The Pikmin leaders are the characters of whom the player has control. Because most of these characters are commonly able to pilot ships, they are also usually referred to by fans as captains or pilots. In the first game, there is only one captain, Olimar, an employee of Hocotate Freight who crash-landed on PNF-404. In Pikmin 2, Louie is added as a second character, also controlled by the player; it is possible to switch between the two playable leaders by pressing / . Louie is replaced by The President after the debt is cleared. In Pikmin 3 there are three new leaders: the engineer Alph, the botanist Brittany, and the crew's captain, Charlie. / / is used to switch.
The leader is followed by Pikmin they have called out of the Onion or plucked, and by lone Pikmin they touch or whistle at. The leader can throw Pikmin for various purposes, or attack creatures themselves when no Pikmin are nearby. Puffstools, Antenna Beetles, mature Bulbmin, and the Scornet Maestro act as naturally occurring enemy leaders, in each of the three Pikmin games, stealing the player's Pikmin or scouting with their own type of underlings.
When the player is not playing as the other leader(s), they are considered inactive. The inactive leader is controlled by a simple artificial intelligence system in both Pikmin 2 and Pikmin 3. If the inactive leader is with the active leader's group, they will follow the active leader very closely. They will also attack an enemy if the active leader is attacking the enemy through punching. However, they can only throw about one punch per second; far less than the player is capable of. The Rocket Fist will also not activate for the inactive leader. In Pikmin 3, they will not punch alongside the leader, as leaders can now be thrown.
If an inactive leader is not in the player's group, they will stand idle similar to the way Pikmin do when dismissed or thrown. However, they can not call idle Pikmin to their side by touching them. They will also not attack enemies; instead choosing to walk away from them, which can be used to the player's advantage against certain creatures, such as the Ranging Bloyster. Pikmin in the inactive group are likely to be killed in these situations nonetheless, as the leader's reactions are rather sloppy and aim to protect the leader, not their Pikmin squad. In Pikmin 3, whenever a leader is near an enemy, they will run in circles around it, while alerting the active leader by saying something. For example, Charlie can say "Things aren't looking good!" if he is near an enemy.
Captain Olimar, often simply called Olimar, is the main character of the Pikmin series. He is the Hocotate Freight employee who discovered PNF-404 and the Pikmin. He is the captain of his personal ship, the S.S. Dolphin, until it is sold to repay some of the debt at the start of Pikmin 2. In Pikmin 3, Captain Olimar is a non-playable character that appears later in the story. However, he is usable in Bingo Battle and certain Mission Mode levels.
Louie first appears in Pikmin 2 and serves as a partner to Olimar, commanding Pikmin as his sidekick. He is relatively new to the shipping business and has a ravenous appetite. He was raised by his grandmother, who made him play with bugs and eat them, from where it is assumed that his great affinity for cooking beasts in Pikmin 2 comes. After gaining 10,000 Pokos, Louie is replaced by the President.
In Pikmin 3, Louie is salvaged a few times by the Koppai explorers. He is only a playable leader in Bingo Battle, when playing with two leaders per team, as well as certain Mission Mode Levels.
The President is the owner of Hocotate Freight, and is a playable character in Pikmin 2. He is called "Shacho" in the Japanese version, which is Japanese for "President". After returning back to Hocotate after clearing the debt, the President becomes the replacement for Louie for the rest of Pikmin 2's duration. He is mentioned many times throughout Pikmin 3, such as in Olimar's Log. There is a snow sculpture of him in the Distant Tundra, and the Lucky Marble in Bingo Battle resembles his head. However, he does not appear as a character in this game whatsoever.
Alph is the mechanic of the S.S. Drake. He is kind, gentle, very interested in technological devices, and is a very capable engineer that configures objects found on the Pikmin Planet for the crew to use on their quest for food. He has a cerulean blue tuft of hair and wears a spacesuit with cerulean blue accents. Like the other two members of his team, he is from Koppai.
Brittany is a botanist who is responsible of keeping track of the fruit found on the planet and juices produced by the crew. She is a bit dishonest and seems to care about her own safety far more than that of others, as she tends to take slightly more than her share of juice and is not concerned at all when Charlie is lost in the wild. Brittany is also a bit of a glutton, though not quite as much as Louie. She has shoulder-length pink hair and a spacesuit with pink accents.
Charlie is the captain of the Koppaite trio. Though acting tough, he is caught quite off-guard by the Pikmin on the foreign planet. He also tries his best to appear as a good leader, but nonetheless the crew members all have equal say in decision-making. Aside from these traits, his personality differs noticeably between the European and American versions of Pikmin 3. In the former, he appears to be very fond of Brittany, but in the latter, he is instead portrayed as being very egotistical. His hair is styled in a flattop pattern, but unlike Alph and Brittany, Charlie's hair does not match his suit's color scheme. Instead, his hair and mustache are dark brown, whereas his suit has green accents. By extension, his suit bears a five-point star, which presumably denotes his superior rank. Humorously, Charlie also owns a rubber ducky that he is very fond of.
Enemies as leaders
The Antenna Beetles found in Pikmin 2 are comparable to the Hocotatian leaders in that they can control Pikmin with the sounds they produce, apparently by flapping their wings. This appears to affect Pikmin in a similar way to the whistles of the other leaders. The only way to regain control of the capture Pikmin is to kill, stun, or chase away the Antenna Beetle. The Antenna Beetle's whistling range is notably larger than the leaders', without the Mega Tweeter.
The only enemy leader in the first Pikmin game is the Puffstool, who will shoot spores at Pikmin to possess them. These "Mushroom Pikmin" will follow the Puffstool around, and will chase Captain Olimar if he gets too close. Pikmin can be cured by either shaking them off or by killing the Puffstool.
Bulbmin are Pikmin-Bulborb crosses that roam around caves. They have a maximum of ten following Bulbmin. These Bulbmin do not do anything but follow their leader. The leader attacks by eating Pikmin just like normal Bulborbs do, and when the player kills it, the followers will get frightened and run around in circles. These Bulbmin can be called into the army, and act as additional Pikmin. They have immunities to the main four hazards, but the downside is that they cannot be taken out of caves. It is best to use Candypop Buds to convert them into other types of Pikmin which can be taken out of caves.
In Pikmin 2 and Pikmin 3, Spotty Bulbears are awake and walk from place to place. It's very common to find Dwarf Bulbears following them around in a pack. If a mature Bulbear passes near some dwarfs, they will stop whatever they are doing and will start following. Besides that, these two creatures have no other interaction.
The Scornet Maestro is the fourth major boss in Pikmin 3 story mode. It can command up to 100 Scornets at the same time and use them to attack with various formations. They also protect it. After one of its assaults, the Scornets will leave for a while, and the player will be able to attack the Maestro.
Gameplay differences between characters
Normally, all playable leader characters work exactly the same in terms of gameplay, making choosing a specific one a preference for the player.
However, in Pikmin 2, Louie and the President are actually slightly taller than Olimar, which has a very slight impact in the gameplay. Clipping through the bridge near the Geographic Projection using the Napsack is considerably easier with Louie and the President, compared to Olimar. It can also be noted that in this game, the music switches from straight eight notes when controlling Captain Olimar to swing time when controlling Louie or the President.
In Pikmin 3, Brittany has a minor special role at the Formidable Oak since she's the one the Pikmin will initially follow. If she falls, Alph will take her place, and then Captain Charlie. Charlie's frame is also larger, and when he holds on to another leader or Pikmin, they're actually a bit further outward than with Alph or Brittany. This makes Captain Charlie ideal for releasing Pikmin or leaders through walls.
Leader is down
When a leader loses all of their health, they become unconscious. In Pikmin, the day ends and all Pikmin that aren't in an Onion die. In Pikmin 2 and Pikmin 3, this only occurs if all leaders faint; otherwise, the Pikmin that were with the fallen leader become idle, and the leader is moved to the Hocotate ship or the S.S. Drake, where they stay until the end of the day.
In Pikmin, if Captain Olimar's suit takes too much damage, there will be a cutscene with his space suit being electrified, then Olimar falling down. Eventually, the screen will turn black and white. The words "Olimar is down" will then appear on-screen and the day's journal will read as follows:
“I've been careless, sustaining damage beyond my space suit's limits. My crisis transport system saved me, but I lost all of the Pikmin I had with me. I must pay closer mind to my space suit damage meter in the bottom-left corner of the screen. I can press / by the Dolphin to repair my suit.”