Review by MTLH
Pikmin 2 proves that you can never have too much of a good thing.
The original Pikmin was amongst the earliest games for the GameCube. Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto himself, it was an attempt by Nintendo to do something new. It's relative success has lead to a sequel on the same console and an upcoming one for the Wii U. Let's also not forget the New Play Control! reissues for the Wii. Even so, Pikmin hasn't reached the same status as Nintendo's traditional heavy hitters. Although the first Pikmin is a great game, it's one of my personal favourites, it was the sequel that really fulfilled the series' promise.
The visuals are incredibly charming. Olimar and company and their Pikmin army are animated well, lending them a good deal of character. The Pikmin mob manages to resemble a bunch of individuals instead of the look-alike clones they really are through some small touches like having a few Pikmin falling over or straggling behind. The small astronauts also benefit from such details, such as the way they exert themselves while whistling or hobble when moving around. The enemies show more variation this time around, even those that belong to the same type of species. The bosses steal the show though, being generally the largest and best detailed creatures in the game.
While the animals and protagonists sport a cartoony look, the environments and supposed pieces of treasure go for a more realistic style. The various landmarks and plantlife look remarkably lifelike, as do such things as the bottlecaps and the marbles. Little details like leaves that flutter slowly in the wind also add a lot to the visuals. The realistic and cartoon styles go well together without clashing too much.
The soundtrack is varies between upbeat and melancholic but remains relatively serene and atmospheric throughout. It becomes more menacing though when a situation turns dangerous, like the boss encounters for example. The sound effects are very good. They add a lot of character to the game, from the different whistles of the astronauts and the cries of the Pikmin to the varies yelps and growls of the creatures they encounter.
Pikmin 2 follows directly from where its predecessor left off. Olimar returns home only to discover that the company he works for, Hocotate Freight, is practically bankrupt. Something went wrong in his absence and the company's president had to take on a huge loan which he simply cant pay back. Unless of course they cash in on the items Olimar discovered during his time on the mysterious planet of the first game. So off he goes with his new partner Louie to brave the wilds and gather some treasure.
One of the defining aspects of Pikmin was it's sense of loneliness. Olimar was stranded, his ship in tatters and with only an air supply for thirty days. Sure, he had the company of a few hundred Pikmin but Olimar really was on his own. Pikmin 2 changes this. Not only has the time limit been dropped, he also has some company from not only Louie but also the ship's AI and eventually the company's president. Olimar even receives a piece of mail at the end of each day from his family. The tone of his logs has become more cheerful while his and the ship's descriptions of the numerous artefacts are an enjoyable source of humour. The loss of Pikmin's melancholy is unfortunate but the new tone does fit the sequel's more exploratory mood better.
The basics havent changed much from the first Pikmin. Olimar can still employ the titular plantlike beings whichcome in several different variations, each possessing their own particular skills. The reds are resistant to fire, the blues are at home in the water while the yellow Pikmin trade in their bomb handling skills for an affinity with electricity while retaining their ability to be thrown farther than the rest. It was a smart move to give the yellow version a new ability as the old one tended to be a bit gimmicky. Pikmin 2 introduces two new species, the purple heavy hitters and the poisonous whites. The latter are also useful for locating buried objects. These new Pikmin nicely complement the existing roster, finding their own place in the various tried and trusted strategies.
At it's hart, Pikmin 2 is still a game of exploration, management and solving conundrums. Olimar, Louie and their Pikmins must travel to each corner of the four maps on offer in search for valuable items. When an object is found, it must be dragged back to the duo's ship where it is converted into cold hard currency. This is easier said than done. The group has to contend with both the hostile fauna and obstacles such as water and walls. Bringing the right type of Pikmin along is essential. An item may be found across a small stream which requires the blues to cross it. Perhaps said item is located behind an electrified fence, requiring the services of the yellows. That means that the blue Pikmin must repair a bridge so their brethren can cross the water. But what about that fire spitting foe? Better let the reds deal with it. Most of the treasures, and the terrain in general, must be tackled in such a manner.
As in the first game, managing the Pikmin horde is essential, or at least initially. Gaining more of the creatures involves harvesting or finding certain flower pellets and dragging them back to the base. Defeated enemies can also be converted into new Pikmin. It's certainly worth the effort to create and maintain a varied workforce. There comes a moment however where there are more than enough Pikmin available and then this aspect of the game loses some of it's priority. What remains so is harvesting berries, a new addition. There are two kinds and ten of each are needed to make a spray. These either energise the Pikmin or petrify an enemy for a short duration. Setting aside a few minutes to drag a few of these fruits back to base is well worth the effort.
Strengthening all these aspects is the addition of a second protagonist. Having two of the diminutive astronauts on the field at the same time adds an extra layer to the gameplay. It encourages multitasking, for example taking Olimar with a group of Pikmin along to fetch an item while occasionally switching to Louie and his troop who are collecting berries. Getting to some of the items or defeating certain enemies also requires the involvement of both Hocotatians.
Sessions are measured in days which last for about fifteen minutes. It's very important to get each Pikmin back to base before the day is over lest they become prey to predators. As was mentioned, Pikmin 2 has rid itself of the thirty day time limit. On the one hand this allows for a greater freedom of exploration, which is quite liberating, but this comes at the expense of the planning and the first Pikmin's sense of urgency. In that game, you had to plan your days by figuring out which item to collect, to perform some preliminary groundwork, tearing down a wall for the next day for example, and spending some precious time growing your army. In Pikmin 2 this is still an effective way to play the game, if only to make things easier for yourself, but the overwhelming drive to do so is missing.
A new feature in Pikmin 2 are the caves. Each area contains a few and it is here where the vast majority of the objects are found as well as being the only place where to encounter the white and purple Pikmin. Time outside also stops when exploring a cave. The idea is to take a group of Pikmin into such environments and proceed ever deeper, scouring every level for objects, until the bottom is reached. There is usually a larger boss creature waiting there. Forming a balanced Pikmin group is more important than ever when entering a cave. There are hints as to what may be found but generally it's preferable to bring along some of each colour. The caves hook into Pikmin 2's more exploration based orientation but can also be at times a gruelling battle for survival. The severally limited opportunities to replace fallen Pikmin can make things very difficult, especially later in the game where it's perfectly possible to land right next to one of the game's bigger animals. Adding to this is that the sublevels are mostly, and to an extent, randomly generated. This has an impact on both your starting position and the locations of the enemies and obstacles, where an unfavourable roll of the dice can make such a level nearly impossible to overcome without losing more than a few of your precious Pikmin. The upshot of all this is that the sense of accomplishment and victory when finally returning back to base with a hold full of treasure is all the greater. In a manner this does compensate for the loss of the limited number of days which elicited a similar feeling of accomplishment when a day was well spent.
Although the controls will eventually become close to second nature, they do initially require some practice. Pikmin are selected by whistling at them, which leads them to hover around the one whistling and they will automatically follow him. They can then be thrown at enemies and objects and be made to swarm. When holding a Pikmin, Olimar can also select a certain type, making the rest of the group rearranging themselves according to colour. These are the basics and they are more than enough to accomplish the game's tasks. The controls can be a bit fiddly at times though, especially when trying to organise a group of Pikmin into several smaller units. A minor issue concerns the cursor which can get a little lost when the camera is entirely zoomed out and during more hectic moments, making them even more hectic in the process. Another minor point would be the camera, which works fine but whose controls can be a bit clunky.
A more pressing issue, easily the most annoying aspect of the first game, is the pathfinding of the Pikmin. Luckily it appears that the sequel has remedied this to an extent. The little critters have an easier time crossing bridges for example and seem less prone to wander into obstacles. That doesn't mean that the problem has been eliminated entirely, still necessitating some amount of babysitting. When a crossing is apparently too narrow some Pikmin will still fall by the wayside and become separated from the group or drown. They will also on occasion get stuck behind the scenery when turning a corner. Another issue, somewhat related, that reappears again in Pikmin 2, is the manner in which the Pikmin will perform certain tasks on their own accord. When a Pikmin is left idle next to an object or obstacle, they tend to spring into action. This means that they will automatically haul objects back to base, attack an enemy or attempt to tear down a wall. This is in itself not such a bad mechanism but unfortunately more often than not it will annoyingly lead the Pikmin into dangerous situations thus requiring more babysitting from the player.
The previous game lasted around six to seven hours. At the time that was considered as short although in this day and age that amount is quite normal. Pikmin 2 on the other hand easily lasts three times as long. The main reason for that are the caves, with those towards the end at times taking as much as an hour to complete. Another aspect of Pikmin was that it ended just as it got really interesting. The sequel doesn't suffer from this ailment, offering a more fuller experience. Pikmin 2 is also a tougher game with again the caves forming the main reason. Besides the main campaign, there is also a two player mode on offer and a challenge mode. The latter revolves around working through a set of caves within a time limit and being scored on, for example, the amount of Pikmin left over. It's a nice diversion.
Pikmin 2 attempts to do what any good sequel should do, getting rid of it's predecessor's shortcomings while strengthening that what was good about it. The game generally accomplishes this even if some problems still remain. Pathfinding has been improved for example but nonetheless still manages to be an issue thus lessening the amount of babysitting instead of completely eliminating it. What Pikmin 2 does do better is almost tripling the runtime while ensuring that the overall experience is a fuller one.
What the game primarily does is enlarging the first game's scope. Pikmin 2 offers more controllable characters, more Pikmin species, more exploration and more challenge. Sometimes there is some truth to the saying that there can be too much of a good thing. In the case of Pikmin 2 that fortunately doesn't ring true. The addition of the caves is a masterstroke, adding a survival element to the game while automatically lengthening it's lifespan. The sense of accomplishment when finishing these caves does compensate for the loss of the day limit. What is less easily compensated is the loss of the first Pikmin's sense of urgency but that wouldn't have gelled all that well with Pikmin 2's more exploratory orientation anyway.
So Pikmin 2 isn't completely flawless. Issues with the pathfinding and controls may be minor but they still add up, however slightly, as does the way in which caves can occasionally turn out to be a bit too challenging. A perfect score would be unrealistic under such conditions but Pikmin 2 gets so much right and improves upon it's predecessor in such a substantial way that is does come very close.
OVERALL: a 9,8.
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Pikmin 2 (EU, 10/08/04)
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