Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Format reviewed: GameCube
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Bringing a second playable character to Pikmin 2, besides Olimar, was basically a decision made to challenge users with more complex strategic elements than they had in the original, demanding that they split their groups of little creatures up if they wanted to get the most from the game. The biggest decision made by the developers was removing the time limit on completing the story, and therefore organically allowing a greater focus on exploration-based elements. Nintendo were also aware that some fans weren’t all that keen on the structure of the first Pikmin – the world of Pikmin 2 was built to be enjoyed over a long period of time, not something to be quickly progressed through.
These elements were exacerbated by the idea of bringing in caves – dungeons in gaming parlance, of course – that froze time so players wouldn’t have to be as conscious of sundown, the end point of Pikmin’s gameplay loop. Nintendo also isolated the action adventure elements of the experience on purpose, to provide players with a challenge that didn’t allow them to pick up extra Pikmin along the way. Nintendo explored bringing co-op to the main game but found it restricted the design potential of the final product, so they decided on including bespoke two-player options instead. Critics agreed that the first instalment’s issues were almost entirely wiped out by this richer sequel.
With its 30 day time limit, the original Pikmin released in the GameCube’s launch window had an uncomfortable sense of urgency that both reduced the lifespan and accidentally limited the amount of fun you felt you could have with it. In Pikmin 2, such an obvious flaw was alleviated, while the addition of a second playable character in the form of Louie, Olimar’s pal, allowed you greater tactical freedom in exploring the planet and facing encounters.
In many ways, Pikmin 2 embodies the ideal sequel, a total tune-up that makes the original look like a proof of concept. This is real-time strategy via Miyamoto, with similar resource management, combat and levels of drama – all channelled through a game design that captures the complexity of the genre while absolutely making sense on a console.
The dual protagonists allowed you to accomplish more within Pikmin’s strict day cycle, while the addition of poison-resistant white pikmin and mega-strong purple pikmin equipped you to better counter the environmental challenges ahead. The addition of dungeon-style levels where you’re stuck with the pikmin you go in with added an almost RPG-like curve to the progression of the game too, a unique combination of elements that shifted your priorities from gathering and expansion to pure survival.
And yet, there’s something richer to Pikmin 2 beyond hoarding little carrot-esque men into a colourful army, a kind of oddness that’s far from random. That’s the thing about Nintendo – on the surface it seems that the Japanese giant only makes cutesy games for all audiences, but moreso than any other series, Pikmin is utterly disturbing at times. You play, essentially, the invader into another world, a totalitarian spaceman abusing the local populace to meet your commercial demands. To help you hoard stuff to pay off your boss’s debt, you permit scores of pikmin to perish based on your arbitrary whims, a truth that Nintendo is surely aware of as a giant slug rolls onto 40 red pikmin, while another 24 horrifically drown in water they’re not equipped to deal with.
There’s a certain nastiness to it, a creepy edge that guarantees you always learn lessons the hard way, making the most of your connection with the pikmin creatures to generate a real response from the player when they’re shown to be utterly disposable. Pikmin is one of Nintendo’s more enjoyable unusual series, and this second entry got everything right about the template, balancing the complexity of managing two characters with an increased range of powers in the form of your small friends. As gorgeous as the new, Wii U third installment is, Pikmin 2 already took Miyamoto’s series to its peak.
Why It’s A Future Classic
Pikmin 2 is one of those rare examples of a perfect videogame sequel, isolating the strengths of the original and expanding the scope of its design in all the right ways. As one of Nintendo’s more unusual series, Pikmin 2 maintains that accessibility we expect from the company’s games and mixes it with one of the most hardcore, PC-centric genres there is.
Yet Pikmin 2 doesn’t label itself a strategy game, instead using the idea that you’re essentially playing as the cursor in the form of Olimar and Louie, marshalling your troops in a way that allows it to cross over into other types of games. The adventure elements of Pikmin 2 were an effective addition, letting the almost-brilliant of the original become something more than a finite framework for an essential game. As a franchise, Pikmin will no doubt keep rolling, yet there’s such an ideal balance of complexity and variety in Pikmin 2 that we’re sure this will remain the benchmark of the series.
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