43. Pikmin 2
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Nintendo are a strange lot. Most of the time they seem happy to endlessly rehash old ideas, refining them to exquisite points but never really surprising. But every so often they’ll pull out all the stops and remind you just why they’re so loved. Like when they offered up Pikmin 2.
I confess to never having played the first Pikmin, but apparently it came from Shigeru Miyamoto’s fondness for gardening and was such a labour of love that he included textures taken directly from his garden in the game. The sequel expands on its ideas, adding new concepts and removing the tight time limit.
And what are the ideas? Why, it’s a real-time strategy starring an inch-high spaceman and his army of sentient vegetables. Indeed. Nintendo took a genre most often associated with elaborate sci-fi war settings on the PC and did it as a console game with squeaking flowers.
Pikmin 2 casts you as tiny astronaut Captain Olimar and his dim-witted, slightly taller assistant Louie, a pairing in no way intended to resemble Mario and Luigi. Oh no. Olimar and Louie are tasked with collecting treasure to pay off their shipping company’s debt, and to do this they fly to the planet of the Pikmin (read: Earth) to loot its wondrous bounty (read: scavenge bits of rubbish). To collect the “treasure” and fight off the hostile wildlife, they enrol the Pikmin – little flower-men of unwavering obedience that come in five different colours, each colour denoting a skill: red are fireproof, blue can breathe underwater, etcetera. The game’s split between overground and underground sections. Above ground, you can grow new Pikmin to replace the dozens you’ll inevitably lose to battle or misadventure, but there’s a time limit – you can only work during the day, and when night falls you have to scamper back to your rocket, and any Pikmin who get left behind will be eaten. Underground, you can take your time, but you’re limited to the Pikmin you entered the cave with – you can only have up to 100 with you at once. Additionally, two species of Pikmin – poisonous white and strong purple – can only be obtained in the caves, by switching out your “regular” minions.
The result is a taxing but enjoyable game of resource management and prioritisation. There’s rarely a single right way to do things, so you’re free to experiment. If you really want to show off, you can split Olimar and Louie up with a clutch of Pikmin each and do two tasks at once. However you tackle the tasks, you’ll feel quietly pleased whenever your adorable army defeats a mighty predator or successfully scavenges a bit of treasure.
Really, though, it's all about the exploration. Pikmin 2 conjures up a truly delightful gameworld, one that's beautiful to look at, charming to listen to and a joy to rummage through. It’s a game full of charm and wonder, and as such is a very Nintendo game indeed.
MAGIC MOMENT: the lengthy rigmarole at the end of each game day. First off, you get a list of Pikmin grown and lost – the latter guaranteed to make you feel a bit guilty. Then a list of treasure salvaged, to make you feel smug. Then an email, usually from your boss or one of Olimar’s or Louie’s relatives – these can be funny (you get spam sometimes), helpful or poignant. Finally, the joy that is the Piklopedia. One half details all the animals you’ve encountered (and you can taunt them with carrots, which never gets old), the other the treasure you’ve gathered. Your ship’s computer takes it upon itself to name everything, and it’s hilarious. A cherry is “Cupid’s Grenade”, an empty sardine tin is a “Container of Sea Bounty”. Wonderful.