Review by MalachiX
"Now this is how to do a sequel!"
Thought it's long been a tradition in the gaming industry for games to be pushed forward before they're truly finished in order to meet a release date, it seems to be happening more and more often. It's especially a shame because it most often seems to affect those rare games that actually try to do something new and innovative in their gameplay. So often, developers spend their time perfecting an interesting new play style only to then not have the time to give the title the proper polish that it needs to be truly great. Such was the case with the original Ratchet and Clank and the original Smash Bros. Such was also the case with the original Pikmin. One of the nice things about the gaming industry however is that, through sequels, it allows developers to fix the flaws with their previous titles and eventually allow them to be the games they were meant to be. While their predecessors may have been lacking, Ratchet Clank: Going Commando and Super Smash Bros: Melee managed to take the unique gameplay from their previous installments and imbue them with a level of polish that made these games some of the best of this generation. I am happy to say that now Pikmin 2 can join their ranks.
In the first game, Captain Olimar crash landed on a strange planet and had only 30 days to collect the lost parts of his ship and repair it before his oxygen supply ran out. In Pikmin 2, Olimar has returned home to find his company deep in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to save it, he must return to the planet in order to salvage treasure and pay off his company's debts.
As far as the gameplay goes, things are similar but improved in every aspect. You still control a race of half-ants, half-plants called Pikmin and journey across a world which bears a striking resemblance to our own. As with the original, the gameplay is a delightful mixture of real-time strategy, exploration, and puzzle solving. However, where the first game used a rather oppressive 30-day time limit that capped the game's playtime at under 10 hours, Pikmin 2 has no restrictions. While there is a still a day/night system that requires players to return treasures to the ship before the sun goes down, there now is no limit to the number of days that one can spend exploring. While some may whine that this no longer forces players to be as efficient as before, it does give the game a much more relaxed feel and makes it a overall much more enjoyable. Still, this new freedom does threaten to remove a sense of challenge from the game as players could conceivably just grow a few thousand Pikmin and plow their way through. To stop this, Nintendo has included a new part of the Pikmin world known simply as caves. These caves are randomly generated dungeons in which time does not pass and the player has a fixed number of Pikmin. Players must be careful in these caves to conserve their Pikmin as they journey threw looking for treasure and heading for the inevitable boss that lies at the bottom of each. Because the caves change each time the player enters and are filled with a ton of dangerous monsters, they really help to deepen the game's focus on exploration and combat. They also serve to make the game far more challenging than the original ever was. The various treasures that are found at the deepest levels of the caves also serve to upgrade Olimar, giving him new abilities such as the rocket punch (a much stronger melee attack), stronger suits for better protection against the elements, and a ton of other useful upgrades. .
Also new to the game is Louie, a second controllable character. While few puzzles actually force you to use both pilots, Louie proves to be an invaluable tool in multi-tasking. Now, you can have him take one squad of Pikmin and clear out enemies while Olimar stays back at the camp and grows re-informants. There are also two new types of Pikmin. The purple, which are fat and have the strength and attack power of ten regular Pikmin (making them invaluable against bosses), and the white, which can spot buried treasure, are immune to poison, and are poisonous to enemies if eaten (making them incredibly useful in combat as kamikazes). Also returning are the original three types of Pikmin: red who are immune to fire, blue who are immune to water, and yellow who are immune to electricity. The game also has a bigger variety of enemies that will force you to strategically use all five types of Pikmin extensively (unlike the first one where the player could use the red Pikmin for roughly 80% of the fighting). Olimar can now also have his Pikmin harvest berries from the surrounding landscape that his ship can process into special juices that can either turn enemies to stone or make his squad of Pikmin fight harder and move faster. Overall, just about everything from the original Pikmin is deeper and better executed here.
The single player game will take most players 20-30 hours to complete but Nintendo didn't stop there. About half way through the player will unlock a challenge mode in which they go through 30 special dungeons, trying to see how fast they can get to the bottom with all the treasure. This proves to be much more extensive than the original Pikmin's challenge mode (in which player simply re-visited old areas seeing how many Pikmin they could grow in one day) and, if the player manages to beat all 30 dungeons without losing a single Pikmin, they'll unlock a special cinema. The challenge mode can also be played in co-op mode with another player!
While these two modes already give Pikmin 2 several times the play value of the original, Nintendo also included an addictive two player versus mode. In this mode, each player controls a squad of Pikmin (one red, one blue) and does battle for marbles littered across one of the 10 playable maps. A victory can be gained one of four ways: a.)Kill all the other players' Pikmin. b.)Kill the other player. c.)Capture your opponent's marble. d.)Capture four of the neutral marbles on the field. This versus mode proves to be surprisingly deep thanks to the addition of Mario-Kart style power ups found on the field that give the player extra Pikmin, make their Pikmin stronger, or drop a nasty enemy into the other player's base. It's also incredibly bizarre and hilarious to see two groups of Pikmin fighting with each other.
Graphically, the game looks like a slightly sharper version of the first title. When the player is zoomed out (as they'll most often want to do to navigate with their squad), the graphics look simply gorgeous. In particular, it is quite stunning when a new level is introduced and we get a nice arial view of the entire place as the ship lands. The textures and polygon counts sport slightly improvements over the previous game and the animation is just as good as ever. Things don't look quite as good when zoomed all the way in but it's still fairly pretty and it's rather unreasonable to expect everything to be ultra high poly-gone with 100 Pikmin on screen at once as well as a variety of giant enemies.
The music is, like the first game, rather un-orthodox as it's not the typical catchy stuff that is normally associated with videogames. Rather, the music here is relaxing and encourages an atmosphere of exploration and enjoyment. I can't say that it's a soundtrack I'd buy on it's own but I can't really picture the game with any other kind of music. Also as before, the sound effects are utterly perfect with the Pikmin having hilariously cute voices as they help you search for treasure and uttering horrifying screams when they drown or are eaten by an enemy.
One thing which must be mentioned about Pikmin 2 is the incredibly amount of polish the title has. Aside from the tons of options and play modes, the game also has some very nice pre-rendered cinemas that tell the simple yet charming story line. Also, each one of the treasures that the player can collect looks great and can be viewed and rotated once it's retrieved. The translation also shines here as they player can read Olimar's comments about the various treasures and enemies he encounters (some of which provide important strategies but most are simply funny observations of what one inch tall person would think about our world) and the player will also receive e-mails from Olimar's boss and family (which also prove to be quite funny). Overall, Nintendo has done a simply wonderful job in immersing the player in the world of Pikmin.
Rent of Buy?: Buy!
When Miyamato first commented that Pikmin 2 could be developed in a mere 8 months, I was worried. I was worried that the game would be rushed out and would suffer from the same lack of polish and play time that the original did. However, Miyamato's claim proved to be rather baseless as the game was delayed over and over again. Now that it's been released, I can safely say that I'm glad it was. Nintendo used the extra development time to make Pikmin 2 the best game it could possibly be. With a very deep single player game, an fun challenge mode, and an addictive versus mode, this game is simply massive and it sports a level of polish in its extras that I haven't seen from Nintendo since Super Smash Bros: Melee. All this is wrapped around the same wonderful Pikmin gameplay that is every bit as unique and refreshing as it was in 2001. This not only makes Pikmin 2 one the best games released this year but one of my favorite games of this generation.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 09/16/04
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