Review: New Play Control! Pikmin 2 (Wii)

Olimar comes back for second (and third!) helpings.

New Play Control! – a series of games that seems to have sparked many mixed views. Pikmin is probably at the forefront of these debates: Nintendo saw it fit to re-release both the Gamecube Pikmin games with a new series of controls designed for the Wii, and then announce Pikmin 3. The first NPC Pikmin was good fun, but it didn’t fully justify the full-price release, so did the second instalment fair any better?

In Pikmin2, Captain Olimar returns home from the Pikmin planet only to find that the company he works for, Hocotate Freight, has hit upon financial worries. Right after landing, his ship, the Dolphin, is repossessed to pay off bills, yet the company is still in massive debt. Things are looking pretty grim for Boss Hocotate, until Olimar drops a ‘souvenir’ (a bottlecap) from the ‘strange’ planet he crash-landed on his last mission. After analysis, this souvenir turns out to be worth 100 Pokos, which is a lot of money. Olimar’s boss then orders our intrepid adventurer, and new recruit Louie, to go back to the planet and salvage as many items as they can in order to pay off the company’s debt, 10,000 Pokos. And that’s pretty much the bulk of the story, with exception to a little surprise in store for when the debt is eventually repaid.

Story has never really been the main focal point of Pikmin, instead gameplay has. And, like all good sequels, Pikmin 2 has made many improvements on the original - the inclusion of Olimar’s equally bulbous-nosed colleague, Louie, was the most notable; having Louie along for the ride allows for two playable characters, and that means so much more can be accomplished, which has helped expand the depth of the series. Being able to alternate between two characters reduces the amount of time you will spend backtracking; Pikmin can now be commanded at opposite points of the map, letting veterans greatly increase their efficiency. Of course, you’re only in direct control of one captain at any one time, so it’s not totally fluid, but for those who hated having to run back and forth in the original will be relieved to see it’s become less of a feature in the sequel.

Like with the original, you’re still limited to 100 Pikmin on the field at any given time, and the way you control Pikmin has been kept exactly the same as the past NPC game: you point on-screen with the Wiimote, use (stick) to move about, (A) to throw Pikmin (or punch enemies), (B) to blow your whistle and call Pikmin, (C) to disband Pikmin under your control, (-) to switch between characters, (+) to access the map, and (Z) to position the camera behind you. Asides from switching characters, nothing’s changed from the first NPC release, simply because it works so smoothly – and vastly superior to the Gamecube’s controls.

With the controls being the same as before, it is logical to think that most of the game also remains the same. Well, in essence it does, but Pikmin 2 still brings to the table new concepts that differentiates it from the predecessor: two breeds of Pikmin (purple and white) for one. Purple Pikmin are the body-builder type; they’re big, slow and powerful, and keeping them about will no only remind you of beetroot, but it will also mean you can get them to carry more as they have the strength of 10 normal Pikmin. On the other hand, white Pikmin are nimble little fellows that are capable of surviving poisonous enemies and areas, and they will also poison any creature that decides to chomp down on them.

Just like how white Pikmin are used for navigating poisonous areas and purple for lifting heavy objects, red, yellow and blue Pikmin each have their own abilities too. Those who played the first Pikmin game will be aware that reds are immune to fire, while blue are immune to water, but the yellows’ power has changed: no longer can yellow Pikmin carry bomb-rocks, instead they are now electric resistant – unfortunately, you may just learn this the hard way by exploding several yellow Pikmin when you try to pick up bomb-rocks. What’s really nifty, though, is that you can control Bulbmin (Bulborbs with a parasitic Pikmin inside them) that you find underground in caves, and they act like blue and red Pikmin combined - although you cannot take them back with you above ground. These aforementioned caves are also a new addition to Pikmin, and possibly the biggest gameplay-changing aspect Pikmin 2 introduced…

In each of the game’s four levels (which seems a small number at first glance), there are multiple underground dwellings that can be accessed through holes in the ground, where time does not pass. You see, when playing on the surface, the player must always be watchful of the time; if the are too far away from base with Pikmin scattered about when the sun sets, those Pikmin fall victim to the monsters that lurk in the darkness. So above ground, the focus is on doing things as fast as possible, without worrying much about Pikmin numbers because there are usually plenty left in backup in their Onions (their spaceship-type homes). But when you enter a cave, time is suspended and you’re able to take things slower. However, this doesn’t make the game easier - if anything, the caves in Pikmin 2 present the hardest challenge. Caves consist of multiple levels (some up to 14) that are populated with monsters and elemental dangers galore, and when entering a cave, the player can only take in a maximum of 100 Pikmin, which have to last for the duration of the cave. By having time frozen it has created for a new style of gameplay where moves must be thought out well in advance, as Pikmin become a highly inexpendable resource.

The caves are undoubtedly the most time-consuming facet of the game, and is also where the majority of the treasure and sub-bosses are located – defeating the main enemy inside a cave will usually grant Olimar and his companion an upgrade – which ranges from a stronger whistle, to fireproof suits, to a stronger punch. One thing, however, we did notice when dwelling in the caves was that the autosave feature doesn’t account for the random dispersal of some treasure on the levels – we had a couple of caves where we couldn’t find all treasure first time round because of stopping for respite. All in all though, caves are what gives Pikmin 2 that edge over its predecessor.

Of course, Pikmin 2 is still a Gamecube port, so it looks like a Gamecube game (albeit a very polished one), and it’s not really that ‘fresh’. There are also a series of somewhat frustrating sounds emitting from the Wiimote (we were almost driven to distraction by the noise emitted when one of the captains is low on health) that pull down the otherwise pleasant sound effects. Then there is the multiplayer mode that provides for such a great time – you can either play against a friend to gather their treasure items and score points, or play together and cooperate (well, that’s easier said than done) to go through challenge mode – but also emphasises just how much of a port Pikmin 2 is: there’s no option online play, so it’s swings and roundabouts in some respects.

Conclusion

New Play Control! Pikmin 2 is a great game that is essential for those who’ve never played it before. It took everything good from the first Pikmin and evolved the concept into a flawless game, and with Wii controls included it has become stronger than its Gamecube version. For those that were left feeling the first title was too short and easy to complete, this second version offers redemption: to get everything this game has to offer takes a high level of skill and dedication. However, Pikmin 2 is essentially a port, and it does not support online multiplayer, so it is impossible to justify the perfect score – with a bit of effort Nintendo could have appeased some of the original fans. Still, this is a must-buy for players new to the franchise.

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