When recently asked what games console I owned, my reply of ‘Gamecube’ was met with disgust from my peers. ‘How old are you, five?’ one joked. Was I angry or slightly cheesed off? No. If anything I feel sorry for them, because people who don’t experience the magic of Nintendo first-hand will never realise what they’re missing. Nintendo can make the strangest idea or concept (Animal Crossing anyone?) come to life with such originality, and sheer brilliance in a way in which you don’t care how old you are, as you are never too old to enjoy a fantastic Nintendo game. Which, my friends, brings us onto Pikmin2, the follow-up to the original ‘Pikmin’ released at the end of 2001. As soon as you plant the disc in your Cube, it doesn’t take long for the overwhelming feeling of Nintendo to take over, with different coloured Pikmin falling on the Nintendo logo and an immediately charming title screen tune.
The story for Pikmin2 is that after managing to repair his ship, Captain Olimar has returned to his native planet of Hocotate only to find the freight company in which he works for is being run out of business, with a 10,000 poko debt! Our favourite captain must then return to the mysterious planet (Earth, we assume) where he crash landed, with the help of his dopey fellow employee Louie, in order to collect treasure to help rid Hocotate Freight of their debt. That’s where the Pikmin come in – probably some of the most darned cute creatures Nintendo have ever created. It’s not easy being a Pikmin, you’re about half the size of a marble and practically everything else around you wants you for dinner, but in large numbers they can take on anything in a fight.
Originally available in 3 colours- blue, red and yellow, Pikmin2 expands in variation, offering the fat-ass purple Pikmin (my personal favourite) and the ultra-useful white Pikmin, both of which can only be obtainable underground via a special type of plant. As you can imagine, each colour has a certain quality – where the red guys resist fire and are probably the best fighters, the yellow fellas withstand electricity and enjoy being thrown into the air higher than any other. The additional Pikmin add new playing options that weren’t available in the first title. The tiny white Pikmin have radar eyes to dig up treasure, while also dealing damage to enemies if gobbled up, and the slow purple guys stun enemies if thrown, and have the carrying strength of ten Pikmin put together!
It is Olimar’s job to take control of these critters and use them to carry the seemingly worthless junk back to the ship where it will be valued and its data recorded. Each item, monster, and even plant forms you come across will be recorded in Olimar’s journal where you can view it up close and read his notes on it. Nintendo shows its true creativity by some of the names and ideas Olimar has about each treasure, a simple clover being labelled ‘Science Project’ and my favourite ‘Lip Service’ for a discarded lipstick. In order to nab these treasures for yourself, you must explore 4 different levels, each with their own caves and puzzles.
Graphics wise, Pikmin2 is a dream. The levels look outstandingly real, while at the same time preserving that recognisable Nintendo goodness. Sound plays a huge part in creating atmosphere within the surroundings, like birds singing and water splashing as various aquatic monsters lie in wait. Shrill music cranks up whenever an enemy is in fighting range, and various other classic Nintendo tunes make this a truly enchanting game. Unlike the first title, Pikmin2 allows unlimited days to explore, meaning if you take heavy losses in a boss battle (which are always original and challenging), you can easily spend a whole day creating more Pikmin in order to bolster your forces, which you will enjoy doing and take a huge amount of satisfaction from.
Exploring caves and gardens, however, is where things get tricky and where the true brilliance of Pikmin2 flourishes. Huge beaked monsters (Snagrets) will pop out of the ground at any time and gobble up your Pikmin, or your lack of control over a bridge will see many Pikmin crying for help while they fumble hopelessly in water. You’ll go into a cave knowing that you need to preserve every precious Pikmin life in order to get out alive or risk retreating while giving up your treasure, thus rendering the whole expedition a waste of time! I remember the first cave I ever entered, I did so with 100 Pikmin. 2 worthy purple Piks made it out alive. The little Pikmin though, are 100% loyal, and will happily chant tunes as they skip around in groups, fully reliant on you for their safety. Which is why Pikmin2 has the unique ability to really make you feel bad about yourself. There is nothing worse than when you don’t manage to gather up your leafy friends in time for sundown, and rocket up into the sky at the end of the day watching them get torn apart by hungry Grubdogs. Nasty.
Louie is new to Pikmin2, and like the new Pikmin, he offers more options to the gameplay, and as you’ll discover, the storyline. It is easy to split Pikmin into groups and have Olimar take down a water gate with a group of blue Pikmin, while Louie is on the other side of the map busting his ass gathering attack enhancing berries with purple Pikmin. It makes the game more tactical, efficient and rewarding by playing in this manner. The camera, at first, can be a bit awkward to operate, but after a while zooming in and out at the appropriate time becomes second nature. Aside from that, the controls are fairly simple: B to round up your workers with a character defined whistle and A to throw them or pluck them up from the ground. Although these two easily get mixed up, and at times it’s mildly frustrating trying to pluck a Pikmin while instead launching another out of your control group. Also, once you have dispatched Pikmin into their different colour groups, it can be a hassle to get the ones you want without accidentally summoning others with your whistle. In this case, you have to run into the desired Pikmin with your leader so that they will follow you. Only a minor problem, but it can be tough when you are in a narrow corridor with enemies either side.
As you explore the game, you will come across treasures that have a special quality enabling different upgrades for our Hocotate employees to use, like a fire-resistant suit or a treasure detector which will prove handy in claiming around 200 different treasures. Nintendo games are big on collecting, and it will take a while to fully complete Pikmin2, unlike the first game which was widely accused of being too short. As well as the story mode, you will unlock the challenge mode (which really puts your Pikmin control skills to the test) and a worthy 2-player mode in which Pikmin go head to head (or erm, flower to flower) in a treasure hunting or capture the bag style contest, fully making use of everything this wonderful game has to offer. This is the most intriguing and original RTS I have ever played.
Pikmin2 offers a good challenge to gamers of any age, and the additional game modes and the desire to fill up your journal will certainly provide many hours of Pikmin pleasure. Overall it’s great fun to play, and typical of the great ideas that Nintendo is renowned for. What’s more, there is still room for another possible game…which will hopefully see my envisioned green, orange and black Pikmin come to life!
Buy Pikmin2, and it will really grow on you…it seems flower power is still going strong.
Review by Matthew Long © 2005