Does having a Wii Remote make hurling Yellow Pikmin at Honeywisps any more fun?
I didn't believe much in buying upgraded or remade ports of last-generation games. Then I bought Pikmin 2.
For those who haven't played a Pikmin game before, the game concept was allegedly inspired by legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto's habit of tending his garden and observing ants. In the game, an interplanetary explorer finds a vaguely earth-like world, though on it he seems to be only 4 cm tall: grasses and flowers tower over him, as do the tree stumps, trashed cardboard boxes, and discarded action figures scattered about the planet.
In this "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" sort of world, the protagonist, a hardworking family man named Olimar, finds he can summon, command, and even grow the ant-like Pikmin. It's up to the player to grow, protect, and lead the multicolored creatures during the day, strategically using their unique abilities and combined numbers (up to 100 can follow Olimar at once) to fight monsters, solve puzzles, dig up treasure, and carry it back home. This can only happen when the sun is up, however; when night falls, any Pikmin left alone will automatically fall prey to nocturnal predators.
A big reason for my skepticism about a Wii version of this eight-year-old GameCube classic is its conversion to control with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. I considered the original Pikmin built to the exact specifications of the GameCube controller, and didn't believe the original control scheme could be improved on at all. I was wrong. Using the Wii Remote pointer not only feels natural, but goes beyond the game's original controls. You can now easily aim to throw Pikmin without being forced to reposition your character, and aim the pointer beyond your throw range to call any Pikmin to you as long as they're on screen, which, with the camera zoomed out all the way, gives you huge reach compared to the GameCube's shorter limitation.
The improved control method brings tangible improvements. Throw in added widescreen support, the ability to zoom the camera out extra far, and some mostly unnoticeable graphical touch-ups, and it's easy to recommend the Wii version of Pikmin 2 not just over the original, but even as a complete replacement.
Of course, this would all count for nothing if the core game itself wasn't anything special. But it is, and the Pikmin gameplay is still as innovative, fun, and challenging as ever. There are numerous enemies to fight, some of which you'll quickly learn to defeat even without the help of the Pikmin, along with many climactic boss fights against much larger, and much more exotic, life forms. You'll have to learn each Pikmin color's strengths (Will you need Blue Pikmin to wade through a puddle, or heavy purple Pikmin to weigh down a switch? Or both?), and even divide up your two spacemen and their Pikmin into teams to solve some of the more complex problems. You can also harvest berries in the game to store up power-ups that either petrify enemies for a short while or boost your Pikmin temporarily.
Pikmin 2 added caves, which you can explore at a more deliberate pace since the time of day does not change as long as you're inside. This slower speed is necessary since the caves often house numerous hazards that need to be navigated and fearsome beasts that require well-planned strategy to down.
You also can't grow new Pikmin when underground, meaning preserving those you bring in, or supplementing your forces through other means, becomes imperative. It's worth noting that these caves do have a high potential for frustration and exhaustion—the only way to secure collected treasure is often to successfully fight your way to the bottom. Many caves have around five sub-floors you'll have to survive, which can be tiring enough, but some have upwards of seven, nine, or even 15. Pikmin 2 automatically saves between floors, but coming back to the game later and being thrown right into a difficult cave sub-floor is psychologically daunting.
Thankfully, you don't have to explore every nook and cranny of the single-player game to feel you've achieved something, but retrieving 100 percent of the game's treasures is a tempting challenge, not only for story reasons, but because if you get that far you're probably hooked on the game's puzzles. There's also plenty of content in the game's challenge mode, which is like a high score speed run mode with 30 specially designed levels. You can even tackle the Challenge Mode in two-player split-screen cooperative mode, which is an absolutely wonderful proposition. Or you can take your second player and do split-screen battle mode, which challenges either side to steal the other player's colored marble, or collect four of the white marbles guarded by monsters between their bases. This versus mode can be surprisingly engaging since players can easily collect and trigger random power-ups to keep each other on their toes.
The game's charm is one of its strongest qualities. Pikmin 2's gorgeous graphics focus not on explosions or technology but on an ant's-eye view of a natural world full of grasses, flowers, vines, and water puddles. The evocative "treasures" you collect, all real-world objects, grow in irony as your intergalactic visitors query their purpose. There's even the heart-warming humming of the Pikmin as they follow you around their world, or their heart-wrenching cries for help when they fall prey to that same world's dangers.
If you've never played a Pikmin game before (you should), this is a good place to start. It was a gem of a game on the GameCube, and the Wii version not only preserves but also subtly improves upon Pikmin 2's sense of action, strategy, and wide-eyed exploration. You'll know what I mean the first time you swarm a hundred Pikmin around a downed Puffy Blowhog.