The Pikmin franchise has consistently put out well-received games ever since its inception on the GameCube over two decades ago, but even though it has certainly built up a dedicated fan following in the time since then, it hasn’t ever managed to become a proper breakout hit where sales are concerned- certainly not to the level of other Nintendo franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Splatoon, Animal Crossing, and more.
According to legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who has been closesly involved in the development of all Pikmin games, the reason for that may be the series’ perceived difficulty. More specifically, he says that comes down to its controls and its “depth of gameplay”.
“There have been three games in the series until now, from Pikmin to Pikmin 3, and personally I’ve always wondered, ‘Why haven’t they exploded more in sales even though they’re so much fun to play? Why do people think they’re so difficult?'” Miyamoto said in a recent Ask the Developer interview published by Nintendo.
“I get that people find it more difficult when death is a factor,” he said, referring to how stressful many players find it to see the in-game deaths of Pikmin, which is a common occurrence in the series. “But I think the franchise’s strength lies in its relationship with mortality. If something is irreversible, you need to figure out a way to prevent undesired things from happening. To try to prevent Pikmin from dying, you need to practice ‘Dandori.’ To me, that’s what makes this game unique. I think people find Pikmin difficult for two reasons: the controls and the depth of gameplay. I spent a long time mulling over how we could convey these points as ‘interesting” rather than ‘difficult.'”
Pikmin 4 chief director and planning director Yuji Kando also chimed in, talking about how the game’s development team strove to make it a more accessible and newcomer-friendly experience, while ensuring that it still retained the series’ core premise of “Dandori”, which is a Japanese word for “thinking about planning and efficiency in advance to get things done smoothly”, as Nintendo puts it.
“Looking at players’ reactions to the first three games, I’ve also thought really hard about how to get more people to play this game,” Kando said. “In the early stages of development, we prioritized ease of play and experimented with making the controls easy enough for those who aren’t used to playing games. We also tested improvements to the camera and AI. Also, it just doesn’t feel like a Pikmin game to me if it’s not like the first one. That is, if it doesn’t have this Dandori element where players learn and become more efficient through repetition.”