Still on the fence about getting Pikmin 2? This review will help you sort things out.
Under the influence of great artists, I can suspend my disbelief pretty well. I didn't question why a meager group of 23 Pikmin would stick by my side as I entered the final floor of the final dungeon of this game. It didn't bother me that they kept fighting the final boss, even as their comrades perished a few inches away. When all but one of my Pikmin had been killed, and that lone yellow warrior kept pounding away at the boss, I had only admiration for his courage. An hour later, my tiny friend and protector emerged victorious, and I was so proud of him. But when I, his captain, ordered him to get back on the field and start carrying the spoils back to base, and he picked himself up and started the job, that's when my disbelief could not be held back any longer. That's when this little yellow plant-man should have, realistically, thrown me the proverbial "bird," spit his presumably yellow spit onto the front of my glass helmet, and kicked me so hard between the legs that I could feel it even through my double-armored Metal Suit Z.
Of course, he didn't do any of those things, because Pikmin are totally loyal and dependent upon their captain(s). Pikmin 2, like its predecessor, hammers home this idea that you are responsible for the Pikmin at all times, which gives the game a weird "babysitter simulation" feel that is emotionally absent from most strategy games. But the sequel also gives the player more options even when there are few Pikmin at your disposal, including two powerful spray moves (one is an attack and one boosts your Pikmins' abilities) and a punch attack that can take out small enemies.
In classic Nintendo style, the addition of a second captain character is only as important as you want to make it. You can play the whole game without using the feature at all, or you can incorporate Louie into nearly every worthwhile strategy, which can speed up many activities or make you much more powerful, under the right circumstances. Using both captains increases the complexity of gameplay but gives you many more options for gathering items and killing enemies. Perhaps the biggest advantage to having two captains is that you can nearly eliminate the "downtime" that so plagued the first Pikmin game; while one captain presides over a group of Pikmin knocking down a wall or building a bridge, the other can concentrate on collecting enemy corpses or gathering flower pellets. It helps so much in reducing time spent just waiting for an objective to be completed that you will probably love the feature, even if you hardly ever multi-task with both captains overseeing major operations simultaneously.
The other very major change to Pikmin 2 is that the majority of the game takes place in underground dungeons, where Pikmin cannot breed. These dungeons can be from two to a dozen floors deep and contain several large enemies, plus a boss at the end. They are the main source of challenge for veterans of the first game, since careful management of the now finite Pikmin troops is key for success. With great challenge comes great reward, as there is no quicker way to repay Olimar's company's 10,000 pokos debt than to delve into a cave and emerge with twenty-odd "treasures." However, if you really enjoyed the intricate level designs of the original game's overworlds, you may be disappointed by the comparatively simple dungeon floor designs in the sequel, while the overworld areas are not as densely packed with puzzles now that the focus is on underground frontiers.
Pikmin 2 thrives on its production of a weird but very familiar super-sized reality, in which the captains and Pikmin are about the size of ants, and the household objects mined as treasure are huge. The items would mostly be considered junk by our society, but Olimar's company considers the bottle caps and fruit to be extremely valuable. The spaceship's computer likes to name these foreign objects according to their appearance, though the names are not nearly as funny as they could be, nor are the so-called treasures as interesting or clever as they could have been. Why am I digging up jars of Carmex instead of boxes of Depends? Duracell instead of Durex? "Hey guys, when the player collects the lipstick, let's name it 'Lip Service.' That'll really get 'em ROFLing."
Anyway, the gist of this review is that Pikmin 2 will delight fans of the original with its many improvements and additions, while winning over new fans with its excellent mix of strategic gameplay and photo-realistic graphics. The game is simply a delight to play and look at, and even listen to, as Pikmin sing marching songs and squeal in agony while being eaten by monsters. The newly absent time limit both blesses and curses; the game takes on a more relaxed pace, which makes playing it more casual but discourages efficiency so much that you may, occasionally, yearn for the motivation of the original game's thirty-day time limit. If you want to spend a day just "gardening" (producing more Pikmin), go right ahead. You can even end the day early if you feel like it. The game is generally more enjoyable without a time limit, but there is a certain excitement now lacking, and for that reason, the first game will not be made entirely redundant by its superior sequel.
But what a sequel it is! Did I mention the two-player modes? There's a new Challenge Mode that asks you to team up with a friend to collect all the treasure within a time limit, rather than simply breed Pikmin as fast as possible. This mode is best enjoyed with someone who really knows how to play. Battle Mode, however, works well with most any level of opponent, as long as he or she knows the basics of gameplay. This brilliant mode is a variant of capture-the-flag, with neutral enemies thrown in to encourage a sort of cooperative/competitive play style that is becoming a signature style for Nintendo titles. The partially luck-based roulette feature adds some unpredictability to the match, but whoever reaches the cherry items first will have more chances to royally screw the opponent.
Perhaps the crown upon Pikmin 2's head is that the game is considerably longer than the first Pikmin. Even after you "beat" the game by repaying your company's debt, you can keep playing to find more treasures and open up new caves and beating new bosses. As you complete more of the game, you can even earn new powers that make Olimar and Louie more durable and more efficient at controlling the Pikmin. Basically, whatever it is that keeps you playing, Pikmin 2 has it. This a big game with a lot to do, period.
The second Pikmin game is the kind of sequel that Nintendo isn't known for. The basic gameplay is exactly the same, but many, many features and subtleties have been upgraded to make this a more complete and enjoyable game. Unlike its precursor, Pikmin 2 is very much worth paying full price for, as the game experience is much longer, and the extracurricular modes have more longevity. It's not the greatest game Nintendo has ever released, but this is the kind of title that belongs in most Nintendo fans' collections, and that intelligent non-GameCube owners will yearn for. Isn't that enough to make you want it?