Pikmin 2 is a real time strategy video game developed by Nintendo. The game is a direct sequel to Pikmin and features many of the same resources and the same game engine. It was originally released for the Nintendo GameCube in Japan on April 29, 2004, in North America on August 30, 2004, in Europe on October 8, 2004, and in Australia on November 4, 2004. It was later remade for Wii with a new control scheme and released in Japan on March 12, 2009, in Europe on April 24, 2009, and in Australia on May 14, 2009. Due to poor sales, this remake was never released in North America. Although it did not sell as well as its predecessor, critics praised Pikmin 2 for improving on the Pikmin gameplay, turning all the first game's flaws into virtues and adding some much-needed depth to the experience.
Personally, I think the popular opinion of the game is well-deserved. I had a lot of fun with the first Pikmin when I rented it, but the gameplay being so shallow and the main quest being so short and easy stopped me from ever actually buying it. Pikmin 2, though it doesn't make substantial changes to the formula, makes a lot of small fixes that really add up to a more complete experience.
Firstly, the types of Pikmin available for use has been doubled from the first game: instead of just blue, red, and yellow, your captain now has access to purple Pikmin, white Pikmin, and "Bulbmin" (parasitic Pikmin that have infested the bodies of Bulborbs, a common in-game enemy). These new varieties of Pikmin are not harvested in the same monotonous manner as the original three varieties -- they can only be harvested in specific areas of the game world and need to be conserved, which adds more depth and strategy to the troop management aspect of the game. In addition, the resistances and abilities of all Pikmin have been revamped slightly: poison and electric hazards now exist, with yellow Pikmin being immune to electricity. To make room for this ability, the yellows' affinity for bombs has been removed; a change which is very welcome, given how clumsy the troop control in Pikmin is and how easy it is to misuse or waste bombs in the first game. Unlike the first game, where it was quite possible to complete the story without using yellow Pikmin more than a dozen times, the balance between the different varieties is much closer this time, and I usually found myself maintaining equal numbers of each type of Pikmin.
Another welcome gameplay change is the addition of a second player character. In Pikmin 2, Captain Olimar is not alone like he was previously: he is now joined by a second captain, who can independently control his own group of Pikmin. Though you'll often find yourself keeping the captains together, there are many times in the game where this new feature comes in handy, whether it be a puzzle that actually requires two captains or just a technique to expedite the game and eliminate some backtracking. Olimar himself gets some new gadgets in the game, too; some items you retrieve now function as Metroid-esque suit upgrades that can make the captain impervious to hazards, speed his movement rate, and other cool things.
Like the first game, Pikmin 2 only contains four areas to explore. However, the areas this time around are much bigger and contain several "dungeons". These dungeons are the biggest and best new feature of the game. While in them, time does not pass, but you also do not have access to any of your onions (from which you can sprout Pikmin), which turns the dungeons into small endurance rounds of sorts. The layouts are randomly generated to place obstacles and treasures in new locations on every playthrough, adding quite a bit of replayability to the Pikmin formula.
Pikmin 2 is not without its flaws, though. While the randomly generated dungeons might be a neat idea, the actual generation of the floors is sometimes glitchy and ill-designed. There's a good reason that random level generation is not a common trait for video games; indeed, the only game I can think of that makes effective use of it is Nethack. In Pikmin 2, the generation of dungeons makes the difficulty vary wildly: extremely tough enemies get spawned directly next to the starting point, traps get placed in locations that are more obnoxious than challenging, and I even saw the exit get placed in an inaccessible location once. The erratic, unpredictable difficulty of the dungeons stands in stark contrast to the first Pikmin game's polished difficulty curve.
The game's presentation is also a bit iffy compared to the first game. The graphics and setting are still very well realized and fleshed-out in Pikmin 2 -- in fact, the new inclusion of a "Piklopedia" expands on the setting significantly -- but the story seriously leaves something to be desired. The first game had a passable story about a man stranded on a strange planet, fighting for survival; this story worked well mainly because of the development of the main character and the atmosphere of the game's setting, which made the exploration of the planet and the drive to return to Olimar's home planet seem like a goal you should really get to. In Pikmin 2, you're just on the strange planet so you can steal everything and sell it to make a quick buck for your employer. That sounds like it might be a good opportunity for social commentary, but the game does literally nothing with this premise: you complete the story and it says "Congratulations, you stole all the things!" and then the credits roll, and that's it.
The first game was also notable for being one of the extremely few Nintendo games to feature a nicely characterized protagonist in Captain Olimar, who ended each in-game day with a journal entry containing his thoughts on any new discoveries, his worries about the future, and just generally expressing a depth of character that was rare to see in Nintendo writing. The contents of the journal even changed to reflect how you played the game! In Pikmin 2, the characters are just comical cardboard cut-outs, and even though there are two captains this time instead of just Olimar like before, they somehow never find an opportunity to form any kind of relationship. Instead, all the talking is done by the spaceship, for whatever asinine reason. True, the characters still display a bit of personality in their Piklopedia notes, but no actual development is made from the first game.
Granted, I didn't expect a Nintendo game to have a good story. I'm not surprised that the excellent presentation of the first Pikmin was a fluke. But that doesn't make it any less disappointing.
Pikmin 2 is better than the first game; for one, the game is actually worth buying this time, since the replayability has been ramped up with the new dungeons. The gameplay has been tweaked and perfected, with all the flaws from the first game ironed out into a more balanced and challenging package, even if the difficulty curve can sometimes be erratic. It even has multiplayer available now, so you can challenge your friends. But if you're looking for a continuation of the Pikmin story and Captain Olimar's character, don't bother. All the wonder of the first game is gone; the only thing this one has is tweaked game design.