The first Pikmin was a great game. It splashed in elements of real-time strategy titles, peppered everything with play mechanics seemingly inspired by classics like Lemmings, and topped it all off with a lovable style that was wholly owned by Nintendo. For some, it was an initially daunting experience. All of those colorful creatures and no idea what to do with them. But those who gave the game a chance quickly learned that the experience was made completely intuitive thanks to smartly simplified controls. Commanding Pikmin was fun, not frustrating, which surprised many console gamers who had come to believe that the term "RTS" was synonymous with complicated functionality.
Pikmin was great, we should add, while it lasted. It was a relatively short game made shorter by an unfortunate 30-day system that forced players to complete their goals in the designated time limit.
That's all gone for the sequel, which is as far as we're concerned an all-around well-crafted continuation of the series. Pikmin 2 is better than its predecessor in just about every way. It features new types of Pikmin that allow for unique, interesting ways to play the title. It's dramatically longer and in many ways more difficult than the first. It sports new two-player and challenge modes. And to top everything off, the presentation is one of Nintendo's best, complemented by a detailed collectibles system that gives Super Smash Bros. Melee a run for its money.
- Sequel to the hit real-time strategy/puzzle game Pikmin
- Play as either Captain Olimar or Louie and command armies of Pikmin
- Now features new Purple and White Pikmin, as well as Red, Blue and Yellow Pikmin
- Explore four huge areas, each with a different theme
- Almost 20 new caves, each with multiple tiers
- New two-player versus mode and cooperative challenge mode
- 30-plus hours of gameplay
- Wide assortment of collectibles
- Unlock bonus materials like FMV cut-scenes
- Progressive-scan compatible
- Dolby Pro Logic II compatible
- Requires 27 blocks for saves on Memory Card
Going Bankrupt and Going Back
Pikmin 2 picks up shortly after the first left off. Main character Captain Olimar, after fixing his spaceship, has returned to his home planet of Hocotate. But his long overdue arrival is not nearly as satisfying as it might have been for upon touching down Olimar learns that his employer, Hocotate Freight, is on the verge of bankruptcy. Only seconds after Olimar sets foot on ground a repossession robot takes control of his ship. His employer explains that in Olimar's absence he deployed new recruit Louie to deliver a shipment of Pikpik carrots, but a space bunny hijacked the ship and the cargo was lost. Olimar and Louie must return to the planet of the Pikmin and search for hidden treasure that might get Hocotate Freight out of its massive debt.
Right from the very start, the presentation of Pikmin 2 eclipses the first -- it, in fact, runs circles around most Nintendo-developed games. Impressively detailed and crisp CG sequences oftentimes tell the story and the cut-scenes are very well done and amusing. The end credit scene in particular will likely have Pikmin fans giggling. Without giving too much away, let's just say that Olimar is the brains of the outfit. Also, there is at least one surprise that players probably won't see coming. It's refreshing to see a Nintendo-created game with such undeniably high production values.
Those values carry over to the in-game worlds, too. Pikmin 2 runs in progressive scan (and features the option to turn deflicker on or off), supports Dolby Pro Logic II, and as a result looks and sounds marginally prettier than the original. As before, some of the environmental textures suffer up close, but appear ultra-realistic from a panned back view. Meanwhile, all of the characters from Olimar and Louie to the nasty beasts they encounter are gorgeously modeled and animated. Water shimmers realistically. Lighting effects illuminate darkened areas. Particle effects bring to life dangers like fire. And the game runs at 30 frames per second with 100 animated Pikmin whirling around at any given time.
Nintendo's attention to detail does not stop with storytelling and visuals, though. Everything from the menus to the extras in the game feels and looks slick and finely tuned. The title screen, for instance, will go through graphic changes to reflect the changes of season. There is a bonus section that acts as a movie theater for the unlocked cut-scenes. There are several new play types, including a wealth of challenge modes that extend replay value; two-players can explore these cooperatively. There's even a two-player versus battle mode.
But the options that most impress us -- truly invaluable additions for die-hard Nintendo fans in particular -- are the inclusions of both a Piklopedia and Treasures sub-menus. Here, gamers can view in exquisite detail all of the characters and collectibles that they have encountered in the game. Each addition, whether it's a boss bug or a Nintendo trading card, can be magnified, rotated, and analyzed, and players can even throw Pikpik carrots at the living creatures to see how they'll react. It reminds us very much of the trophy section in Super Smash Bros. Melee, actually, except that it's even more polished, in many respects. Hats off to Nintendo for taking the extra time and effort to include these sections, which go a long way. A Planet of Surprises
Pikmin 2 plays fundamentally the same as its predecessor. The rules too remain identical. Gamers amass Pikmin creatures and command them to tackle various tasks from fighting alien insects to building bridges and digging up hidden treasures. The control mechanics have not changed, which means that they remain as intuitive as ever. Gamers don't directly maneuver the creatures, but guide them with either Captain Olimar or newcomer Louie. There are a surprisingly deep number of options mapped to a deceptively simple control configuration. Players can, for instance, throw Pikmin onto an enemy and make them attack, call them away from a slaughter, divide them into different squads and send them on individual tasks such as looking for treasure or carrying the corpses of fallen foes back to their onion pods. Many of the challenges in the game are set up in linear sequence, but they feel decidedly non-linear due to the sheer freedom of choices available in conquering each obstacle. It's possible to tackle the same challenge a dozen different ways, in many cases, a truth that never fails to satisfy.
Additions to Pikmin 2 can only be viewed as improvements to an already great formula. The classic Red, Yellow and Blue Pikmin from the first game have returned, and they are fire resistant, immune to electricity and able to traverse water respectively. Naturally their different attributes allow for all sorts of enjoyable environmental puzzle elements. For example, players might need to use Blue Pikmin to cross a stream and then build a bridge from the other side so that the rest of the army can come along. The levels themselves have been designed to make the most out of the different colored creatures and as a result gamers will need to keep a steady supply of each alive. Completely new to the sequel, though, are Purple and White Pikmin, and both types are hilarious and invaluable for different reasons. The fat, sumo-wrestler-like Purple Pikmin are roughly 10 times heavier than all of the others and are also very strong; these guys are not only integral when fighting bigger foes, but also mandatory in situations where added weight is a necessity. There are extremely well-designed points, for example, where teeter-totter systems enable Pikmin access to an upper tier and a mere 10 Purple Pikmin can lift 90 of the others. Meanwhile White Pikmin, these tiny, albino-like creatures with puffy, red eyes, are poisonous and quick. As a result, they can traverse toxic areas and disable any poisons that might harm the others. They can spot hidden treasures when the other Pikmin cannot. And on top of everything else, they will poison creatures that eat them.
The possibilities are far grander than before and the play more entertaining. Gamers can throw 10 Red Pikmin at a creature, or they can choose to sacrifice one or two White Pikmin and poison the enemy instead. For these reasons and many more related to strong level design, Pikmin 2 constantly presents smart, rewarding puzzles that revolve around the color dynamic.
Divide and Conquer
In Pikmin 2, Nintendo has attempted to make the process of dividing and conquering simpler still with a couple of helpful additions and has largely succeeded. Olimar's sidekick Louie (Mario and Luigi, anyone?) is fully controllable -- gamers can switch between the two at any point with a press of the Y button -- and is able to take squads of Pikmin into opposite directions, if the situation calls for it. Splitting 100 Pikmin between the two characters is much more manageable than attempting to burden one with the whole load. That said, there are still complications related to the Pikmin selection process. Hitting the B button causes the party leader to whistle, which in turn creates a maneuverable on-screen circle diameter that grabs the attention of stray Pikmin. But the diameter is not precise. All too often players will accidentally grab Purple, Red, Blue or Yellow Pikmin when they only mean to grab White, which can be frustrating. Holding down the A button and pressing Left on the D-Pad enables Olimar or Louie to throw unwanted Pikmin from the party, which is welcomed. Still, the process is hardly speedy, and as a result, especially in tight corridors where the different Pikmin crowd together, gathering the right force for the job can sometimes be tedious.
And since we only have one other notable complaint, we might as well list it. The Pikmin are generally smart. They take commands well and respond quickly. They are adaptable. But some of the Pikmin will occasionally get stuck on walls, or simply break from the party. Players will look down and see that they only have 98 out of 100 Pikmin in their party and they'll have to look to the map to find the remaining two. This is not a common occurrence, but it happens every now and again and it never fails to be bothersome.
Do You Live in a Cave?
Much of the action in Pikmin 2 takes place underground in a series of caves, which are new to the franchise. The main goal of the title is to collect enough treasure to earn $10,000 worth of Pokos so that Olimar can pay off the Hocotate Freight's debt, and the caves house most of the loot. The catch is that Pikmin cannot be re-spawned while inside a cave, and the caves themselves can stretch down through several, if not a dozen or more tiers. In short, they're hard -- especially some of the later ones. Pikmin will likely die, and oftentimes a boss character lies in wait at the very bottom. Players who have taken massive casualties will have to decide if they want to risk continuing onward. For this very reason the caverns are simultaneously a lot of fun. There is a high level of challenge involved in besting some of the more difficult ones -- all of the Pikmin will have to be used at different times, and many colors will have to come together for puzzles -- and the satisfaction gained from doing so is immense. There are almost 20 huge caves spread across the four gargantuan areas of the world, so players will be busy for a while. The 30-day system in the original Pikmin has thankfully been tossed to the wind, which means that gamers are free to explore the world in Pikmin 2 at their leisure. The day and night system, however, remains, so players will still need to work toward completing their desired tasks before the sun sets. The system is very balanced. The feeling of being rushed, which was a dominating force in the original game, is gone, but a sense of urgency lingers to complete objectives before the day ends.
Even better, the day/night system comes to a standstill whenever players enter one of the caves, which are completely time-free.
And That's Not All...
While we're disappointed that Pikmin 2 does not feature a full-blown cooperative mode in which two players could go through the entire single-player quest, the challenge and versus modes more than make up for the omission. There are dozens of challenge mode arenas, and these can be played with one or two people. In challenge mode, two players team up to retrieve treasures and a hidden key before time runs out. It's that simple, and yet the process is a lot of fun regardless. The arenas are varied and the obstacles increasingly more difficult.
Meanwhile, the two-player versus mode is surprisingly excellent. There are two methods of winning here: players can either retrieve four yellow marbles scattered about the arenas, or capture the enemy's blue or red-colored marble to instantly win the match. It's kind of like capture the flag with a serious catch: because it's a split-screen match, each gamer can see what the other is doing at all times. It actually works to the benefit of the experience, as opposed to detracting from it. We played through the versus mode extensively and each time we found ourselves laughing out loud and cursing the other player for attempting to sneak up and carry off our marble. As an added bit of color, Pikmin from the competing player's squad will attack Olimar and Louie depending on their alliance, and this is a very amusing thing to watch.
With a massive single-player experience to boot -- more than 30 hours, which is dramatically longer than the first game -- and the new challenge and versus modes, Pikmin 2 is packed and overflowing with replay value. An outstanding achievement worthy of recognition.
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