Review by clarkisdark

"Slim pickings"

With the Gamecube, Nintendo played it safe. Just look at how many Mario spin-offs there were. Nintendo really sold its heavy-hitting franchises and put little effort into crafting entirely new IPs. True, we saw some original content, like Battalion Wars and Chibi-Robo, but nothing that revolutionized the industry in the same way as Halo on Xbox or Grand Theft Auto on the PS2. But during these "hard years" for Nintendo, one idea was born that has the potential to eventually turn into something spectacular: Pikmin. This series still has some growing up to do, though, because Pikmin 2 isn't "there" yet.

Pikmin 2 is, however, a very beautiful game. This is easily one of the best-looking of the Gamecube's library. The outdoor areas are encompassed in rich, soft lighting, and the sense of scale feels very real. It's quite fun to explore an outdoor world as such a small character, because everyday objects are suddenly the size of skyscrapers. While the treasures you collect all have brand names on them, like Duracell batteries or Coca-Cola bottle caps, it never feels forced or out of place. Pikmin 2 also manages to keep load times down and framerates up. Seldom will you encounter any sluggish movement, even with 100 pikmin battling 20 different monsters on screen. And who doesn't love watching 100 cute, little pikmin beat the tar out of a ravenous lady bug?

Pikmin is a real-time strategy game, but it is anything but typical. You play as Captain Olimar, a defenseless, little guy who must brave a foreign world to find enough treasure to pay off a huge company debt back home. Olimar can't carry this stuff back to his spaceship by himself, however. Neither does he have any way to fight the monsters who are often guarding the treasure. This is where the pikmin come into play. These plant-like creatures will follow you around, fight monsters for you, and carry objects back to the base. Pikmin come in three main varieties: red, blue, and yellow. Red pikmin are invulnerable to fire, blue to water, and yellow to electricity, so you will often have to find clever ways to get yellow pikmin across a river or blue ones safely past a field of fire monsters. Pikmin are easy to come by, too, so don't feel bad if a red pikmin accidentally drowns in a pond (though it's always sad to see that happen). When pikmin carry a monster's carcass back to their onion-shaped spaceship, new pikmin will sprout out of the ground. As such, defeating a giant monster and watching your pikmin haul its dead body away, knowing full well it's going to generate a whole lot more pikmin, is a delight that few other games have matched.

In the first Pikmin, you only had 30 in-game days to find all of your missing ship parts before Olimar died. This time limit created a sense of urgency, but it also made me feel anxious the entire time and forced me to beat the game sooner than I would have on my own. Fortunately, for Pikmin 2, there's no time limit, and you can spend as many days as you want on the planet. If you want to spend an entire day harvesting pikmin, go right ahead. The amount of daylight is still limited to about 15 minutes, however, and you'll be forced to retire to your spaceship when night sets to avoid getting eaten by nocturnal predators. So there are still some moments of panic, especially since any pikmin not following you when the bell tolls are left to die. It's a tough world out there.

Pikmin 2 does offer some new content over the original, too. There are three new breeds of pikmin to play with: purple, white, and a parasite pikmin that lives inside small monsters. Purple pikmin are strong and heavy and can lift ten times the weight of a normal pikmin. White pikmin are poisonous and will hurt a monster if swallowed, but their biggest advantage is locating and unearthing buried treasure. These new breeds are very useful but not so easy to come by since they don't have a corresponding onion. You have to be careful in how you use them, then. The biggest addition for this game, however, is Captain Olimar's sidekick, Louie. Louie can take his own army of pikmin and leave Olimar to go do something else. This makes it easy to keep different colors separated or to explore more of an area in one day. You don't even have to use Louie, but being able to switch between him and Olimar makes managing pikmin and traveling so much easier.

As you explore, you will frequently come across holes in the ground which lead into underground mazes. While the thought of doing a little spelunking with your pikmin is intriguing, these mazes are simply more work than they are worth. Mazes are drab, repetitive, and cramped and are not anywhere near as interesting as the planet's surface. Mazes appear in abundance, though, and it'd be nice if you didn't have to do them all. But this is where most of the treasure is hidden, and the bosses on the final floor often carry special items you could really use (like faster shoes or a louder whistle to call your pikmin). But the biggest problem with the mazes is that you can't go back and replenish your pikmin army if it gets wiped out, nor can you turn monsters into new sprouts. What you go in with, you have to keep. So what happens if you forgot to take some red pikmin with you and are now surrounded by fire creatures? Or what if you suddenly don't have enough pikmin to beat the end boss? You can leave the maze at any time, but unless you leave through an official exit, all your work is lost. You have to come back another time and do it all over again. Yes, that's right: all-- over-- again.

The most annoying part of Pikmin 2, however, is actually the pikmin themselves. These little critters may be cute, but they're incredibly stupid. When pikmin carry an object, they will frequently take the long, dangerous route instead of the short path you already cleared for them. If you tell your pikmin to rest, you'd better hope there's nothing nearby to distract them. They'll want to carry a corpse or uproot grass or knock down a gate even if that gate is electrical and will kill them. And once they start doing something, it's difficult getting them to stop. My pikmin died several times due to them refusing to retreat when I called. Sure, all of this gives the pikmin a unique personality, but it can easily start to feel more like you are babysitting 100 ADD third-graders than playing a game. And nobody wants that.

Lasting Appeal:
In the end, Pikmin 2 just doesn't retain the same amount of fun throughout as its predecessor did. With only three major areas (plus a fourth once you've collected the debt, but then what's the point of continuing?), there just isn't enough variety to keep things fresh. Underground mazes wear thin very quickly. Regardless, this is a pretty lengthy adventure, and you can expect to put in 10-12 hours accumulating the necessary amount of treasure. Pikmin 2 goes a step further, however, and offers up a decent multiplayer mode. Two players can tackle a series of special mazes cooperatively or battle against each other. The co-op mode isn't all that interesting since you are timed and have to play some pretty boring levels, but the battle mode is amusing. This is a race to either unearth and return four yellow marbles to your base or steal your opponent's marble. Things can quickly turn in one player's favor, but it's hilarious to run into each other and let loose your battalion of pikmin.

I wish I could say, "If you enjoyed the original Pikmin, this one's even better," but obviously that didn't ring true for me. All Nintendo needed to do for a good sequel was eliminate the 30-day timer and add a lot of new content. But instead of getting more imaginative, open areas, we ended up with a series of annoying and boring underground mazes that somehow manage to take up the majority of the game. Granted, the RTS nature of Pikmin in general is still fun, inventive, and charming, but, unless that 2-player mode really appeals to you, your best bet may be to wait for the inevitable third release on Wii and hope that Nintendo can finally find a happy medium with this franchise. And Nintendo? Please, please make the pikmin a little smarter!

+ Harvesting pikmin is always fun
+ Better pace than original
+ New colors add variety
+ Decent 2-player support
-- Pikmin are freakin' stupid
-- Annoying underground mazes
-- That take up the majority of the game

Score: 7.0

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/02/07

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