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Samson Jinks's blog

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Samson Jinks avatar 12:00 PM on 06.09.2012  (server time)
Pikmin: Gameplay Mechanics and Personal Terrors

It may be pretentious to state this, but the real time strategy genre is one of my least favorite type of video game. I often enjoy an intriguing narrative in my games, and barring that, a sense of playing a singular role, which is not usually congruous with how real time strategy is designed. Still, I've tried several games in the genre, and one that has often commanded my admiration is the Pikmin series. Both games in the series thus far have been funny, imaginative, and at times, mildly frightening. And perhaps the most interesting thing about the game could be the controls.

The Pikmin games were designed to be played on the GameCube, and as such needed to be simple enough to play with a controller, instead of the more traditional keyboard that the RTS genre had been home to. Along with that, the game had to be simple enough to work on a GameCube, not exactly the most powerful piece of hardware ever made. With these facts in mind, and the knowledge that some players (myself included) would be introduced to real time strategy by this game, it had to be designed with simplicity, while still allowing for a level of difficulty. And so, the game was designed with these limitations in mind, and produced a fantastic experience overall.

But one minor, almost superfluous mechanic in Pikmin has always disturbed and intrigued me to a great degree, a mechanic that tells a whole narrative about the game just through its existence. When you are not close to any pikmin, pressing A causes the main character, the commander of the pikmin, a generally not directly combative being, to punch forward. Let me state that again. The commander, the one being in the game that causes an instant game over if he dies, was deemed in need of an attack that requires him to be within close range of the enemy. The implications of this mechanic frightens me.

The attack on its own is not terribly unusual. When commanding a large group, it may even be expected that the leader could defend himself. But this attack is pathetic. It can barely do the same level of damage that a single red (standard attacking) pikmin can, but this control option is still in the game.

This says a few things about the game, stating that there could be a situation where all the player's pikmin were defeated, and the player would have no choice but to fight the enemy. No choice but to fight, with an attack that is almost useless compared to the army that was defeated by this enemy.

This implication is frightening, even if a situation similar to above rarely happens in the game. Just the IDEA of being on your last man, and him being as useless as the main character is, is genuinely frightening in its own way.

Food for thought while waiting for Pikmin 3.

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