The launch of Pikmin was a reasonable success for Nintendo, especially considering it was a new license. It wasn’t quite the numbers that Mario Sunshine or The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker pulled, but it did push over a million, so that’s nice for it. In 2004, it was time for a sequel, which would take the form of the appropriately named Pikmin 2.
I’ve got a complicated relationship with Pikmin 2. I’ve long looked at it with affection, appreciating some of the changes that it made over the original, but I’ve never actually managed to gather the willpower to beat it. I often associated this with the length of the game, as it’s certainly a much longer game then the first. However, I’ve now finally gone through and completed the game, and now I know the truth.
WE’LL GET TO THAT…
The plot of Pikmin 2 picks up immediately after the first game. After finally escaping from the planet he was stranded on, Olimar discovers that the freight company he works for is deep in debt, and they had to sell his beloved ship, the S.S. Dolphin, to help pay some of it down. They soon learn that a bottlecap that Olimar brought home is worth a significant sum of money, and send him directly back to fetch more treasure.
That’s pretty rough, the guy was missing for a month and doesn’t even have the chance to visit his family before he’s sent right back.
This time around, he’s partnered with fellow captain, Louie, though I struggle to figure out why. They manage to land safely on the planet, reunite with the Pikmin, and get to work collection trash that they call treasure.
TRASH CALLED TREASURE
The premise is probably what I appreciate most about Pikmin 2. While it doesn’t differ substantially from the original “find all your ship parts” plot, the fact that the treasure can be absolutely anything makes it a fun reward throughout. Nintendo used a lot of random brand names for the treasures you find, so rather than finding generic bottlecaps, they actually read “Dr. Pepper” or “A&W” on the top. Given the random scattershot of products, it doesn’t feel like product placement, but rather an attempt to deliver a sort of groundedness and familiarity to all the treasures you find.
It pays off well, it’s a lot of fun to haul back a Famicom Disk or a tube of Chap Stick. It’s always a treat to dig something out of the ground and find that it’s a a lid for yoghurt or something similar. Likewise, it’s sometimes fun to read the descriptions given by Olimar, Louie, and the shipboard AI. Their views from an alien perspective are often enjoyable.
This also means that there’s more to collect, and no time limit to do so. In the first game, you had 30 days to collect 30 parts, and that was a hard limit. Now, there’s a massive list of treasures to find and as much time as you want to find them. Your goal is to pay down the $10,000 in debt, which isn’t too much of a tall order. After you manage this, don’t worry, you’re given the opportunity to go back for the rest, and a little plot-related shove to do it.
Helping you along the way is the same trio of colour-coded Pikmin, each of which has their own abilities. These are essentially the same as the previous game, the main difference is that yellow Pikmin are now immune to electricity, and have lost their ability to lug bomb rocks. Added are two new colours: purple, with their extreme heft and superior combat abilities, and white, who can withstand poisonous gas and are themselves toxic.
The two new colours don’t get their own onions, and can’t replenish and increase their population by hauling back food and prey. Instead, you get them by tossing your Pikmin into candypop flowers, which transforms them into other types. These can only be found in the caves that make up the other major alteration to the game.
DELVE INTO THE DEEP
Yeah, caves. I hate to tip my hand early, but let me just say: “ugh.” The caves are multi-level mazes in which you descend to the bottom while hunting for treasure. They’re essentially dungeons, and there’s a lot that I don’t like about them, so I’ll try to cover their main problems.
First of all, they’re a pretty lazy way to add content. Most of them are procedurally created to a small degree, and are comprised of various labyrinths of short walls and long corridors. They use repeating assets to allow for easy construction, and some of the more special configurations are blatantly reused elsewhere. Hell, the above ground areas are mostly repeats of the levels from the first game with little bits of alteration. Okay, so it allows for more content to be input into the game, and yes, it makes the game a much longer experience. There’s more treasure, more enemies, and more challenge.
Yet, these seem like they’d be better served in a different mode, such as challenge mode, a style of play that was already included in both the original game and this one. Instead, you’re forced to play through these unremarkable dungeons for the bulk of the playtime. Each one takes a long time to complete and any given area has three or four of these holes to dive into.
It hurts the core concept of the game, because it’s so disconnected from the rest of the title. Pikmin, to some degree, was a game of harsh realities. Sometimes a simple mistake or a lack of preparedness would get a large chunk of your Pikmin population erased from the world before your eyes, and that was tough to deal with. You were expected to swallow your grief and get yourself back on track, whether that was by withdrawing a replacement army from your onions or building a new one from scratch. You were forced to take risks and deal with the consequences, and that was a cornerstone of the Pikmin theme.
In these caves, the army you bring with you at the beginning is with you until the end. Bringing prey back to the entrance only results in small monetary additions, so your only options for replenishing your ranks is restricted to candypop flowers that multiply your Pikmin and tiny bulborbs that you can recruit (which are actually pretty cool). That would make things quite harrowing, but if you screw up and get your pals blown up, you can get out of it by reloading your recent save and lose nothing. More than likely, you’ll lose a lot of Pikmin in each delve, but it will most likely be due to attrition rather than a crucial mistake you chose to live with.
A VEXING VACATION
I’d be fine with the dungeons if there were only, say, one per area, but that’s simply not the case. Playtime above ground is dwarfed by these labyrinths, and they’re just not as fun as exploring the world. They seem like side challenges that ended up consuming the game.
Did I mention that you’re shackled to a partner that serves little function. Sure, you can separate your army between the two characters, but you’re never required to, and I never found it useful to do so. I can probably count on one hand the number of occasions I actually needed to alternate between both captains, but more often than not, I stuck one in the corner and forgot about them.
I can’t get past it; it’s such a letdown. By the end of the game, I was counting down how many caves I had left to get through, and I wasn’t enjoying it. I was merely trying to get the game finished so I could move one, and when I’m looking forward to the end of a game, something has gone wrong. At the same time, Pikmin 2 does maintain the series charm, and I really loved the time I spend above ground, it’s just too bad it’s spent between the vexingly same-y cave sections.
I feel as though a lot of my grief is simply because this just isn’t what I want from a Pikmin game. Someone with a greater appreciation of dungeons, or who prefers the challenge of Pikmin rather than its atmosphere and cute depiction of the horrors of nature might find a lot to love in Pikmin 2. They might even find it superior to the first. For me, however, this is a huge disappointment. So much potential has been buried underground.
This review was conducted on a GameCube using an original disk copy of the game. It was purchased by the author.