Hello and welcome to the first entry in Lily “Lovely Bones” Ryan’s new sister/sub series of Mid-Aughts Meltdown, the Legacy of Adventure! This week we’ll be delving further into my burgeoning relationship with Nintendo, and discovering the original entry in the now almost twenty year old real-time strategy series Pikmin!
My experimental approach to this piece might not provide all the context you need to fully be informed on and understand this game if you are not previously familiar. For a broader, more technical overview of what is being discussed here today, consider consulting such sources covering the whole series as NintendoLife‘s historical article, and SingingBrakeman’s Franchise Festival entry.1
This series cites all sources for quotes and imagery used for factual, demonstrative, and transformative purposes, and these sources will be linked throughout. Please consider supporting MobyGames and Pikipedia, as their staffs tirelessly catalog key information and art assets for an often ephemeral medium. Credit to Singing Brakeman on that statement, and credit for the header image goes to Kotaku and of course Nintendo.
Eons ago, somewhere in the strange time known broadly as the mid-to-late 2000s, a young girl scoured the towering wreckage of a California shopping mall, and there she discovered an image so enchanting that it would stay with her forever, inspire her to make discoveries and new connections. That girl would grow up to be me, Captain Lillimar, of the planet Hocotate! Today I work proudly as an adventurer and historian, scouring the galaxy for relics of this bygone era so that its stories can live on. I hope that someday I might reach the planet Koppai and trade stories with its legendary adventurers, but that day has not yet come. In the meantime, I happily look back on this experience that led directly to my present-day labors, although some of my memories have grown muddled with age. I know not the order in which everything occurred, but I do know everything that occurred, and that the events were in close proximity. I believe it all started with this aforementioned discovery:
Before I was ever a captain, this artifact drove me to seek out anything connected to it that could be found, leading me straight to an earlier creation of similar origin, dating back to December 2001, when I was far tinier and less worldly than I would become. Soon after obtaining the first artifact, I made another discovery: the legendary adventurer discussed in this series of works that inspired my own current adventures was being featured in a brand new creation. I often pored over this Super Smash Bros. Brawl with comrades of mine, and among them only I was in the know, only I was so dearly happy, about the Pikmin creatures and their world, PNF-404, being portrayed by this project. Today, I will proudly and excitedly recount my original experience with this artistic creation in childhood, while also tracing my steps across the Pikmin’s planet in an all new adventure for an all different Lillimar!
Many years ago I took my first steps into this strange new world full of monsters and mystery, eventually escaping only by the skin of my teeth, and today I retrace those steps, learning the ropes of survival on PNF-404 just as my younger self did. Right now, I match the gaze of a creature most curious, staring into the wet eyes of a plant creature that my predecessors named a Pikmin. Symbiosis is the name of the game here on PNF-404: For I to survive, I need the Pikmin in as great of numbers as possible to swarm and defend against monsters that exceed our stature many times over, ultimately reaching our way across these jungles and waters towards the scattered pieces that make up my vessel and can eventually return me home; For the Pikmin to thrive, they need a guiding hand that can precisely maneuver them in and out of danger, organize their horde through all kinds of tasks, simple and complex, ensuring that landscapes are navigated, battles are won, and the spoils are brought back to their homes to further expand the total pool of Pikmin. Balance must be achieved between the implementation of each kind of Pikmin: Red Pikmin as warriors and builders, Yellow as nimble leapers and destroyers of sturdy walls, and Blue as swimmers, reaching places the others can’t safely and bridging the gaps for them.2
The basics of this work come as naturally now as they did those many years ago, the only major difference being in the energy that carries me from one moment to the next. That younger girl approached each and every moment on this wild planet with the utmost trepidation. Oftentimes, one can see a boss monster from a distance before they have removed all obstacles between them and said creature, providing ample time to examine the monster’s behaviors and plan accordingly. But in those days, I did not plan ahead, I simply avoided these creatures out of overwhelming fear, even as I knew in my heart that I was sacrificing, or at least postponing, the retrieval of essential ship parts by succumbing to that fear. The anxiety that wracked my tiny body was only worsened by the occasional experiences of boss monsters that do not appear until their territory has been reached, such as the towering spider-like being called the Beady Long Legs or the Burrowing Snagrets, suddenly striking from above and below, respectively. My recovery from that degree of self-sabotage was a gradual one, but it has made great strides of late, and great results have come of that in my current journey, given that the confrontations with the Armored Cannon Beetle, a particular fear of my younger self, have gone off practically without a hitch!
With thirty parts needed to ready this ship for takeoff, thirty days to find them all before life support fails me and the planet’s atmosphere chokes me with its poison, and dozens of mighty beasts standing in our way, I rest side by side with the Pikmin, knowing that our journey has just begun!
A new dawn emerges on the mysterious planet PNF-404, and my work begins anew. As I travel from the Forest of Hope to an underground cave system entered through what I lovingly call the “Navel” of that Forest, I am confronted by a greater complexity to my journey. With it I begin to truly, fully grasp just what it exactly is about these first artifacts that I discovered in particular, and all of the thrills and wonders of this bizarre, fantastical place and experience they led me to, that shaped who I am today, inspired the pursuit of further discovers. A woman who is a latecomer but is nonetheless falling and having fallen in love with each and every kind of adventure this universe provides for her. What is it about PNF-404, and Olimar’s adventures here, and my own time here, that captured my imagination so much that I can access so much joy from returning here, and have been driven to recreate that experience for as long and as much as possible?
The base sensations of the experience here are satisfying, yes, both mentally and physically. Those are the foundation for so much more, but by definition they are essential too in the bonds they create to be built on: the sheer tangible weight and impact to tossing and landing a Pikmin or sending them all into a charge at once; removing the potential dangerous impersonality of leadership by being on the ground with the troops, and thus bringing in so many things all at once, from quick unpredictable reactions to greater mutual appreciation between leader and soldier. The simplicity of the experience belies so many intense emotional relationships of all kinds that it creates, not just the development of affection between captain and Pikmin in how they interact and aid each other, but the anger and fear and pride and catharsis that I have already and will continue to express in relation to the many monsters across this world.
Each beast that falls is a triumph and every trek carrying its corpse back home is a victory lap. Every aspect of this world in all its beauty is captivating: its vibrance, its uniqueness, its variety, it all comes together to incite not just a powerful curiosity but indeed an attachment unto itself through the power of appreciating life for its own sake in all its myriad and often very weird forms. A palpable moment-to-moment thrill comes from simply wondering what could possibly be next around the corner in both the changing environments and wildlife. This, all of this, individually and together, is why I return to PNF-404, return to my Pikmin, why I will likely continue to return to them, and why I venture through the galaxy Nintendo in pursuit of more experiences like this.
Day Seven (Past)
I mentioned before how during my previous visit to this planet, I was so paralyzed by fear that I had no hope of assembling every part that I needed because I was avoiding the most frightening and dangerous creatures that happened to be guarding some of those pieces. One of those aforementioned creatures is the Burrowing Snagret, the most common of the planet’s “boss” monsters, sort of akin to the Bulborb/grub-dog family, but within a different realm of the ecosystem’s hierarchy. This animal is known as a snavian, an underground reptile with the massive piercing beak and single clawed foot of a flightless predatory bird. Although the visual in abstract is a truly fascinating and majestic one, the sudden ambushes that these beasts are capable of, combined with their striking visage, means that an encounter with them, particularly the very first one, was and is genuinely one of the most disorienting experiences of my life.
Panic overtakes you, dangerously careless decisions and clumsy mistakes become effortless. That these creatures often travel in packs, their comrades bursting from the ground and joining in the violent fray upon being alerted by say, running in a blind panic onto the ground they reside beneath, multiplies the terror and chaos considerably. Repeated missed throws of Pikmin away from the Snagrets’ vulnerabilities and toward their gaping maws are equally common. Before you know it, it’s already over, a hundred loyal servants consumed and a suit so badly damaged that I black out, awaking hours later and with so little time to desperately sprint back to shelter. That was my first experience with the Burrowing Snagrets, and for many years, it was one of my last and it has remained so, for I am to this day avoiding them for as long as I can.
Day 15 (Modern)
I have been tense ever since I realized that a trip to the Distant Spring was imminent, with the boss monster of the Forest Navel caverns, a towering spider called the Beady Long Legs, conquered just a day or two ago. The Navel and the Impact Site have been totally stripped of parts, and only the part guarded by those fearsome snavians remains in the Forest of Hope. Unready to face them quite yet, I have no other choice but to enter the swampland gauntlet that defeated me in my first trip to this world many moons ago. A towering total of ten parts, a whole third of everything lost in the crash, are scattered across this wetland protected by puzzles and all sorts of particularly dangerous beasties, both of which I struggled mightily with so long ago. It’s a particularly disorienting area through its sheer complexity, the multi layers of activity that often go into getting just one part, let alone two or three in quick succession. Unlike the previous areas, there is no real buffer territory between the landing site and the surrounding dangers, meaning that it is very easy to quickly lose Pikmin if one makes just a few moves in any direction without thinking, and there is no access to a sensation of security, comfort, letting one’s guard down. That part of the experience is most brought to the foreground by this monstrosity:
The challenge has been substantially advanced and barriers of safety removed: how am I performing under such conditions? I can proudly say that the answer is ‘quite well!’ Although there was a period of adjustment to our new surroundings with the sheer number of enemies and water, progress has consistently moved forward and I can expect to have gathered all of the parts here within four or five days, something that my younger self would be astounded by and which frankly startles me just as much. Beyond a greater sense of boldness in exploration that I desperately needed to be the adventurer I am today, how exactly have I grown and changed to be able to have such a different experience on this planet? How have I been taught how to interact with this world by the world, and of course, by my Pikmin?
I think the most notable development, even as I do continue to struggle with quickly moving my Pikmin out of the way of danger at times (such as when faced with the stomping feet of the Beady Long Legs) because my coordination is at a disadvantage, said coordination and reaction time is still magnitudes beyond what it used to be. It has been refined through repetitive physical training that an experience like surviving on PNF-404 provides in spades, from guiding a precision strike upon a sleeping Bulborb, to sending scouts in and retracting them from the maw of of a hungry clamshell. Even if my reordering the Pikmin horde along a narrow path or sharp dividing line doesn’t have a 100% perfect rate, I can now react quickly and know what to do to save them in the brief window available before being lost to a burning or drowning. In turn, the absolute need for a deliberate pacing to exploring these environments, stages of surveying the landscape, selecting what types of Pikmin are needed at that moment or how many of each, waiting for non-living obstacles to be cleared and going through a lot of living obstacles in one shot so they won’t be a worry for a few subsequent days, all of this comes together to teach patience to a young explorer. With patience comes a developed sense of strategy from a willingness to spend the time on observing patterns and understanding the environment before entering the fray. These are just some of the lessons that come from the rough and tumble lifestyle of survival on an alien planet.
Day 18 (Modern)
After many days away from the beautiful Forest of Hope, I return with a bona fide army of Pikmin more than 500 strong, and I know that I simply must topple one of the greatest remaining obstacles left in my path to freedom from the wilds of PNF-404: the horrific trio of Snagrets! The travels back to the cliffside on which the Snagrets rest is an arduous one, fighting past several new Bulborbs, large and small, prowling where the previous creatures once roamed, like phoenixes risen from the ashes, continually reborn. With them out of the way, and their bodies contributing to the continuing final expansion of my marching army, at last we reach the land bridge where our adventure shall come to a head. Can I conquer that which has crippled me and slaughtered my army? I can only pray that it is possible, and learn from my mistakes. The Pikmin are broken into several small squads, each escorted individually across the bridge and parked on the far edge of the other side, to prevent overflow, drowning, and a pre-emptive ambush like in times past. Haggard and bursting with determination, Captain Lillimar ponders for a moment, and she takes another leap into the jaws of fate.
I’m back on the ship now, reflecting. Onward we marched, and as the monstrous beast’s head suddenly emergds from the ground once again, its long, reptilian body following soon after, I knew we could win. Evading consistently while keeping the range of movement limited to that small patch of the birds’ territory minimized losses and prevented the others from being able to interrupt. My dashes to and fro were swift, and my aim was true, weighing down the snavian’s bulbous, vulnerable head, and watching with pride as it strained to reach my hearty warriors with that fearsome beak. At last it let out an ear-curdling but mighty shriek and collapsed on the ground before us, its body breaking down to essential parts ready for harvest. There were losses, but they were nothing in comparison to the brutality I had seen before. I had grown, and so had my comrades. We moved carefully along the cliff, and with the gods smiling upon us, I had calculated our travel correctly: we could attack the final Snagret without going through the second monster as well. This battle went even faster, as my valiant Pikmin swarmed the beast right as it emerged from the soul, tearing apart before it could even begin to peck away.
At last, the part that had slipped from my grasp for so many years: a Geiger Counter, an instrument of safety utterly essential for any space explorer worth her salt. Although there would be even greater battles lying ahead for our intrepid crew, I can’t say that I have ever felt as much accomplishment as I did that afternoon. In watching the geiger counter dragged through the pond back to home base, alongside yet more bounties for the harvest to ready our squadron for one last bout with the Distant Spring, and whatever lid ahead after that, I could know for once that we had a truly unmitigated victory.
Day 20 (Past)
As clear as day, I remember the mindset that I was in during the last days of my first trip, leading into a very difficult, painful, and different experience. Wandering in an increasing frightened daze amidst the wetlands of the Distant Spring, a haunting truth dawning on me that I denied for as long as I could, until I no longer could resist. The sensation of failure crashing over me like a wave, the anticipation of death filling my lungs, poisoning my heart and mind. Any given battle with just a single monster feeling like a loss of such devastation, and yet also merely one more nail in a coffin already nailed down. Entire days would pass without even a glimpse of a new part, never mind the struggle that would ensue upon actually finding and attempting to retrieve a ship part. All of that and yet I was still far too stubborn to reset any given day. Even that stubbornness had a tinge of resignation at its heart, the instinctive belief that resetting didn’t matter and had no worth because I’d simply not get any parts all over again. The Day 20 of then was just one day among many, but I distinctly recall it as when the bleakness truly began to settle into my very young mind. Meanwhile, the Day 20 of today was smooth and satisfying sailing, retrieving one last part with what little resistance there was crushed by precisely deployed overwhelming force, reaping the ripe rewards of previous hard days’ nights. My relationship with these environments was so different once upon a time. It was a nightmare of an experience that I do not wish to repeat, and I am dearly grateful that my experiences on this return visit have filled my heart with hope and show just how I have grown so as to prevent such an experience from ever happening again.
Day 30 (Past)
It only comes back to me in the briefest of flashes, even now, so many years later. The ending of my original journey to PNF-404. It was not a proud moment. It was a waking nightmare of drawn out suffering, haggard breathing, fading vision, an overall shutdown of spacesuit functions, and then bodily systems and senses, delivered in piecemeal form. With the last of my strength, I desperately climbed into my ship and attempted to launch, even with so many vital functions missing from the vessel. It barely broke through the top of the first layer of planetary atmosphere before rapidly and perilously plummeting back towards and into the world’s surface. I was rendered comatose for who knows how long, my death halted by means I still do not fully grasp thanks to the actions of these bipedal plant friends. Where I had failed and faltered and collapsed, they grew and succeeded.
While I laid still at camp, something miraculous occurred amongst these mysterious beings: their independence had developed as such that they could organize and drive themselves to tread on treacherous grounds that I at the time had failed to be brave enough to, recovering the remaining parts and repairing the ship gradually. Only when we had everything needed for the ship to survive exiting the atmosphere was I finally reawakened and realized just how they saved me, before I gratefully bid a fond farewell and a promise to return. My frail and shuddering body had to be brought to the “Onions” that shelter, feed, and breed (as seeds) Pikmin, absorbed and expelled and sprouting from the ground, pulled up by the Pikmin just as I had done for them, making my body sustainable within their atmosphere by becoming part plant, part Pikmin! Our symbiotic relationship reached its apex as we became one, before being forced to tragically part for so long.
Day 21 (Modern)
The time has come for I and my Pikmin to face our Final Trial, to seek out one last item that I can’t help but hope to retrieve even if I don’t strictly need it, testing our mettle in strategy, cooperation, problem solving, and more, through one last mighty gauntlet of puzzle and battle. This beachhead is divided into three sectors, the left featuring a series of fire geysers across a cliffside, the center being a lake that needs a two-part bridge built across it by the amphibious Pikmin, and the right involving some islands and clif The central bridge means nothing if the two barriers in its path aren’t removed, one by the Yellows’ destructive power, and the other simply being shoved aside but only accessible via the fiery cliff. It’s a lot of moving parts requiring a lot of simultaneous tasks and precise movement to preserve lives, but once it is broken down to its component parts, it is all over very quickly, less than half a day, with nary a life lost. It is not quite the level of personal achievement that the Distant Spring provided, but it is nonetheless a moving and satisfying experience to work so perfectly in tandem with my Pikmin in a massive puzzle and have it go off without a hitch. Unfortunately, what awaits us on the other side of the lake is an entirely different kind of problem with a different solution, and despite my effectual performances in other recent battles, this one feels like it has no end. Indeed, the smooth sailing seems to have suddenly halted at last, all thanks to…
This utterly massive beast camouflages itself with the stone and moss all over its backside, concealing itself within the rest of the swamp until one gets too close and it suddenly emerges with all its powerful girth and its sweeping tongue. My Pikmin and I have cast ourselves against the ceaseless tide that is this horror time and again, losing hundreds in the process without felling it once. Its sheer amount of health has proved impossible to drain all the way and its roaming body slam attacks wipe out so many of us so quickly I chose to preserve the progress of the other part of the Final Trial and set aside an entire day just for this creature, but to no avail. Each time, too many losses are accrued with too little time left in the day and not enough damage done to the beast. No matter how many times I reset this day, we come no closer to an end, to victory, to relief. Every new accomplishment up to this point has been cast asunder and crushed beneath the weight of Emperor Bulblax, perhaps a brutal vengeance for all its brethren that I have slain in my time here. Those victories feel like sand slipping between my fingers now in the face of this last insurmountable inch of our journey, before the might of the Emperor. I am utterly demotivated, and even the energetic Pikmin struggle to put a bright face on. Morale is at the lowest it’s been since those hours leading up to my near-death experience on my first visit to this planet. This is a dark day for Captain Lillimar.
It has been some days since my last writing. I’ve allowed myself to rest and whittle away the days without sacrificing any lives at the altar of Bulblax. I, your valiant Captain Lillimar, have been able to consult with an incredibly dear friend thanks to the communicative power of the tech within my near-totally reconstructed spaceship, the S.S. NX, and he has reminded me of an important lesson that I have learned before and evidently must continue to keep learning in an ongoing tug of war with my own self-esteem: I must now allow for perfect to get in the way of good. I know that what lies in the gut of the horrific Emperor Bulblax is replaceable, and I know that I, my ship, the lives of my trusty crew the Pikmin, those all are not replaceable. Just as if not more startling, I know what happened the first time I left this planet. I know it is not repeatable. Some day I will return for you, you tyrant king of the grub dogs, but it appears that today is not that day. I stand now on a beach overlooking each and every one of my accomplishments; puzzles solved and monsters fallen, but most importantly, hundreds of little plant creatures that are craftier, hardier, and more self-reliant than ever before. Their lives, their place in the ecoystem of PNF-404, has forever changed thanks to all the time I have spent with them, and they have not only saved but changed mine. True cooperation is so much harder than some give it credit for. Trust does not always come easy. I am so grateful to know that I can count on and work with my friends on this planet and every other, in beautiful, synchronous tandem. Goodbye for now, PNF-404.
Ultimately, I can’t deny that these journals are at least as much for myself as they are for anybody else that might read them, but I hope they have been an enlightening and exciting experience. I seek to communicate, record, and preserve my relationship with adventure, my relationship with Nintendo, as I experience them in real time. I believe that they are a prism for many facets of life and the mind.
A whole lot of time and the occasional small financial expense goes into making this series possible. Please show your support however you can to help keep this going, whether that means sharing these articles wherever and to whomever there might be interest, or for those able to, donating to my Patreon dedicated specifically to these writings, which is linked here: https://www.patreon.com/lilytina
Thank you to Dramus18, Singing Brakeman, DW, and Prestidigitis for your financial support of this project. Thank you everyone for your reading, your encouragement, your time.
Our next articles are on very different sides of the equation: while one shall bring us to the magical heights of space travel in a landmark production alongside a colorful cast of weirdos, the other returns us to the dark side of gaming history as a handful of bad games surrounded by many more bad decisions killed two major publishing arms of the games industry. Strap yourselves in folks, this one’s intense: it’s time for the tales of Acclaim, Midway, and Vexx.