Olimar is back, and this time he’s got a new friend, new kinds of Pikmin, and new powers. Jonny played the game quite a bit during E3, so check out his hands-on impressions.
Like its predecessor, Pikmin 2 is not an ideal game to demo at E3. It’s best experienced over a long period of time, and with fully realized level design, neither of which is possible during the show. But the demo did give me a good idea of what to expect from Pikmin 2’s new features, most notably the second character and two-player mode.
In the normal Story Mode, Loozy acts as a backup character. He normally walks around with Olimar as a team, but by pressing X, you can separate the two. At any time, you can switch from one to the other with the Y button. It’s not yet clear whether the two characters have any differences in their abilities, but the main reason for having them both is that you can now control two parties of Pikmin. That means you can have Olimar stick around and build up an army while Loozy heads out to explore. Or you can have one group attack a boss from the front and the other attack from behind. There are tons of new strategies possible, and I’m sure the level designs will take advantage of this new gameplay dimension. The only downside is that you have to leave one group idle while controlling the other…so one of your teams is always vulnerable to attack, and you won’t even know until you switch back. The people at Nintendo’s booth gave conflicting reports as to whether the Story Mode can be played with two players, each one controlling one of the captains. I’m certainly hoping that a true co-op mode will make it into the final version.
The two-player feature was only available at E3 in the form of a Challenge Mode. Rather than trying to make as many Pikmin as possible, you and a friend are given a certain amount of money to collect. Various items (“treasures" include jewels and rubber ducks, for instance) are littered across the levels, which appear to be randomly generated. Finding each level’s key will open up a tunnel to the next floor down. This is where the Challenge Mode gets really interesting. Once underground, you can still collect items and beam them back up for money, but you can’t collect newborn Pikmin without climbing back up to the surface. This limitation fundamentally changes how you play the game, because you have to be extremely conservative with your Pikmin troops. As you find more keys and dig ever deeper underground (we reached sub-level five just in the demo), the danger of running out of Pikmin increases steadily, because you’re that much farther away from the surface, and the enemies only get harder as you climb down.
Other than the two-character and two-player features, Pikmin 2 plays almost identically to the original, which certainly is not a bad thing. The E3 demo automatically shut off after about ten or fifteen minutes, but the completed game will apparently have no time limit at all, other than the periodical setting of the sun. Nintendo reps manning the demo station told me that Pikmin 2 would have far more levels than its predecessor, which is great news if true. I also learned the nature of the two new kinds of Pikmin, although neither was available in the demo. The tiny white Pikmin are poisonous; you can intentionally feed them to an enemy, and it will soon keel over and die. The purple Pikmin are extremely strong, even moreso than the red type. There will probably be certain objects that only purple Pikmin can carry or manipulate.
Captains Olimar and Loozy also have new powers. By harvesting certain objects, you can collect black and red spray powders. The black powder, which is used by pressing up on the D-pad, turns nearby enemies into stone. They can then be easily crushed by your Pikmin, but there will be no carcass to take back to the onions. The red powder (down on the D-pad) is sprayed onto your Pikmin, making their stems glow red. Pikmin energized in this way become much stronger, so they can defeat enemies, destroy walls, and carry items more quickly. The effect only lasts for a few seconds though.
Pikmin 2 is looking like a considerable upgrade for the series, although it’s not exactly a huge departure from the formula. It’s still a pretty far cry from your average game though, and the many new features and elements should make this adventure longer and more varied than the last one.