Pikmin 2 was released here on Friday, and being an enormous fan of anything vaguely resembling Lemmings, I bought a copy. Actually, the word ‘bought’ oversimplifies the transaction somewhat… it went more like this:
SPOTTY TEENAGE SALES ASSISTANT1: “Would you like to buy that? It’s $100.”
(STSA1 takes the video game, and swipes it to disarm the security tag thingy.)
ME: (offering STSA1 a pair of fifties) “Here you go.”
STSA1: “Oh, I can’t serve you right now… the register is occupied.”
(At this juncture I wait half an hour while a second teenager — STSA2 — tries to stuff a giant Warcraft Battle Chest into a teeny bag clearly intended for PSX games. Eventually he goes for a larger bag and all is well.)
STSA2: “Can I help you?”
ME: (offering STSA2 the pair of fifties) “I’d like to buy Pikmin 2. The other guy has already swiped it. Here’s money.”
STSA2: “You’re a gold club member, right?”
STSA2: “Let me tell you about our great gold club!”
ME: “No thanks. I just want to buy the game.”
STSA2: “Okay, sure. What’s your name and phone number?”
ME: “I AM WILLING TO PAY YOU ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR A 3 INCH PLASTIC DISC WITH A GAME ABOUT CARROTS ON IT! TAKE THE FUCKING MONEY!”
Anyway, I eventually got the game home and took a look at it. The manual is comphrensive (as one would expect from a first party Nintendo game), and the artwork is all photographs of modelling clay scenes (including one of the various pikmin walking across a rusty piece of barbed wire, and a great one of a wonky clay controller on the which-button-does-what page).
When you first fire up the game, you’re greeted by a little prompt that asks you whether your TV can can handle 60Hz or whether you’d like to use the default 50Hz (oddly, the game doesn’t remember your choice, and asks you every time at startup). After that, you’re through to the main menu, where you can play through the story mode, the challenge mode (when unlocked), or the 2P split screen ‘capture the marble‘ mode. There’s also an options screen where, in addition to the usual guff, you can choose between sharp high-contrast graphics or washed-out Ico style graphics (which look very cool indeed).
The main game plays as per the original Pikmin, i.e. like the three-dimensional bastard child of Lemmings and Command & Conquer. There are a few notable differences, however, and these are chiefly to do with the game’s multitasking aspect. Firstly, you are given a extra little guy to control (name of Louie, perhaps in a nod to Luigi), and secondly, the 30-day time limit has been eliminated from the game. While these seem like good things initially, I am concerned that, taken together, they unbalance the game. In the original Pikmin, the time limit encouraged multitasking; if you didn’t collect multiple pieces in a single day, you had no hope of getting all the pieces before your time ran out. This meant that it wasn’t enough to merely complete a level — you had to complete the level using an optimal solution. Anyway, I haven’t played a huge amount of Pikmin 2 yet, so I’m hopeful that later levels will use the daylight timer to encourage more frantic multitasking.
Other new additions include a hand-holding tutorial (annoying, but exhaustive), and lots of nifty underground cave levels. The cave levels (thus far) are quite unlike the spacious watery caves of the original, and are cramped multi-level dungeons evocative of Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance as much as anything. The cool thing about the caves is that they contain lots of weird new species of flora and fauna. Purple and white pikmin can be obtained via colour-changing candypop flowers (which now wilt after you’ve changed five pikmin), berries can be harvested to make the pikmin equivalents of cocaine and tear gas, and exciting new monsters can beat the tar out of you. It’s all good downstairs, except that the time pressure is slackened ever further by the daylight timer pausing while you go spelunking.
So, first impressions versus the orginal: there’s more of it, it looks better, and it’s not as hard. If you’re a westerner with a Game Cube it’s not like you have a huge variety of games to choose from anyway, so purchasing Pikmin 2 is pretty much mandatory. While doing so, you may wish to join our great gold club.