Whatcha Playin’ Vol 6 – Pikmin 2

I’ve been in a real gaming funk this week – thankfully I’ve been feeling somewhat productive with video and art projects, but regardless, I needed something cozy to unwind with. Enter Pikmin 2.

While the first Pikmin was revolutionary for it’s charming presentation and the technical achievement of controlling a hundred little plant soldiers to do your bidding, the game didn’t quite click with me in 2001. Plus, I was just a little baby gamer at the time – the Gamecube was this wild new frontier in graphics and complexity. I wasn’t ready for a tactics game where my little buddies were under constant threat of death – combat had real tangible consequences and the whole time, there’s a ticking countdown to when you inevitably run out of oxygen and die. The game’s not too overwhelming – it’s still Nintendo – but the concept alone scared me away from the franchise for a good long while.

It didn’t stop the game from leaving a strong impact on me, as the original Pikmin story was the basis for one of my earliest comic book projects and I was very proud of it. I don’t remember if I jumped on the second game right away, but I recognized that Pikmin 2 was more than a mere sequel. The addition of purple and white Pikmin was not only a smart marketing decision, but they’re so much fun to use and add a lot to combat and traversal! Instead of an arbitrary death-timer, the game encourages you to go at your own pace or race against yourself for a high-score – alleviating some of the unnecessary stress. And instead of just collecting the pieces of your busted ship – in Pikmin 2 you’re an intrepid treasure hunter, uncovering relics of a supposedly lost human civilization.

The tone of the game is so much more playful and less dour than the first, which makes for (in my opinion) a much more enjoyable experience befitting the cartoony nature of the series. The Easter eggs and references in the treasure alone makes this game stand out so much more than any other entry – from chap-stick to jewels to a rubber duck head, uncovering everything is always a pleasant surprise. Pikmin 2 introduces multiple dungeons as well. These self-contained gauntlets hide the best treasure and the toughest fights, but the best part is that any time spent in them doesn’t effect your day timer. You can finally be slow and deliberate when approaching fights and really comb the environment for every last treasure.

But, what I love the most about Pikmin is the rush of excitement to perform all your tasks as efficiently as possible. This is even more emphasized in Pikmin 3, but Pikmin 2 offers a great balance of frantic overworld management and methodical dungeon diving. The bouncy, vibrant designs still hold up remarkably well and the Pikmin and enemies are incredibly expressive for 2004. The music is soothing and fills me with renewed enthusiasm when I claw my way out of the depths of a dungeon. In my handful of hours with the game, there have already been a few hair-raising moments and a couple of expletives thrown at bad AI or jerkish trap placement, but very few games scratch my collectathon itch with quite as much tactical satisfaction.

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