Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Hidden Gems - Pikmin 2

Although Pikmin 2 has managed to earn itself an average rating of 89% on, I'm willing to bet that it has been overlooked by many gamers out there, myself included until just recently. In fact, if it wasn't for the fact that the new look Official Nintendo Magazine was giving it away free with a subscription, I still wouldn't be aware just what a finely crafted sequel it really is.

The first game was one of the very early games on the Gamecube, and it was packed with originality and clever ideas, but ultimately it was very limited. You only had 30 gaming days to try and find 30 items, so if you didn't bring back at least one a day you would have trouble. Nintendo have really worked hard to remedy this though, and the result is one of the most captivating games I have played in some time. It really has that special "Nintendo touch" that many of their best games have.

If you're not familiar with the way the game works, basically you control a little spaceman from the planet Hocotate in a mission to scavenge as many valuable items as you can, in this case to try and prevent his company from going bankrupt. You can't interact with anything in the word directly however - instead you have to enlist the help of the Pikmin - little plant/ant dudes. Soon after starting the game you will discover a few red ones, and then you can propagate and harvest more by cutting down flowers and killing enemies, and then taking them back to the "onion" to be used as fertiliser to grow more. There are many environmental hazards that you will have to find a way around, including water, fire, electricity and giant Pikmin munching insects to name just a few. This is where the different Pikmin types come in to play - red ones are impervious to fire, blue ones can swim, yellow ones are safe from electric shocks, purple ones are as strong as 10 normal guys, and the little sick looking albino white Pikmin are both immune to poison and poisonous to anything that eats them.

The Pikmin crew score a very valuable rubber ducky!

You will be required on many occasions to sacrifice some of your Pikmin to serve the greater good - either in battle with a ferocious bed bug, or offering one of your white ones up as a sacrifice in order to poison your enemy. In this way Pikmin is rather brutal, but then nature so often is in real life too. However brutal the single player mode can get though, it's nothing compared to the multiplayer mode. Some of the epic 50 on 50 Pikmin fights that can take place here rival the battle of Helm's Deep in the Lord of the Rings! The multiplayer mode really helps elevate this game to classic status. There are around 10 different maps each with their own quirks that you can do battle in, with the aim being to either bring back 4 yellow marbles, or the enemies main marble which can be found in their base. You can also lose by having all your Pikmin slaughtered by bugs, or if your spaceman dies. Once both players have a good grasp of how the game plays (which can take a while due to the unique controls and the way the game is set up) things really hot up and some really close tactical battles ensue. I can see myself coming back to this mode for a long time to come and it will most likely rival Mario Kart DS, Super Monkey Ball or Mashed as one of my multiplayer favourites. When you reach a certain stage in the single player mode you also open up a Challenge mode which can be played cooperatively with another player, adding even more depth to the game.

Something else that really enhanced the game is the use of real life objects for the artifacts that you have to find. These include a Nintendo Game & Watch, a Duracell battery, and a 7UP bottle cap. I know many people find the idea of advertising in games abhorrent and usually I would agree with them, but it really works in this context, and the funny alternative names that the sentient ship comes up with for the items really adds character. For example, the bottle cap becomes a "quenching emblem" and the Game & Watch becomes a "Dream Sculptor".

The game has been out for a fair while now so you can probably expect to find it for around £20 new and less than that used. While the Gamecube only came third in the sales battle, it is home to many brilliant games and in my opinion it was the machine with the most consistent level of high quality titles of its generation. Pikmin 2 is yet another example of this, so if you have a Gamecube, check it out!

An army of reds get ready to enter one of the many dungeons.

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