Pikmin 2

Despite the fact Pikmin 2 is a blatant improvement over its prequel in multiple areas, the quality of the experience is ultimately defined by the dungeon-crawling gameplay it brings into the formula, since most of the quest’s running time will be spent in procedurally generated caves

While Captain Olimar’s first visit to the home planet of the Pikmin occurred by accident, his return there happened by design. An employee of the Hocotate Freight, which specializes in carrying cargo throughout the known universe, the franchise’s tiny hero originally comes into contact with the cute half-plant half-animal creatures when his ship is randomly hit by a comet, scattering thirty of the vessel’s parts around the mysterious hostile planet. After working together with the Pikmin to put his little rocket back in one piece, he happily returns home to his loving wife, his caring kids, and his quirky boss. The latter, however, has bad news for the series’ protagonist: after reportedly being attacked by a horrifying space rabbit, a coworker of his has lost a vast shipment of valuable Pikpik carrots, forcing the company to loan money to make up for the disaster.

The situation is dire and numerous jobs, including Captain Olimar’s, are at risk, and to make matters worse, there is no solution in sight. The outlook changes, however, due to a precious artifact – actually a metallic bottle cap – that somehow ended up making its way into the repaired ship. After being analyzed by a computer, the object is revealed to have some value thanks to its rarity in Planet Hocotate. When Olimar mentions there are many other equally weird treasures where that one came from, his boss has an idea: the hero is to return immediately to the world where he had crash landed and, this time around accompanied by fellow employee Louie, who was the victim of the strange space rabbit attack, he is to scour the planet for enough artifacts to repay the debt. A devoted worker, Olimar accepts.

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One of the GameCube’s early releases, the original Pikmin was yet another weirdly charming product of the mind who also gave the world other unexplainable creations like Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, among others. And as proof of the strange inner workings of Shigeru Miyamoto’s brain, the new franchise was such an oddity that it was hard to qualify. Starring a little man leading an army of up to one hundred little creatures that had to be thrown around the place in order to, like ants, combine their efforts to perform big tasks like destroying gates, building bridges, and killing bugs far larger than them, the quest was a mixture of exploration, strategic army management, as well as action. And given that first outing came off as a relatively small project that was refreshing and enjoyable, it was clear the concept had space for growth.

For that reason, the fact Pikmin 2 – released three years later – does not reinvent the wheel counts as a positive trait. After all, the series is so thoroughly unique that one could hardly be tired of the formula at that point. As such, the basics are the same, as much of the gameplay centers around three actions: with the A button, players can throw the creatures at objects or foes, at which point they will automatically interact with the target; the B button, meanwhile, is used to trigger a whistle that affects a circular area and causes all Pikmin in the vicinity to stop what they are doing and form up behind their humanoid leader; finally, the C stick gives gamers some control over how the battalion moves when it is following the protagonist, which is important either when one wants to avoid engaging enemies or in a few situations where tight spots must be navigated.

True to Nintendo’s tradition, it is an absurdly simple setup; one that turns the seemingly daunting task of controlling, in real time, an army of one hundred characters into an activity that is approachable to pretty much anyone. Supporting it, however, is a rich tapestry of elements that allows the very straightforward gameplay to remain intriguing through many hours. As it happened in the prequel, Pikmin are frail creatures that can get killed quite quickly by the horrors of the world, since they can be eaten, crushed, burned, electrocuted, poisoned, and more. Therefore, since Pikmin are not infinite, players must actively be careful not to lose them and also frequently have the creatures carry resources – like special pellets taken from flowers or enemy carcasses – back to their mother ship, which will then produce more Pikmin.

The frailty of the Pikmin also heavily influences how combat plays out. When walking around the environments, it is vital to plan a strategy to avoid calling the attention of numerous foes at once, since trying to simultaneously take down many big bugs is likely to produce heartbreaking genocide. Likewise, it is key to learn enemy patterns in order to determine the appropriate moment to throw the little guys into the fray and the right time to call them back with the whistle. At last, besides once more allowing Pikmin to become faster by developing the leaves on their heads into flowers, which is achieved by having them drink the nectar that is dropped by certain bugs and their eggs, the sequel adds other two power-amplifying resources to the table. Coming in the form of a pair of potions, one of them increases the attack speed of the creatures and the other temporarily turns enemies into stone. However, since gathering the flower berries that produce them is a slow process and since the fruits themselves are limited in number, only growing back after a certain time, these mighty boosts have to be used with parsimony.

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In both the design of its enemies and in the nature of the obstacles it places between the two heroes and the treasures they covet, Pikmin 2 takes advantage of the fact the titular creatures come in different varieties with unique characteristics. The red, blue, and yellow species introduced in the original make a return, with the first being immune to fire, the second being the sole type that can walk through bodies of water, and the third being resistant to electricity – which is an ability they did not have in the prequel – as well as being able to reach greater heights when thrown. Two new variants appear here, though. White Pikmin are the smallest of the bunch, meaning they are not very effective in battles. They counter that weakness, however, with sheer poison, as they will immediately kill any foe that eats them. In addition, they are also the only type capable of digging up buried treasure. Purple Pikmin, contrarily, are big, heavy, and strong; they are the fiercest warriors, they can stun enemies when landing close to them, and they are the equivalent to ten regular Pikmin when it comes to carrying objects.

With those pieces in place, Pikmin 2 employs Nintendo’s signature level design goodness in the creation of environments that are dangerous to navigate and intriguing to explore, giving birth to engaging gameplay. There are bridges to build so Pikmin that are not water-resistant can reach the other side of rivers or lakes; gates rigged with either electricity of poison; tall heights to reach; enemies that breathe fire, squirt water, or blow Pikmin into hazards; and more. As such, if Olimar and Louie want to find treasures and safely bring them back to their ship, they will have to overcome plenty of dangers.

What they will not have to worry about, though, is time. The original Pikmin, famously, established a limit of thirty days for Olimar to recover the parts of his ship, since his life-support system could only be sustained for such a length. In Pikmin 2, however, the protagonists land on the strange planet having done the proper preparations, meaning that aside from daily e-mails coming from their boss telling them to hurry, there is no real rush. The game, nevertheless, still restricts sunlight hours to a period of about fifteen real-life minutes; and given staying on the surface of the world while it is dark is essentially a death sentence on account of the deadly nightly creatures that roam about, players still need to make sure all Pikmin are safely tucked away in their respective mother ships before twilight comes. Yet, gamers can use as many days as they want collecting enough goodies to repay the debt.

This removal of time constraints will certainly come as good news to those who did not like the fact the first Pikmin could not be played at a leisurely pace. Still, it has to be said some interesting aspects are lost in this transition. Firstly, planning out what one wants to achieve during the day is no longer necessary, since there is no pressure to be productive; and this strategizing was a very alluring trait that, in many ways, defined the prequel. Secondly, learning to multitask, which was a challenge that also gave the debut a ton of personality, is not a must anymore. In the original, to make the best of the available time, Olimar was often pushed into organizing groups of Pikmin to juggle multiple activities at once: while one set built a bridge, for example, the other could be carrying a ship part back to where it belonged. Here, though, since the heroes have all time in the world, there is no such need, and players can be conservative.

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Sure, it can be argued that those looking to replay the game and finish it in as few days as they can will have to multitask. And, like the original, Pikmin 2 incentivizes that by keeping, for every run, rankings of the time spent, the creatures lost, among other stats. Yet, the fact remains that multitasking will not be that critical to the average player; and this is a particularly notable shame here because the inclusion of a second captain in Louie loudly kicks down the door on what can be achieved with multitasking, since it is possible to break up the army into two groups that work individually, with the Y button being used to swiftly switch between the characters. Therefore, even if that capacity is sure to be explored amazingly well by those who want to be fast, it might go to waste in the eyes of the largest part of the audience, especially because in what is unfortunately a huge omission, Pikmin 2 never uses its level design to force the use of this ability.

The greatest feature of Pikmin 2 and what sets it apart from its predecessor, though, is how much of the game happens underground. Where the first was all about outdoor environments, this sequel pairs those with abundant caves, which are where most of the treasures are hidden and where the largest portion of gameplay time will be spent. Mostly made up of tight dark corridors brimming with enemies, these enclosed spaces contain multiple floors, with the last one usually having a boss battle; and they throw an unexpected high dose of dungeon-crawling into the formula.

Although the amount of levels within a cave is set in stone, the nature of each is random, as Nintendo opted to create the floors by procedurally generating hallways around a few fixed elements, like treasure, enemy types, and traps. What the caves do is shift the focus of the gameplay quite radically, since they tone down the exploration that dominated the first Pikmin to put the focus on combat and survival instead. That last aspect is notably highlighted because of the unique rules that govern these dungeons. For starters, time does not pass while within them; as such, there is no need to rush. Moreover, players cannot breed new Pikmin when in the caves; therefore, if they are careless and lose too many of the little guys, they will have to retreat to the surface. Finally, acquired treasure is only kept if one gets to the cave’s ending; as a consequence, surviving until the last floor and beating the boss is a must.

Ranging from easy to hard, with most leaning towards the latter, caves are a daunting challenge that will appeal to many; and the existence of some of them in particular will stand as the game’s ultimate challenge to those seeking full completion, since not all of the game’s treasures need to be collected for the debt to be repaid and the credits to roll. Sadly, they also bump into various problems. When paired with their procedurally generated nature, the fact they are so numerous and that so much time is spent in them mean that Pikmin 2 mostly replaces the carefully hand-crafted challenges Nintendo is known for with corridors that start feeling repetitive halfway through the quest. That dullness also emerges in the environments themselves, since the caves and their hundreds of combined floors are continuously reusing a handful of themes. But perhaps the greatest problem is that these dungeons are capable of switching fun for frustration rather quickly.

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Pikmin are, after all, very frail, and caves can be death traps that produce disasters whose capacity to cause anger is augmented by the way the levels are setup. Mistakes can lead to huge losses of Pikmin, potentially forcing one to retreat; and if that happens in one of the final levels of the dungeon, after a player has successfully navigated through many floors, the frustration can be huge. Additionally, the procedural generation can create big variability in a level’s difficulty, to the point that there are even a couple of floors in particular where the algorithm might make enemies spawn beside the point where players begin, causing almost certain death. To top it off, some dungeons are rigged with traps that feel unfair and plagued by design choices that might make one accidentally throw Pikmin into bottomless pits. And while red, blue, and yellow Pikmin are easy to recover, since they can be bred out in the open, purple and white creatures are unique in the sense they can only be created via flowers that are located in the caves themselves. As such, if players run out of them, the only way to make more involves heading to a cave, reaching the floor where the flowers appear, and getting out.

All in all, it is a shame caves are such a mixed bag. Firstly, because they make the experience of Pikmin 2 much meatier than that of the original. Like the debut, this is a game without too many areas: there are only four of them. However, the fact there are over twelve caves, a couple of which feature more than ten floors, extends the quest’s time considerably. Those who merely want to watch the credits should spend about twelve hours to do so; and anyone who strives for full completion might go over the twenty-hour threshold.

Secondly, because Pikmin 2 dethrones the original in pretty much every way. Its graphics take the gorgeous depiction of natural environments to another level. Its soundtrack is equally good, but more extensive. Its lore and storyline are more detailed. Its mixture of cartoonish charm and natural brutality is stunning, with both extremes being done even better this time around. The behavior of Pikmin has been improved, as even if they occasionally do not answer to the whistle as immediately as they should, the creatures no longer get distracted by random objects so often. The controls are better, given switching between Pikmin types when preparing to throw them is now only a matter of pressing the directional pad. And the game’s side activities are more significant: Challenge Mode, where the new objective is collecting a key in a cave, has a thirty levels versus the original’s five; and there is even a multiplayer competition where up to two gamers battle in a capture-the-flag style battle.

Yet, despite the fact Pikmin 2 is a blatant improvement over its prequel in multiple areas, the quality of the experience is ultimately defined by the dungeon-crawling gameplay it brings into the formula, since most of the quest’s running time will be spent in procedurally generated caves. If their premise sounds appealing, then these occasionally brutal challenges that dare players to walk into a sequence of floors with an army of Pikmin and make it to the end without losing too many creatures and being forced to retreat should pave the way for a delightful journey. However, if the exploration of natural outdoor environments and the more organic vibe that prevailed in the original come off as better, then Pikmin 2 could be seen a minor misstep. Still, regardless of one’s stance, the fact of the matter is that there is a lot of enjoyment to be found in the package; the difference only lies in how much frustration one will have to deal with.

FINAL SCORE: 7 – VERY GOOD

2 thoughts on “Pikmin 2

  1. Pikmin 3 is amazeballs, looking forward to the new one as well. Plus, I’ve been playing Tinykin – it launched recently. It’s like Pikmin meets Banjo-Kazooie. An odd mix! Works a treat, though.

    However, I never did play Pikmin 2. For shame!

    1. Pikmin 3 is the best of the three, for sure, and I feel 2 is the worst one. Nevertheless, it’s still worth trying, that’s for sure.

      I am also looking forward to the new one, and I will check Tinykin. I had never heard of it, but mixing Pikmin and Banjo-Kazooie couldn’t possibly go wrong.

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