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WHAT'S COOL IN JAPAN|
Pikmin are strange little life-forms that are similar to plants but walk on two feet. You may be wondering where in the world such creatures live, but they are actually characters appearing in a video game that is played on the Nintendo GameCube. Ever since the game--also called Pikmin--was released in October 2001, they have been loved by kids across Japan.
The protagonist of this game is Captain Olimar, a space pilot who has crash-landed on a foreign planet after an accident in space. There he meets the Pikmin, who inhabit the planet. With the help of these critters, Olimar must overcome various difficulties to gather up the scattered spaceship parts, piece the ship back together, and finally escape the planet.
These Pikmin walk around totteringly with a single leaf, bud, or flower growing on their heads. What is most curious about them is the way they are born: When Olimar pulls young shoots out of the soil, they turn into Pikmin. And since they are born from seeds, these seeds can be multiplied, producing more Pikmin. The growth on the head starts as a leaf, but if a Pikmin is left in the ground for a while, the leaf will mature into a bud and then a flower.
There are three types of Pikmin, red, yellow, and blue. Red Pikmin can withstand fire and are very aggressive. Yellow ones can use nutlike bombs, while blue ones can survive in water and are good swimmers. The trick of the game is to use these three different Pikmin to one's advantage and efficiently collect all the parts. It's quite impressive to see a swarm of as many as 100 Pikmin all wobbling after Olimar!
Many difficulties await Olimar and the Pikmin bunch as they transport heavy spaceship parts while constructing roads and bridges on the way. The Pikmin bravely fight against the monstrous predators living on the planet, but they die one after another, being eaten or stepped on. It's up to the player to maneuver the game so as to sacrifice as few of these pure-hearted Pikmin as possible.
The game is especially popular with boys. Some say they love the sensation of pulling new Pikmin out of the ground, while others are drawn to the bravery and loyalty of these charming creatures who follow Olimar wherever he goes and whatever may happen.
Moreover, a song about the feelings of the Pikmin, which was used in the television commercial for the game, also became a hit. The game's manufacturer received so many inquiries about the song that they released it as a CD single on December 6, 2001. Partly because children had been imitating it from before the CD went on sale, the song - "Ai no Uta (Song of Love)" - became instantly popular and remained in the top 10 for many weeks. Interestingly, middle-aged men are among those who have bought the CD. (It's said that these people sense a similarity between themselves, as they work hard for their companies and families, and the loyal Pikmin.)
Although these obedient and daring little creatures are still new to the game scene, they're sure to keep attracting more fans.
Photos: (Top) The little Pikmin follow Olimar wherever he goes; (above) using the Pikmin, Olimar must fight the monstrous creatures living on the planet. (© 2002 Nintendo)