With the GameCube, Nintendo played it safe. Just look at how many Mario spin-offs there were. Nintendo really sold its heavy-hitting franchises and put little effort into crafting entirely new IPs. True, we saw some original content, like Battalion Wars and Chibi-Robo, but nothing that revolutionized the industry in the same way as Halo on Xbox or Grand Theft Auto on the PS2. But during these “hard years” for Nintendo, one idea was born that has the potential to eventually turn into something spectacular: Pikmin. This series still has some growing up to do, though, because Pikmin 2 isn’t “there” yet.
Pikmin 2 is, however, a very beautiful game. This is easily one of the best-looking of the GameCube’s library. The outdoor areas are encompassed in rich, soft lighting, and the sense of scale feels very real. It’s quite fun to explore an outdoor world as such a small character, because everyday objects are suddenly the size of skyscrapers. While the treasures you collect all have brand names on them, like Duracell batteries or Coca-Cola bottle caps, it never feels forced or out of place. Pikmin 2 also manages to keep load times down and framerates up. Seldom will you encounter any sluggish movement, even with 100 pikmin battling 20 different monsters on screen. And who doesn’t love watching 100 cute, little pikmin beat the tar out of a ravenous lady bug?
Pikmin is a real-time strategy game, but it is anything but typical. You play as Captain Olimar, a defenseless, little guy who must brave a foreign world to find enough treasure to pay off a huge company debt back home. Olimar can’t carry this stuff back to his spaceship by himself, however. Neither does he have any way to fight the monsters who are often guarding the treasure. This is where the pikmin come into play. These plant-like creatures will follow you around, fight monsters for you, and carry objects back to the base. Pikmin come in three main varieties: red, blue, and yellow. Red pikmin are invulnerable to fire, blue to water, and yellow to electricity, so you will often have to find clever ways to get yellow pikmin across a river or blue ones safely past a field of fire monsters. Pikmin are easy to come by, too, so don’t feel bad if a red pikmin accidentally drowns in a pond (though it’s always sad to see that happen). When pikmin carry a monster’s carcass back to their onion-shaped spaceship, new pikmin will sprout out of the ground. As such, defeating a giant monster and watching your pikmin haul its dead body away, knowing full well it’s going to generate a whole lot more pikmin, is a delight that few other games have matched.
In the first Pikmin, you only had 30 in-game days to find all of your missing ship parts before Olimar died. This time limit created a sense of urgency, but it also made me feel anxious the entire time and forced me to beat the game sooner than I would have on my own. Fortunately, for Pikmin 2, there’s no time limit, and you can spend as many days as you want on the planet. If you want to spend an entire day harvesting pikmin, go right ahead. The amount of daylight is still limited to about 15 minutes, however, and you’ll be forced to retire to your spaceship when night sets to avoid getting eaten by nocturnal predators. So there are still some moments of panic, especially since any pikmin not following you when the bell tolls are left to die. It’s a tough world out there.
Pikmin 2 does offer some new content over the original, too. There are three new breeds of pikmin to play with: purple, white, and a parasite pikmin that lives inside small monsters. Purple pikmin are strong and heavy and can lift ten times the weight of a normal pikmin. White pikmin are poisonous and will hurt a monster if swallowed, but their biggest advantage is locating and unearthing buried treasure. These new breeds are very useful but not so easy to come by since they don’t have a corresponding onion. You have to be careful in how you use them, then. The biggest addition for this game, however, is Captain Olimar’s sidekick, Louie. Louie can take his own army of pikmin and leave Olimar to go do something else. This makes it easy to keep different colors separated or to explore more of an area in one day. You don’t even have to use Louie, but being able to switch between him and Olimar makes managing pikmin and traveling so much easier.