Pikmin feels like one of Nintendo’s best-kept secrets. Although the series has been around since the GameCube era, its best-selling entry has barely cracked two million copies sold. This is a shame, as the bite-sized series is arguably one of the publisher’s most creative.
So, let’s take a moment to celebrate the exploits of Captain Olimar & co. We’ll be ranking the series from worst to best based on a few main criteria including each title’s reception and what they bring to the overarching franchise.
One note though—we’ll be ranking the titles based on their best versions. For example, we’ll be covering Pikmin 3 Deluxe as opposed to the Wii U release.
This is the only franchise entry that I’ve never played. However, I don’t seem to be missing much. Hey! Pikmin’s tepid reception is uncharacteristic for the series, landing a middling 69 on Metacritic. It’s paradoxically the most innovative yet stale of the bunch.
The late 3DS release takes Pikmin into a new genre, the 2D puzzle-platformer, which is a good idea on paper. However, plodding execution and the glut of 2D adventures from that era led to Hey! Pikmin being fairly forgettable.
Sure, it provides something new. However, that was accomplished by stuffing the series into tired genre tropes. It’s no Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash… but it’s not that remarkable, either.
The newest title is yet another spin-off. And, like Hey! Pikmin, it’s both original and derivative simultaneously. This is a mobile AR game from Niantic—famous for Pokémon Go—which largely reuses that game’s map and structure. However, Pikmin Bloom is far more of an app than a mechanically-engaged game akin to Go.
It’s all about the ambiance of Pikmin, strolling around your town planting flowers, and collecting various odds and ends. It’s a relaxing and incredibly passive little project. Plus, it’s one that got me out onto my campus for early morning walks—something rather foreign to me otherwise.
If there was just a bit more gameplay to this title, Bloom would be higher on the list.
Pikmin’s sophomore outing is interesting. Scoring a 90 on Metacritic the game is considered to be marginally better than the original, which scored an 89. Many fans consider this to be the franchise’s pinnacle. There’s a lot to love here, after all.
The narrative framing is genius, sending Olimar and Louie back to PNF-404 in an attempt to pay off Hocotate Freight’s debts. This allows for so many wonderful gameplay moments as you explore the planet picking up discarded trash viewed as treasure.
It’s even full of officially licensed goods—you’ll be uncovering Duracell batteries and tubes of ChapStick, for instance.
This plot motivates a rather fun, rather refined experience. It builds nicely on the foundation of its predecessor with more characters, Pikmin types, and gameplay ideas. However, it lacks some of the first title’s urgency.
Pikmin 2’s day-night cycle is backgrounded, removing the first game’s finite structure while implementing partially-procedurally generated caves that ignore the passage of time completely. It’s a different flavor and design that offers unique opportunities.
But, it’s also one that loses just a bit of the magic.
The game that started it all. There’s a whimsical simplicity to every element of its design from the environments down to the one captain, three Pikmin type structure. It’s remarkable just how complete the game feels. While later titles naturally built on this foundation, almost nothing was fundamentally changed moving forward.
From the aesthetic to the world design to the simple, strategic gameplay, Nintendo nailed its first attempt. As far as introducing new IP goes—it’s hard to do much better than this. Plus, the contained design is plenty of elegant fun in retrospect.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe
While I’d love nothing more than the reveal of a proper fourth entry, it really does feel like the series reached its natural conclusion with Pikmin 3 Deluxe. This really is one of Nintendo’s all-time best games. It takes Pikmin 1’s core tenets and the sequel’s expanded mechanics, putting them into brilliant conversation.
Three captains feel like the perfect amount, each Pikmin type is wonderfully designed, and there’s a great balance between the first game’s urgency and the second’s relaxed nature. Plus, this title is just beautiful.
Throw in an expanded multiplayer suite and Switch-exclusive modes that make the Wii U release obsolete, and you have a content-rich, expertly designed adventure.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
What’s wonderful about this list is that many will disagree about the placement of the core trio. They’re all so close in quality that each has a salient case for the number one spot. Most Nintendo franchises aren’t this consistent.
There are few things as charming as a horde of Pikmin humming and collaborating to rebuild a bridge or to move a huge orange, and there are few things as horrifying as a Burrowing Snagret stabbing your troops as they die with a whimper.
Pikmin is imaginative and wonderfully unique. If even one more person decides to give the franchise a shot after reading this list, then my job was a success.