Revisiting Pikmin 2: A Childhood Favorite That's Lost Some Luster

Illustration for article titled Revisiting iPikmin 2/i: A Childhood Favorite Thats Lost Some Lusterem/em

As a kid, I adored Pikmin 2. I had enjoyed the original, sure, but the second game to me was a perfect sequel. It added tons of new content, gave me as much time as I needed to do anything, and removed all of the issues I had with the original game. In fact, I considered it one of the best games of all time.

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That’s why it came to me as a shock to me when I replayed both it and the original game just before the release of Pikmin 3 back in 2013 that I had more fun with the first game for a variety of reasons. Now, replaying the series again in 2019, I find myself agreeing with most of my opinions from my last playthrough, even if I had a bit more fun this time around.

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Pikmin 2 is in many ways a knee jerk reaction to complaints about the first game. Did you hate that pesky 30 day time limit looming over you? It’s gone, take as much time as you want! Hated how short the game was? This game’s like 5 times longer! Didn’t like that you had to multitask in the first game? Here’s some caves where time is stopped! Did you find combat too hard? Here’s some new Pikmin types that murder everything almost instantly!

Indeed, quite a few of these changes are major improvements over the original game. As a kid, that 30 day time limit scared me, but as an adult I find the game easy enough to where it never is even a factor, so its removal is mostly fine. I appreciate that the game is longer due to the length of caves: my most recent run was 14 in-game days which is one day less than my record for the original, but it took 10 more hours of real time to reach that goal. Pikmin themselves seem to be a bit smarter this time: I found myself spending much less time looking for stragglers caught on level geometry at the end of the day in this game than the original. There are some major quality of life improvements like how the color above objects Pikmin are carrying shows which onion it will go to or how you can swap which type you’ll throw with the press of a button, both of which are so invaluable they were added to the Wii port of the first game.

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Facing off against the Empress Bulblax, the first boss of the game
Facing off against the Empress Bulblax, the first boss of the game

There are also some great new additions to the series. Sprays are a nice feature that add a bit of strategy to some enemy encounters. Having an extra captain to help with multitasking is nice even if it’s not fully baked here since you can’t really do anything when they’re not under your direct control. There are also some big boss fights and neat smaller enemies that are great additions to the cast. There’s a slightly greater focus on storytelling in this game. Pre-rendered cutscenes and some amusing dialogue from Hocotate Freight’s President liven things up in comparison to the first adventure. Finally, one of the game’s best new features is the Piklopedia, a detailed enemy and treasure viewer that gives detailed notes on every enemy, object, and treasure in the game.

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However, I feel like a lot of the changes go too far, most notably with the game’s focus on caves. Instead of hunting for ship parts like in the first game, the sequel has you hunting for “treasure” which cleverly is just junk left behind by humans. Most of this treasure is hidden within caves. While above ground, the game works much like the original where you have a 13 and a half minute timer each day in which you need to get things done. Once you enter a cave however, the timer freezes and you can spend as much time as you’d like doing whatever you want.

Heading into the Subterranean Complex, one of the caves in the Valley of Repose
Heading into the Subterranean Complex, one of the caves in the Valley of Repose
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Personally, I find the series is at its best when I sit down at the start of a day and think about everything I’m going to do, how many of which types of Pikmin to use, and how to save time, what activities I can multitask, and so on, then have to execute that plan. In caves, absolutely none of this matters. Your only goal is to collect treasure and get to the end with as many Pikmin alive as possible. Now, this can be a fun change of pace from the stressful work of speeding through the day on the surface world. It can be fun methodically taking out elemental traps and enemies on the way to buried treasure. However, at the end of the day, I just don’t think it plays to the series’ strengths nearly as well as the timed surface work. It would be like if the original Super Mario Kart had nothing but racing, and then the sequel not only added battle mode but forced you to play 5 battles between every race in a cup. Pikmin 1 is a real time strategy game. Pikmin 2 is a dungeon crawler with real time strategy elements.

Not helping matters is the fact that there are just downright bad design decisions in these caves. The layouts are slightly randomized but not in a fun way. Generally, a given floor will always have the same hazards and enemies but the placement of them will slightly vary. This means two things: First, the floor will always have the same general feeling so it being random doesn’t do much to spice it up. Second, the random layout can sometimes result in bullshit. In some areas, I’d spawn in with enemies within striking distance requiring immediate action as soon as I gained control in a way that feels at odds with a strategy game. In one late game area, I started on a tree stump surrounded by water. The only way out was too narrow for my whole squad but I couldn’t safely move them because my tree stump was also surrounded by enemies. When I disbanded my group as far from the enemies I could, half of my army immediately walked into water. I reset the game and reloaded my save, and the enemies were safely away making the layout actually possible.

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Hole of Heroes Sublevel 6 AKA the aforementioned sublevel
Hole of Heroes Sublevel 6 AKA the aforementioned sublevel

The much bigger problem, however, is that a lot of later caves are basically the developers’ way of trolling you. Bombs, enemies, and rocks can randomly fall from the sky. Most of these are triggered by your captains, and it happens often enough that in the second half of the game, I started taking my captains for a long dull walk by themselves just to trigger all of the traps so that I could actually play the game. Some, however, are only triggered when Pikmin are nearby which is especially annoying. In one late level, my treasure scanner started spiking near an enemy leading me to believe they had a treasure inside them. As I called my Pikmin over to attack it, it turned out the treasure was actually in an entirely different enemy: a Spotty Bulbear, one of the game’s deadliest enemies, that only fell from the sky because Pikmin were close and instantly began chowing down as soon as it landed. These are cheap tricks usually reserved for bad Mario Maker levels, not an official Nintendo game. It’s for these reasons that I absolutely encourage save scumming through this game: if the game doesn’t play fair, neither should you.

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There are plenty of other iffy additions to this game as well. Along the way you’ll collect treasure that gives you powerups. Some of these are fantastic ideas such as immunity to elements or the ability to pluck Pikmin from the ground with your whistle. Others end up being downgrades in disguise. One powerup that increases whistle range really just ends up making it more difficult to whistle only one type of Pikmin when you’ve separated your group. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to include a powerup that increases your running speed so you outrun 95% of your Pikmin meaning you now have to stop every 10 seconds and wait for your squad to catch up.

Speaking of your squad, Pikmin 2 adds two new types of the titular creatures. White Pikmin move quickly, are immune to poisonous clouds, poison enemies when eaten, and can dig up completely buried treasure. Purple Pikmin move slowly, but have the strength of 10 regular Pikmin and can stun enemies when thrown near them. As a kid, I thought new Pikmin types equaled a better game, but as an adult, one thing is abundantly clear: these new Pikmin are pretty terrible additions.

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Since you can never be quite sure of when you’ll run across completely buried treasure, you practically always have to have white Pikmin on you at all times which is a drag. Poison effects end up being too similar to fire effects on your Pikmin making them redundant, and their ingested poison is too strong.

The elephant in the room: Purple Pikmin
The elephant in the room: Purple Pikmin
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However, for as many problems as the white Pikmin have, they pale in comparison to how badly purple Pikmin break the game. Enemies are balanced in a way where they are beatable with normal Pikmin, so having one type that’s 10 times stronger than that means you can end almost every combat encounter 10 times faster. Just one can stun a whole group of enemies if thrown at the ground near them. Thankfully, the game sometimes has enough sense to throw some elemental hazards in the way every now and then that make you think twice about it since Purples are weak against every hazard, and their reduced throwing range makes flying enemies more entertaining to fight. They also had enough sense to prevent you from growing them normally: you can only convert existing Pikmin into purples at Candypop buds in caves. However, at the end of the day, they’re so strong that even these limitations don’t hinder them much: just 15 of them in a party can deal with a vast majority of the game’s enemies and even some of the bosses before they even have a chance to retaliate.

The Perplexing Pool
The Perplexing Pool
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There’s also some changes to the game I’m more torn on. Almost all of the surface areas in the game are remixes of existing areas from Pikmin 1. On one hand, it’s neat to see how the areas were remixed: Awakening Wood is the first game’s Forest of Hope but with human activity adding flower pots and other hazards. The Perplexing Pool adds some neat puzzle elements to the first game’s Distant Spring. The Wistful Wild combines the first and final areas of the original game. However, it also feels like a bit of a cop out: I suspect it was largely done to save on development time. Also, a lot of the maps don’t flow as well as Pikmin 1. The Valley of Repose, the one totally new area in the game, is effectively one really long path with a few branches which can make traversing it kind of boring. While Perplexing Pool’s puzzles are neat, it also adds a lot of one-way paths that make getting around more of a hassle.

A lot of the enemies added to Pikmin 2 are fun to fight providing you aren’t pummeling them to death with purple Pikmin. Giant floating jellyfish, fish tanks, machine-gun-wielding spiders, and giant crabs all add unique mechanics. However, many of these additions feel very video-gamey and don’t really fit with the natural feeling the first game was trying to create, especially all of the new enemies with increased emphasis on different elemental hazards like the Dweevils.

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I suppose I should note given my heavy emphasis on it in my Pikmin 1 retrospective that this playthrough was the Wii U eShop version of Pikmin 2 which is the Wii New Play Control version. I still own the Gamecube original but wanted to try it with the updated controls. I feel they work better with Pikmin 2 than Pikmin 1 due to some of Pikmin 2's already existing improvements over the original like the increased throwing rate of Pikmin. Plus, with the sequel’s greater emphasis on combat, the ability to strafe while throwing is very nice even if in combination with purple Pikmin it adds another advantage you don’t really need. Unlike the original game, I’d say the Wii version of Pikmin 2 is an improvement on the Gamecube original albeit a slight one.

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Exploring Sublevel 4 of the Submerged Castle
Exploring Sublevel 4 of the Submerged Castle
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So, that’s Pikmin 2. Despite the amount of criticism I’ve thrown at it here, I don’t think it’s a bad game by a long shot: in fact, I still very much enjoyed playing through it again. I just feel like it was so eager to fix complaints about the first game that it threw the baby out with the bathwater. Reading up on some other opinions in preparation for this article, I find the community nowadays is split on it. Some consider it easily the best in the series still due to its length, how much it added to the series, how much it refined the controls and bugs of the first game, and their enjoyment of the dungeon-crawling aspect. I can certainly respect that since it’s what kid me thought of the game back in 2004. Adult me, however, is in the other camp: it’s a fine game, but not the type of game I want Pikmin to be.

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