Pikmin 2 is quite possibly one of the finest sequels in gaming history. Just like a good follow-up should, the second iteration of this quirky franchise irons out just about all of the minor problems that kept the first from reaching perfection. With this installment it seems as though Nintendo has taken a page from the book of Capcom and stuck with a formula that works and just simply improved upon it. If Pikmin 2‘s undeniable charm doesn’t hook you, its addictive game play will.
If you were to take one part Lemmings, two parts puzzler and throw in a hefty dose of eccentricity you’d have the basic formula for Pikmin. The narrative has you playing as an alien space pilot named Captain Olimar who is sent on a mission to Earth. There you will be in command of a miniscule army of tiny plant-like creatures called Pikmin that will help you gather various “treasures” across a myriad of landscapes. This time you will be joined by the rookie pilot Captain Louie. He will help you on your treasure hunt as you both collect riches to help alleviate your company’s debt back on your home planet. While such a tale may not win a Pulitzer, it does set up one of the finest adventures available on the GameCube.
Nintendo upgraded the basic Pikmin engine and took care not to disturb the balance of its simplistic yet captivating game play. The decision to leave that annoying time limit behind was sheer genius! Lifting the 30-day check point eliminates the unnecessary level of stress that was so prevalent in the first game and now allows for unfettered exploration. This comes in handy because aside from a newfound focus on battle, the ultimate goal is treasure hunting and you will spend plenty of time doing both. Growing and cultivating countless Pikmin as you amass an army to do all of your fighting, lifting and hunting is still an integral aspect of the game. On this expedition you are in search of discarded pieces of garbage that Olimar and company consider to be the finest baubles this side of Mars. Also, battling is far easier to engage in. The Pikmin’s individual AI seems to have been increased drastically, as they seem to almost seek out objects and enemies of their own accord. Launching your Pikmin at adversaries never gets old, and being able to switch between their different colors while waiting for a toss makes finding the right guy for the job that much smoother.
Having a second-in-command allows you to control two armies simultaneously. This will become an invaluable asset to Olimar late in the game. Near the beginning of your journey Captain Louie may seem like a bit of a tag-along, but as the challenges grow you will find yourself furiously switching between the two just to keep your armies intact. Along with a second mate, two new forms of Pikmin join the fray. First we have the purple Pikmin which are endowed with the strength of ten average red Pikmin, yet come up short in the speed department. Second, there are the white Pikmin which have the effect of poison running through their innards. Aside from being the fastest Pikmin in the bunch, they can also damage an enemy if eaten due to their poisonous nature and are even able to unearth buried goodies. Making a repeat appearance are the fire resistant red, the water-tolerable blue and electricity-friendly yellow Pikmin. Same as it ever was with these three.
Using your multitude of Pikmin and their unique abilities is vital to your success. Each upper-level and randomly generated sub-level map are solidly designed. Clever puzzles and roadblocks galore will keep you guessing, and while strategy does play a part in the game’s progression, Command and Conquer this is not. However, do not be afraid to try out your Pikmins’ individual skills. It may be hard to say good bye to a few of the little guys, but sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good. Experimentation is the key to locating all of the treasures and defeating every boss. Now that the time limit has been ousted and the focus tipped more towards battling, taking care of as many of your Pikmin as possible is essential. Even though you can spend a year on earth this time around, it doesn’t mean you can leave the tiny buggers out at night to get eaten. They don’t like that.
In between levels we are treated to unlockable cut scenes that are pretty impressive and fun to watch. They have sort of a Saturday morning cartoon feel to them which only adds to the game’s accessible and all-inclusive experience. Even the sleek menu system has a bubbly peculiarity that feels right at home in the Pikmin universe. This stylized look packaged along with the Piklopedia (creature guide) and Treasure guide create an extra layer of depth to the game that is made so well, it’s hard not to become immersed in all that is Pikmin.
Visually, Pikmin 2 is a fine piece of eye candy that’s almost as fun to watch as it is to play. This sequel has a sharper, crisper appearance than the original and it’s just as smooth. The frame rates are high and maintain consistency even when there are over 100 separate characters on screen at once. Some of the environments look practically photo-realistic as do many of the objects that you collect. I’d swear that 7-Up bottle top was real! The images may not be groundbreaking, but they reflect the lighthearted feel that Pikmin affords. All of the characters, Pikmin and baddies included, were given such an odd claymation-esque appearance that I wonder if they aren’t creatures from a lost episode of Gumby. Uh, that’s a good thing?
As one might have expected, the music in Pikmin 2 has more of a charming effect than anything else. While mostly an ambient orchestrated/techno-style soundtrack, the score does an adequate job setting the mood for each of the environments and the actions that take place within. Nothing more, nothing less. Music is definitely not Pikmin‘s strongest offering, but the competent placement and pacing earn some points. In-game sound effects are right on target. The Pikmin banter among themselves, enemies cry out in pain, snow crunches underfoot; it all adds up to an authentic and believable aural experience. If you have Dolby Pro Logic II, you’re in luck because Pikmin 2 takes full advantage. The surround sound imbues battles with that much more intensity and gives the cutscenes a much deserved cinematic boost. With that said, it’s also undeniably cool to hear a swarm of enemies surround you from all sides!
Being a sequel to a highly inventive and unique game is a tough act to follow. While Nintendo could have tried to reinvent the wheel with Pikmin 2, they chose to stay with what works. Pikmin fans will be delighted with all of the notable graphical and audio improvements, the finely tuned controls and of course the Piklopedia and Treasure Guide. These two extra menus, while not vital to the main story, bring on extra challenges because as you know only the keenest of space Captains’ will be able to fill both the bestiary and item catalogue to capacity. The guides are so well constructed and fun to explore as gamers can zoom in, rotate and read up on items and enemies and even shoot pik-pik carrots at live creatures just to see their reactions. The presentation is tight, smooth and lends a lot of credibility to what can so easily be passed off as a kid’s game.
The main game itself clocks in at around 30 hours depending on how you play, and that my friends is the beauty of the second coming of Pikmin; there’s no more rushing through levels or restarting the whole game simply because you missed one item. Even after your $10,000 debt is repaid, you are left with the option to continue your game and search for all of the treasure and the rest of your bad-guy collection. This is all in addition to two multi-player modes, where one is unlockable. The only problem here is that we have no full-blown two-player co-op. Other than that, this game is packed to the gills and well worth your time.