It's not often that Nintendo takes a gamble on a new franchise these days, usually relying on its usual placeholders, like Mario and Zelda, to get sales moving.  But the company does take chances on occasion, and several of these came up on the Nintendo GameCube, such as Eternal Darkness (which is now considered a cult favorite) and the very odd historical pinball-like game Odama.

Out of all of these, however, Pikmin clearly stands out.  Produced by Mario veteran Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at Nintendo EAD, the game introduced a fun new play method that very few games had seen before, along with a lively presentation that managed to bring each new corner of the world you were exploring to life.  And it was fun to play as well, helping you use each of your little critters to their best advantage.

The original game, which first came out back in 2001 (yes, it's that old) focuses on an astronaut by the name of Captain Olimar, who's cruising around in his ship, the S.S. Dolphin.  Out of nowhere, a comet crashes into the ship, forcing him to crash on a nearby planet.  He has to search all over to find his ship's parts in order to get off the planet, but he won't be able to do it alone.

That's where the Pikmin come in.  These cute little critters, for the original game, come in three colors – red, yellow and blue.  Each one has techniques that you can use over the course of the game, and you'll always have a steady number of their kind with you, never really running short (as you would in other management-style games).

The red Pikmin are able to withstand fire better than the other two types, and also have a fair amount of power, ideal for battling larger enemies (which you'll run into over the course of the game).  Yellow Pikmin have the ability to carry around "bomb rocks", which help you get through tougher portions of the level.  You can also hurl them higher than the two other types.  Finally, Blue Pikmin are able to withstand being in water longer than the red and yellow, as their aqua skin indicates.

All of these Pikmin combine together to complete objects within the game, whether it's breaking down walls, carrying items to a destination, and defeating enemies, which you do by commanding them to attack it.  The more the merrier, especially with larger ones that take a lot more damage.

You don't have a lot of time to really get everything done, as Olimar only has a 30-day oxygen supply for his suit.  If he runs out, he's dead.  So, you need to find all 25 ship parts – using the 100 Pikmin that accompany you in your travels – and take off from the surface before it's too date.  But don't worry, the game isn't that pressuring.  It's actually a good amount of fun.  And if for some reason you missed out on the original GameCube release, you can also pick it up for the Wii, complete with motion controls, for $20 or less.

Moving on, the follow-up, Pikmin 2, continued the status quo when it arrived on GameCube in 2004.  It came with a number of touch-ups, doing away with the 30 day time limit (you now have unlimited time) and adding a new management dynamic, where you have to keep a closer eye on your Pikmin – or risk losing them to hungry predators lurking in the shadows.  It's not impossible, mind you, and you'll want to keep as many around as possible as you face new enemies and carry items about.

Joining the three previously introduced Pikmin for this sequel are two new colored types – Purple and White.  White are the most resourceful ones, not only faster than the others, but also able to spew a deadly poison for enemies that try to devour them.  (It can also locate hidden treasures.)  Purple, meanwhile, are slower but stronger than the other Pikmin.  Like before, you want to keep a fair balance of them around for encounters over the course of the game.

Perhaps the most riveting addition to the Pikmin franchise with part two is the competitive multiplayer.  Here, you and a friend compete in a capture-the-flag style event, where you try to retrieve four yellow marbles – or steal them from your enemy – to win the match.  Though it's not fancy online gaming, it is a charming little romp for you and your friends to take part in – particularly if you're Pikmin fans.

Like the original, Pikmin 2 was also re-released for the Wii with motion controls, and goes for around $30.

Finally, we come to Pikmin 3, the forthcoming sequel for Wii U, slated for release this year.  Though the plot hasn't been revealed yet, the game will feature a new protagonist this time around, along with two additional Pikmin types to join the others.  Pink Pikmin will enable reaching items that you can't access otherwise, via flight, but, more importantly, you have the Rock Pikmin, stronger types that can smash through barriers.

Pikmin 3 will also introduce a few firsts for the series.  It'll have high definition visuals, supported through both your TV and the GamePad; it'll have touch-screen controls, which should make commanding Pikmin much easier than using a controller; and we're hearing whispers regarding possible online multiplayer, though nothing is 100 percent confirmed yet.

The Pikmin series has come a long way in the past decade, and while Nintendo still hasn't brought the series to handheld form just yet, it's only a matter of time.  For the moment, all eyes are on the Wii U sequel, with its many advancements and colorful visuals, which will bring this perky world to life better than ever.  We can't wait to see what comes of it.

One thing's for sure – you shouldn't tick off a group of Pikmin.