Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto

Once upon a time, in addition to blockbuster games and their sequels, the gaming market supported quirky, idiosyncratic games that reflected the zeal of their designers more than the zeal of their marketers. These oddball games -- usually developed on the PC or god forbid the Mac -- never achieved blockbuster hit status but had their own cadre of fans who appreciated their offbeat nature.

Alas, to judge by this year's E3 trade show in Los Angeles, those days are waning. However, one of the last of this breed of appealling small projects to get out is Nintendo's Pikmin. Legendary game designer Miyamoto supposedley thought this diversion up while staring at his garden one day, and that certainly fits. You play as Captain Olimar, sole crewman of the Dolphin. The Dolphin gets smacked by an asteroid and crashes on a strange blue planet full of the deadly element -- oxygen. Unless Captin Olimar can retrieve the dispersed parts of his spaceship in 30 days when his life support gives out, all is lost.

But, to help him in this quest, he can enlist the help of the Pikman, strange carrot-like creatures he can pluck from the ground. The gameplay of Pikmin is to rush back and forth between hunting with the Pikmin, thereby clearing out predators and bringing in their bodies to grow more Pikmin; and retrieving the lost parts of your spaceship, which is usually doable only after you've accumulated a fair store of Pikmin.

This basic gameplay calls to mind the classic Psygnosis game Lemmings , where mindless critters followed you and did your bidding. However, Pikmin goes much deeper into that vein not only because you grow your own selection of Pikmin types, but because it's a real 3-D world and the third dimension is used to advantage in terms of puzzle design.

While Pikmin can't be called one of the year's milestones in terms of gaming, it certainly is one of the games I enjoyed playing the most this year. And it represents an aspect of gaming that's being lost in the current sequels-to-hits-at-all-costs frenzy of the gaming market.