax, the largest Bulborb you’ve seen up until this point in fact. No matter how much care you’ve taken during the entire game not to lose your Pikmin, no matter how careful you are during this fight, you will lose many, many Pikmin in this fight. The Emperor Bulbax has a tongue nearly half the length of the field you fight it in, capable of swallowing down large groups of Pikmin you couldn’t move out of the way in time. The Bulbax’s jump is faster than expected, and can turn half your squad into mangled remains in the sand upon landing directly on them. It is a brutal fight that, through careful bombing or sheer strength in numbers, you can win. Upon killing the Emperor Bulbax, the final item Olimar needs before leaving Earth is revealed:

A piggy bank.

Think about it. All that death, not just on your side, but the amount of wildlife you’ve killed to get here. The changes you are making to Earth’s ecosystem. Before, you could justify it with your own sense of self-preservation, but how can you justify things in the face of a fucking piggy bank? Those Pikmin that were crushed and eaten alive died for the sake of money. The game itself will never moralize to you or make you feel bad for this, probably because the developers know that you’ll be feeling more guilty than any line of dialogue could.

So, what does any of that have to do with loneliness? I mean, there are three different types of Pikmin, and you can have a maximum of 100 with you at any time. These small creatures stay with you the moment you discover them. And well, that’s the thing, this great irony of Pikmin. Olimar and the Pikmin don’t speak the same language, the Pikmin simply go where Olimar points. There are no beings like Olimar on Earth, and the only other creatures are predators that will kill him if they are able to. Every night, the Pikmin enter the onion bulbs they were birthed from, which acts as a type of ship, while Olimar retires to his actual ship. Alone. Every night, this man climbs into an empty, broken rocket, and writes in his journal about his desire to see his family again while drifting in low orbit among the stars. Even if Olimar or the player were to try and establish a relationship with the Pikmin, there’s a problem: the Pikmin can die. The Pikmin will die, and they will die a lot. A large enough creature can devour nearly ten Pikmin in a single bite. Their small size makes them easy to crush. Non-red Pikmin can burn to death. Non-blue Pikmin can quickly drown. Yellow Pikmin can blow themselves with the bombs that they can use, and the resulting explosion can take out any and all other Pikmin who found themselves too close. After a point, these creatures simply become a means to an end. Rebuild your ship, and get the fuck out of here. A lone man on a strange planet whose only company is a hivemind that mindlessly follows his will and nothing more. You deal with survival, with working as quickly as you can so your life support systems don’t fail, and you deal with your own ambiguous morality, a morality that becomes more and more ambiguous and even outright cruel the closer you get to your deadline or the completion of your ship. That’s the loneliness of Pikmin.