Reality sucks sometimes. It hits you when least expect it, when everything seems to be going according to plan. You could be staring at the TV in a comatose state, then suddenly realize that you’ve got a term paper due in the morning. You could be cherishing your paycheck, and then you remember that you’ve got to pay your rent for the month. Yes, all those little things that you tried to forget always manage to catch up with you. The harsh reality of life can catch you and tear your momentary pleasure to shreds. Despite our games, books, movies, and countless other forms of entertainment, the aspects of our normal lives come back to haunt us all. And when they finally do return to plague us, we must attend to them to continue our livelihood.
Captain Olimar knows all about this little phenomenon that we call the “real life.” In the previous installment of the Pikmin series, the courageous space captain crashed into a remote planet, with only a limited window of survival. Luckily for him, he discovered Pikmin, a race of tiny beings dedicated to manual labor and multitasking. Utilizing the little critters to their fullest extent, the shipwrecked traveler managed to fix his spaceship and make it back out into space. High on life, Captain Olimar headed back for his home planet to be reunited with his family. However, the weary adventurer isn’t the only one to fall on hard times. While Olimar was narrowly escaping death, his company fell into deep financial debt. Apparently some new employee named Louie managed to lose a transport of valuable items, thus costing the company a staggering sum of money. With their jobs and salaries at stake, Olimar and Louie must return to space and find rare and strange treasures to help make money for the failing business.
Needless to say, it’s not exactly the welcome home he’d expected. Instead of being greeted by his loved ones, Olimar has to come up with treasure to make some quick cash. But how? The answer lies with the Pikmin that saved his life. These little buggers make up for their tiny stature with their seemingly endless population. They can form groups and work together efficiently to perform tasks, attack predators, and do whatever else Olimar’s sick mind can come up with. Since you can control up to one hundred of the critters at once, you must spend time dividing your Pikmin into small groups and giving them different tasks to perform. While one group is building a bridge over a stream, another group may be breaking down a wall of twigs or killing some lesser wildlife. Before long, your worksite will be alive with the sounds of Pikmin hard at work. And since there is no long-term time limit being imposed, you can take this job as seriously or as leisurely as you wish.
However being the boss isn’t easy. While organizing your forces may be easy, paying attention to the limitations of your workers can prove to be a formidable challenge. There are five distinct colored species of Pikmin, each with their own unique traits and abilities. The default Red Pikmin can walk through the fiery hell of underground passageways, while all the other critters will roast alive, screaming as their flowery heads are reduced to ashes. When you let loose some Yellows, they’ll be able to withstand electrical shocks, which would mean instant death for the others. If you have to cross a body of water, you’d better pray that you have a decent sized number of Blues for lifeguards, just in case you accidentally commit Pikmin genocide and drown your entire army. Also, you’ll eventually find two new species that either withstand poison gasses or have the strength of ten regular Pikmin. The trick is learning how to balance your army to factor in their strengths and weakness, hopefully allowing you to explore further into the levels. With such a diverse workforce, you’re going to have to strategize if you hope to get any work done effectively.
However, this revamped workforce isn’t the only factor you’ll have to consider. Pikmin 2 has taken the levels of the previous game and added more sections, obstacles, and enemies to hinder your progress. Familiar areas have been altered with new paths and underground caves for you to explore. As you traverse this unfamiliar landscape, you’ll have to deal with massive streams and reinforced, electrical and poisoned twig barriers, forcing you to strategize and use specific types of Pikmin to do your bidding. Also, there are tons of new predators lurking the planet, complete with devastating attacks and a burning hunger for raw Pikmin. There’s something utterly heart-wrenching about watching a Pikmin being eaten alive and seeing its tiny ghost float offscreen. You’ll have to come up with some sort of attack plan if you intend to keep your trusty workers alive. And since each level is crammed with deadly enemies and other hazards, you’ll have to plan quickly.
However, this harsh and brutal world is not without beauty. Using some of the finest graphics ever seen on the Gamecube, Pikmin 2 is presented with incredibly detailed levels and characters. You can see the lush cherry blossoms of the Awakening Wood or the shimmering ripples on waters of the Perplexing Pool. If you take some time playing with the camera angles, you’ll see that these massive levels are simply expanded visions of gardens and parks. All those flowerpots that you might take for granted in real life seem so much more impressive when you’re the size of a bug. Despite their miniature size, each individual Pikmin features smooth and shiny skin, right down to their leafy glow-in-the-dark heads. Also, your faithful workers have fully pronounced voices, ranging from their high-pitched screams of death to their comical chain gang chants. When you add other realistic sound effects and a relaxing soundtrack, you have the makings for one of Nintendo’s finest presentations to date.
In this past year of sequels, the gaming community was both treated and cheated by certain big name titles. While some of these sequels come off as mere shadows of their predecessors, Pikmin 2 shines brightly among the rest. Instead of being geared to mainstream gamers, this game opts to give its small fanbase even more of what they enjoy. With tons of new levels, characters, and treasures, this game will have you coming back for more, even after you’ve paid off that debt. They’ve taken everything that we’ve held dear about the original, and expanded it throughout, making a more complete game and creating something that is a pleasure to play.
Nine out of ten