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The first Pikmin is a unique strategy game from Nintendo centering on a tiny extraterrestrial who crash lands on a planet and must recover all his ship parts before his life support system stops working. The gameplay is unique and different than other strategy games I’ve played and it did spawn a sequel that aimed to build upon the foundation and introduces some new stuff. Developed and published by Nintendo, Pikmin 2 was released for GameCube in August, 2004. It was re-released as part of the New Play Control! series for Wii in Japan, Europe and Australia in 2009 and North America in 2012. For this review, I played the Wii version.
Set after the events of the first game, Captain Olimar returns to his home planet and learns that his co-worker, Louie, lost a shipment of golden pikpik carrots so the company was forced to take out a massive loan to cover the loss and are now in debt. The president sends Olimar and Louie back to the planet Olimar came from to retrieve treasure or items that can be sold to pay off the debt. This is yet another simple plot and I do like that the game gives players a glimpse at Olimar’s home planet.
The Wii version of the game does come with some changes. One of the biggest is obviously the controls. Playing with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk allows you to point at the screen, letting you whistle and throw Pikmin almost anywhere. It works really well and Pikmin is one series where I actually prefer this type of control scheme. Other changes include widescreen support, camera tweaks, and minor changes to some gameplay elements.
Pikmin 2 is very much like the first game but with more content, variety, and features. The core mechanics are basically unchanged. You explore different regions of the planet building up an army of Pikmin to defeat enemies and bosses and locate and retrieve treasure. It comes with the main story mode, a new challenge mode, and a 2-player battle mode which I did not get to try.
Red, yellow and blue Pikmin return, along with their strengths and weaknesses. However, some changes have been made. Bomb rocks are larger this time around so they cannot be picked up by any Pikmin. New hazards are introduced like electric gates and luckily, yellow Pikmin are immune to electricity. Pikmin 2 does introduce new types of Pikmin including white, purple, and Bulbmin, all of which can only be acquired in underground areas. White Pikmin are smaller than the other types but also faster, are immune to poison and can detect treasures buried completely under the ground. Purple Pikmin are the slowest but also the strongest, able to lift ten times as much as other Pikmin. Then there’s the Bulbmin which look like Bulborbs and are immune to all hazards but they cannot leave the underground areas.
The underground areas like caves and caverns are the big new thing here. Each region typically features more than one and that’s where a good majority of the treasure can be found. It’s also the only way to accumulate white and purple Pikmin. The game plays out in days and you still have a limited amount of time to do whatever you need to do during the day but there is no day limit which eliminates some of the stress that was present in the first game. You can take your time to do whatever you want. To beat the game you simply need to pay off the debt which means finding enough treasure. The elimination of the day limit doesn’t mean a reduction in challenge and I would say Pikmin 2 is a more challenging game than its predecessor. Obviously, if you figure out the strategies and exploits, it’s not so bad but it can be brutal to newcomers.
The underground areas are the most challenging areas by far. They consist of multiple sublevels that are slightly randomized and, interestingly enough, time stands still when underground so you can take as much time as you need to get through them. Furthermore, your progress is saved after leaving a sublevel. What really makes these areas challenging is that you can’t generate any new Pikmin. That can only be done from Onions above ground which you don’t have access to underground. So whatever Pikmin you bring with you, you’ll want to keep alive. That’s the primary challenge and that’s the new stressor because Pikmin can die very easily and while their AI is improved, they’re still generally stupid. You will have to constantly babysit them.
Underground areas are also the only locations where you can accumulate white and purple Pikmin and recruit Bulbmin. You must toss any Pikmin you brought with you into the appropriate Candypop Buds to convert them to white or purple, and they can only convert so many, and Bulbmin will only join your squad after you defeat their leader. Also, you cannot visit previous sublevels without returning to the surface and starting the descent again.
One of the coolest new features introduced in Pikmin 2 is the ability to control two leaders or captains, Olimar and Louie. They can each command their own squad of Pikmin and you can switch between them at the press of a button. The best thing about this is that you can multitask a lot easier. For example, one Captain can command a squad of Pikmin to destroy a wall or build a bridge while the other commands a squad to engage enemies. The two captains also allows you to explore the regions easier and faster. You can have both captains on opposite sides of the map focusing on different things. Retrieving certain treasures does unlock upgrades which often benefit the captains. For example, the rocket fist upgrade grants them a stronger combo attack and the mega tweeter upgrade increases the range of whistles. My favorite upgrade is easily the pluckaphone. This allows you to pluck Pikmin out of the ground with the whistle.
There’s only four levels or regions in the game and, similar to the regions in the first game, the above ground areas have an Earthly appearance and are populated with enemies, hazards, and obstacles. However, unlike the first game, the regions are little more diverse and each one has it’s own seasonal theme. You can find berries and when enough are brought back to your ship, you acquire a spray. There’s Ultra-Spicy and Ultra-Bitter sprays which offer temporary benefits. Ultra-Spicy Spray makes Pikmin faster and Ultra-Bitter Spray will turn enemies into stone, immobilizing them. These can come in quite handy and berries aren’t the only way to accumulate sprays. Like nectar, you can find concentrated doses in the environments.
There’s a lot of treasure to be found and one nice touch is that some of the treasures are actual real world branded items like Duracell batteries for example. It adds a small touch of realism to the game. Some treasures will be easy to retrieve, others not so much. You may have to solve a puzzle or defeat an enemy or boss and you will need to utilize each type of Pikmin to retrieve all the treasure in the game. All the things you learned in the first game can be applied here and several obstacles and dangers return. But since there’s no day limit, I found the game a lot more enjoyable, even with the challenging underground areas. The fact that I could spend as much time as I needed exploring and studying the maps and building up my Pikmin army was really nice and allowed to me to think a little more about how I should approach situations.
Pikmin 2 introduces a lot of new enemies to the roster. A lot. As expected, some of them are cool, some are tough, and some are just assholes. The Swooping Snitchbug isn’t the only flying prick anymore. Pikmin 2 introduces the Bumbling Snitchbug which targets captains. It will pick one of them up and eventually throw them to the ground. Other than these guys, you’ll face all kinds of foes that require different strategies to defeat including some that unleash projectiles, various types of Bulborbs, and enemies that utilize elemental attacks. One thing I will say is that the new enemies along with the new hazards make the different Pikmin types more useful and that includes the original three. In the first game, I found myself using red Pikmin most of the time except for very specific instances like if I was in water for example. Pikmin 2 gives you many more reasons to use all Pikmin types, adding some more strategy to the gameplay.
As much as I like Pikmin 2, it does come with some annoyances. The game centers very much on the underground areas and unless you look up a guide, you don’t know what you’re in for in a sublevel until you get there and since all the caves and caverns are basically trial and error gauntlets, you may not acquire all the treasure or defeat all the enemies or even the boss on the first run. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but as I progressed through the game, I began to dislike some of the aspects associated with underground areas more and more. My biggest problem is that if you miss something or failed to overcome a challenge, you would have to navigate through each sublevel again just to get where you need to be to try again. And I’m not talking two or three sublevels, some of these caves and caverns have ten or more. Even if you can often run straight for each sublevel’s exit, it’s tedious and seems unnecessary. Alternatively, since the game saves after you exit a sublevel, you can just restart the game and try a sublevel again before descending further. But that, too, is not ideal.
I also started to dislike the underground exclusive Pikmin. Specficially, the way to get them. If you’re still learning strategies and stuff, you may lose a lot of Pikmin. It’s part of the learning process. You need at least one hundred purple Pikmin to acquire one of treasures and that may mean you’ll have to revisit the appropriate sublevels over and over to convert your red, yellow, or blue Pikmin or Bulbmin to purple. That also means descending through all the sublevels until you reach the ones with the appropriate Candypop Buds and, remember, the Buds can only convert so many. That said, I’ve never been great when it comes to strategy so I primarily used the standard Pikmin types to engage foes and bosses because I didn’t want to lose white and purple Pikmin and have to traverse through multiple sublevels repeatedly just to get more. I would only use them for very specific things. But it should be noted, if you know what you’re doing, white and especially purple Pikmin can make some encounters a lot easier as does utilizing the sprays.
Pikmin 2 does bring back the Challenge mode. It has been revamped and I’m happy to say I found it to be a lot more enjoyable than its predecessor. It comes with numerous challenges, most of which need to be unlocked and your primary goal in each challenge is to find the keys to access new sublevels and escape before time runs out. Treasure is scattered around the levels and you’ll want to collect as much as possible within the time limit for a high score. Each challenge gives you a set amount of Pikmin of certain types and throws different enemies and obstacles at you. Some of the challenges are a real bitch but, overall, I found the mode to be a lot of fun.
Visually, Pikmin 2 retains the unique visual style and, overall, the presentation holds up and does a great job at making the the captains and Pikmin look tiny. It’s a colorful game and I like the more diverse environments. From the seasonal-themed regions to the different underground area designs, the game offers plenty of visual variety. I think these games have a unique visual style combining some realism with cartoon-y sci-fi. The realistic Earthly-like environments mixed with alien-like creatures and several real world branded items acting as treasure makes for a kind of surreal visual presentation. The audio work is pretty good with whimsical sounds and tunes that fit the charming and adorable theme of the game, itself, and on the technical side, I did not encounter any major problems and the game ran smooth.
Ultimately, I really enjoy Pikmin 2 and I think it’s better than its predecessor. It offers plenty of fun challenges to overcome and has a lot more replay value than the first game. I like the “dungeon crawl” aspect of the underground areas even if their restrictions can sometimes lead to frustration. I like that there’s no day limit and I would say that the challenge that limit offered in the first game is made up for by tougher gameplay here, overall. The underground areas are the big thing here and not being able to generate new Pikmin while exploring the numerous sublevels means you’ll really have to think and be careful if you want to keep the ones you brought with you alive. Some of the foes and bosses can be brutal to first time players. However, if you know what you’re doing, you can exploit things, turning the more challenging encounters into cakewalks. I also like the treasure hunting aspect. There’s so much to find that I would consider the game a collect-a-thon. All of this and the addition of the 2-player battle mode and revamped Challenge mode makes Pikmin 2 a game that can keep you occupied and coming back for a long time.
I would absolutely recommend Pikmin 2. It gives you the same unique style of strategy gameplay the first game offered and then some. New Pikmin types, new challenges, new environments, and more variety. It’s a much longer game with a lot of content and a good amount of replay value. It retains the unique charm and adorable characters and enemies but don’t let that fool you because the game will kick your ass if you don’t know what you’re doing. Definitely check it out.