A green thumbs-up.
After crash-landing on the pikmin home world back in 2001, the brave Captain Olimar led the tiny, obedient plant people through perilous obstacles and hungry insects to recover the scattered parts of his broken ship. His mission accomplished, Olimar went back to his home planet a conquering hero.
Unfortunately, Olimar returned to find his company in a state of dire misfortune. Incredible debts accrued by Louie, another hapless employee, forced the company president to liquidate everything. And so, Louie and Olimar return to planet pikmin in search of another small fortune.
You can't argue with the quality of Shigeru Miyamoto's games, but I think his naming technique is starting to run a little dry. Olimar and Mario, both short, squat heroes? Louie and Luigi, both tall, dopey second fiddles? How about a Bob? Or a Johnny, maybe?
Fortunately, Pikmin 2 is a sequel with an abundance of tweaks and improvements, including a new character, two more species of pikmin, and a two-player competitive mode. There's almost a strange predilection towards the number two. The game is even twice as long. Hmm. I digress.
It's a bit tough categorizing Pikmin 2, but essentially, it's a real-time strategy game. This time around you have control of both Olimar and Louie, each of whom can manage their own group of pikmin. Controlling the pikmin is still done as though you were an elementary school teacher, whistling and shepherding your know-nothing plants around. Point them in directions in order to gather up stuff to convert into money, or throw them atop nasty garden baddies like spiders and grubs to protect your investments.
In the first Pikmin, a thirty-day time constraint guided the gameplay. You were constantly keeping an eye on the bigger picture in order to retrieve every single ship part. A wasted day in the wrong part of the world meant Olimar's ship would never be repaired.
This time around, the time limit is done away with, so you can take your sweet time retrieving treasure. While the original's pressure did add some positive gaming anxiety as well as force you to make strategic decisions, the removal of the time ceiling facilitates a nice "pick up and play" feeling. In this sense, it's a much friendlier experience for the general gaming audience.
The original game gave you three primary colors for pikmin, which basically defined their talents. Once again, red pikmin resist fire, blue resist water and the yellow resist electricity. Pikmin 2 also adds two more species: purple and albino.
One fat purple pikmin is as powerful as ten of the normal, scrawny pikmin. These guys punish with impunity, smashing frogs and bulbous bugs to bits. They're great. Instead of sacrificing handfuls of pikmin, you just smash and pillage with a few purples.
Albino white pikmin, on the other hand, can withstand poisonous gas clouds. When an enemy chomps down on one of these little fellas, that enemy will get a mouth full of poison and die. Hey, it's all for a good cause, right?
The key to Pikmin 2's gameplay is figuring out exactly how to use your different little buddies most effectively and managing both Olimar and Louie's groups at the same time. It's a classic case of multitasking that, despite the lack of the original's time limits, still feels appropriately frantic.
One of the more interesting new tweaks is the presence of challenging underground tunnels filled with all sorts of nasty enemies. The trick is that you have a limited number of pikmin to take along, making for more of an action-packed dungeon crawl. It's a smart new addition that breaks up the overworld flow nicely.
In addition to the main single-player game, Pikmin 2 offers a new two-player competitive mode, which does away with the more complicated points of the game like the multiple colors. Rather, the focus is on out-maneuvering your opponent in order to collect the four yellow marbles on the field first. If you aren't paying attention, your competitor might snag your own colored marble right out from under your nose.
It's actually a pretty fun two-player game. If a few pikmin manage to jump on your opponent, they'll grab on with their tiny pikmin claws and wail away. When enveloped by enemy pikmin, you'll have to find some of your own pikmin to peel those bullies off or run into some enemy bugs. It's a pleasing, more frantic take on the single-player game and keeps you on your toes.
Visually, the game looks markedly smoother than the original, which itself was no slouch. The photo-realistic backdrops combined with voluminous on-screen movements make for a very pretty game.
The pikmin are inarguably cute; the game really knows how to tug at your heart strings. Their death sounds are woeful and pathetic, while the faint little pikmin ghosts that rise from their corpses are just sad. Short of assigning little names to each pikmin, one of the smartest things this series has done is make you care for your peons.
Though it lacks much of the original's novelty value, Pikmin 2 is a solid sequel. Fans of the original shouldn't pass it up, and those new to Miyamoto's gardening techniques should dig in immediately.