Retro Scope: Pikmin 2

Anthony looks back at one of GameCube’s defining titles.

By Anthony Pelone. Posted 04/04/2015 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

The original Pikmin both captivated and bewildered GameCube owners with its bizarre alien cast and setting. Shigeru Miyamoto’s fondness of gardening bloomed into gaming as an organic microscopic world, starring the likes of the stranded Captain Olimar and his band of adorable critters– dubbed by the astronaut as “Pikmin”– as they braved the dangers of hungry beasts and treacherous hazards. Its delicate, yet masterful balance between its lighthearted personality (the playful Pikmin and the lullaby-esque music) to the stark reality of nature (the heart-breaking cry of a dead Pikmin as their ghosts dissipate into thin air) prodded at the imagination and brought a level of immersion never before seen in Nintendo’s library.

But quite a few players– including my childhood self– found the game’s 30-day time limit to be too daunting and stressful, so Pikmin 2 was built around greater freedom. The punishing day system was done away with, granting players as much time as they’d like in gathering treasure and building their Pikmin army. Introduced are Louie– Olimar’s quiet, if not rather shifty, partner– and two new Pikmin: the squishy, obese Purple Pikmin and the red-eyed poisonous White Pikmin. If given the time, I would elaborate at length about my love for the purple fatties, but what’s most important is that Pikmin 2 is such a significant improvement in gameplay, atmosphere, and content.

Pikmin was already stunning to look at, but Pikmin 2’s vast array of flora and fauna is what elevated the series as the most aesthetically-inspired Nintendo has in its repertoire. The striking creature designs– not the least of which are the mechanical Gatling Groinks and Man-At-Legs– are only the tip of the iceberg, for its diving further into a not-so-subtle post-apocalyptic theme grants such a poignant beauty. Just the take the wintery Valley of Repose: accompanied by a soft tune that echoes such bittersweet nostalgia, giant manhole covers and abandoned snowmen decorate the landscape. Its being the setting for the game’s opening paints a more chilling picture, one that’s perhaps all too familiar.

Of course, none of this is any concern for our treasure-seeking explorers and their merry band of Pikmin. The game’s emphasis on spelunking caves for treasure provides the real meat of the campaign, and it is as challenging as it is stunning. To suddenly transition from winding tunnels and skyhigh valleys into abandoned children’s playpens, gardens, sewers, and shower rooms underneath the crust of the Pikmin world is such an enticing leap into the realm of sci-fi, and that’s not even touching upon the actual goodies found within the depths. Nintendo wasted no time in not only poking fun at itself (such as unearthing SNES control pads and Famicom floppy disks), but obtaining licenses for real-world products (Duracell batteries and Skippy Peanut Butter jars!). These actually differed within the various regions of release, so I imagine these licenses cost a pretty penny.

Of course, Pikmin 2’s longer campaign (relative to the original) may not encourage successive playthroughs, but that’s what the Challenge and Vs. modes are for.  The former features 30 deadly challenges, where perfect scores are only granted upon no Pikmin deaths. True to the mode’s name, this is insanely challenging even with the availability of co-op mode, particularly in the occasional situation where you’re only granted only five (or even less!) Pikmin. To this day, I have yet to achieve full completion of the mode, something I aim to remedy sometime.

However, Pikmin 2‘s ultimate source of replayability lies in its chaotic 2-Player Battle multiplayer mode. While each arena has a designated theme (such as Hostile Territory’s abundance of bomb rocks), each one is randomly generated, so no two battle will be the same. As both armies scramble for each other’s marbles, they’ll likely run into monstrous beasts or be subject to the dangers of the cherry roulette (including boulder showers, bomb spiders, or summoning monsters to attack the opponent’s base). In the case of my friends and I, we largely ignored the marbles and just sent our Pikmin armies to massacre each other as we farmed cherries.

While Pikmin 3 was such an incredible sequel, this iteration might edge it out as my favorite. Its content-packed campaign and wholly unique challenge mode grant it a level of girth not found in the other two titles, and I continue to be blown away by the art direction, low-poly models and jaggies and all. Regardless of which Pikmin game is the best, I consider Pikmin 2 to be GameCube’s true masterpiece.

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