Ranking the top 101 Nintendo games: No. 53, Pikmin 2

Pikmin 2 isn't just more Pikmin in the sense it's a sequel to the beloved original, it's also more Pikmin in terms of strategy, scope, and actual Pikmin.

I’m ranking the top 101 Nintendo developed/published games of all-time, and you can read about the thought process behind game eligibility and list construction here. You can keep up with the rankings so far through this link.

The history of Pikmin is a little funny. It began as one of the focuses of Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto’s attention on the nascent GameCube back in 2001, which meant it is partially responsible for there not being a Mario game at that console’s launch, which in turn people point to as a reason the Cube was never as successful as it should have been. That initial Pikmin game, while not a Mario, is beloved, but there were detractors — it’s too short, the time limit too demanding and limiting. Nintendo EAD would develop a second Pikmin game on the GameCube just three years later, one that would solve those issues with the first (well, for those who thought they were issues, anyway: not all of us thought so), and it would be much more than just a tuneup of the Pikmin concept.

What’s funny, though, is that Pikmin kind of vanished after this — don’t worry, we’ll get to the actual subject of Pikmin 2 at some point. “New Play Control” versions of Pikmin and its sequel would land on the Wii, with the Wii Remote’s IR pointer creating what was, at that point, a definitive way to play the real-time strategy game in the closest form Nintendo could offer to the mouse many prefer to play that style of game with. They didn’t complete a new version of Pikmin using this control scheme on the Wii, though. They didn’t attempt a Pikmin on the Nintendo DS, which, like with the IR functionality on the Wii, seemed an obvious place for such a game given the dual screens and the stylus touch controls. We wouldn’t see a new entry in the Pikmin series until 2013, when the game that began in Wii development became an HD-enabled Wii U title instead.

Pikmin 3 was, in some ways, wasted on the Wii U, which was a system with a serious first-party library and no install base to enjoy it. Because of this, the series had returned, but still sort of lived in relative obscurity, and an extension of the Pikmin concept for the 3DS that didn’t review particularly well didn’t help to change that, either. So, Pikmin to this day remains in that “funny” state, as a franchise that more people should love but for a number of reasons, it just hasn’t happened yet. Maybe the port of Pikmin 3 to the Switch combined with the eventual Pikmin 4 release, supposedly for the same system, will help to change that.

This is a franchise with as many ports as it has main series console releases, one we’re just three deep into even though we’re 20 years in. The strategy of waiting around and making sure the games are just right has certainly worked out for their quality, of course, so don’t consider any of this a real complaint or a desire to change what’s working. It’s just odd, given how much of the industry is dominated by quarterly reports and projections and the annualization of releases, that Pikmin has been able to both be beloved and quietly release years apart when Nintendo has a new release just right, and not a moment sooner. We could all probably stand more of that shifted focus in our gaming lives, really.

In the meantime, we’ve got Pikmin 2 to consider, as that’s the game that should have launched a much larger franchise than Pikmin has actually become. Circumstances being what they were, though, Pikmin 2 was a critical success on a system with a small number of users. The number of sales don’t reflect the quality, though, which is how we’re talking about it today, anyway!

Pikmin 2, at its core, has the same setup as the original Pikmin: you have little adorable plant-like creatures doing your bidding, and these creatures have their own abilities to be utilized in order to help you traverse the RTS puzzle environment. Other than that core, though, Pikmin 2 differs significantly from its predecessor. The 30-day time limit on your save has been removed, which means you can take however much time you need to clear as much of the game as you want. The day/night cycle remains, but much of Pikmin 2 occurs in underground caverns that are always full of creatures looking to eat, electrify, set fire to, or crush your Pikmin, so the time of day doesn’t matter: the limit in place while underground has more to do with how many Pikmin you manage to keep alive as you descend, not how long it’s taking you to pass through a cavern.

And you will once again be responsible for the death of many, many Pikmin. Olimar, the star of the first game, won’t be solely to blame for these adorable lives cut short, though, as he also has Louis along with him this time. Louis is the son of the reason Olimar finds himself back on Earth, aligning himself with Pikmin against the rest of nature: you see, while Olimar was away trying to survive crash landing on a strange planet with the help of Pikmin, Louis’ dad was running the shipping company Olimar worked for into the ground by piling up massive debts and drawing the attention of the space mafia. So, Olimar and Louis take the only ship remaining to the company back to Earth, to find enough items of potential monetary value to settle the debts and save their boss’ company and also thumbs.

Yes, the deaths of these Pikmin aren’t quite as noble as they were the first time, when Olimar’s own survival was at stake and they gave their cute little lives in service of that goal. But still, this new direction does open up some amusing commentary from the guy being chased by the space mob, so uh, there’s that.

The solution, of course, is to be careful, to prepare, to avoid sending the red Pikmin that are best utilized against creatures that use fire against those that instead deploy electricity, to make sure it’s just the blue Pikmin that can breathe underwater handling the tasks near the shorelines, and so on. You can’t always plan perfectly, though, and sometimes all it takes is a creature blowing a gust of wind at your Pikmin that are too close to the edge of a platform spanning a bottomless chasm, or to not notice the bulbous creature just waiting for a chance to jump into the middle of your Pikmin procession, crushing all beneath it, to quickly make you responsible for the deaths of dozens.

At least this time around you’ll have some new helpers, in the form of the purple Pikmin and the white Pikmin. The purple Pikmin each have the weight of 10 other Pikmin and the strength of quite a few of them, too: this means you can bring 10 purple Pikmin along for the ride to do the work of many more, when that work involves being heavy or hitting things hard.

The white Pikmin are more tragic: yes, they are the fastest Pikmin in your group, and yes, they can resist poisonous gases that would choke and end the lives of other Pikmin varieties. They themselves are poison, though, which means they are not only immune to these gases, but that you will find yourself eventually, whether you ever wanted to or not, sacrificing one or a few white Pikmin in order to avoid the deaths of large swaths of your other Pikmin in battle. Yes, you can order a white Pikmin to stand in front of an enemy that will gobble it up, in order to poison that enemy and take a significant chunk of their health away, at the cost of that white Pikmin’s life. And even though you will never be able to look at the remaining Pikmin without a crushing guilt reflected in your eyes, without asking yourself if there was another way, they’ll still do exactly what you ask them to when you ask them to. Which, of course, only enhances the guilt, you monster, how could you take advantage of these gentle, helpful creatures, all to pay off your boss’ debts? You should be ashamed of yourself.

These new Pikmin types (as well as more clearly defined abilities and weaknesses for the red, yellow, and blue Pikmin) meant that Pikmin 2 could throw much more at you, both in terms of combat and puzzle, than the original game did. Balancing it all could be difficult if you just had Olimar at your disposal, but you can also control Louis, creating a separate group for each to lead. While you can’t control both directly at the same time, you can put, say, Louis’ group of yellow Pikmin to task taking down an electrified door, while you use Olimar and a group of red Pikmin to take down a group of fire-spitting foes elsewhere in the level’s map. Swapping between the two is easy enough, meaning you can be more efficient and less death-inflicting while going after two treasures at once than you could in the original game, since a leader will be there to help deal with the unexpected, like an enemy erupting from the ground while Pikmin carrying a treasure just try to get back to base.

You can continue playing Pikmin 2 well after you’ve recovered all you need to pay off the debts, which also means there is more game here than is necessary in order to finish it. You can handle that information a couple of different ways: maybe you pick and choose which subterranean levels you want to deal with, if one seems particularly difficult and not to your liking, or you use it as an excuse to just keep playing Pikmin 2 well after completing your initial mission. Regardless, the choice is a bit nice, given how the original Pikmin was a bit more constrained in terms of its structure.

There are also additional game modes to spend time with: there is a mission/challenge mode that you can unlock, as well as competitive multiplayer, which sees you either attempting to collect four of your team’s marbles before your opponent can, or instead deciding to grab your opponent’s marbles so they can’t win. The challenge mode sees you replaying levels from the single-player game, but now with a time limit in place, as well as specific goals for scoring, related to Pikmin deaths, treasures found, and how much time is remaining. It makes for some balance in how you player the single-player campaign, since you can use that experience to learn about the different enemy types and environments, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of your Pikmin, and then use that knowledge to more effectively play those stages in the challenge mode, without having to go through the story and tutorial stuff again.

If you were intrigued by Pikmin but didn’t love it, Pikmin 2 might be the game for you. The GameCube original, like almost anything worth seeking out on the system these days, isn’t cheap, but acquiring the superior New Play Control version on the Wii isn’t as bad, and that’s also available digitally on the Wii U eShop. And hell, the embedded video above used a Dolphin emulator, which I am unfamiliar with and certainly did not recognize just from the yellow text at the video’s start. You can find ways to play Pikmin 2, is what I’m saying: all the rest of the words here are meant to tell you that you should.

This newsletter is free for anyone to read, but if you’d like to support my ability to continue writing, you can become a Patreon supporter.