I intend to post thoughts here on video games that I finish playing. These aren’t intended to be reviews or explanations of the game, and in particular may not make much sense to readers who haven’t played other games discussed in them.

Today’s game is Pikmin 2. A sequel to Pikmin, obviously, which is a sort of real-time-strategy game with puzzle and adventure elements. RTS is a genre that I have played almost not at all, largely because it’s an almost exclusively computer-only genre that didn’t appear until I switched over to console video games. Which is a shame, if for no other reason than that it’s a hole in my education. And I suspect that I would enjoy the genre – I like non-real-time strategy games, after all. Then again, I like to spend time thinking about what I’m doing during strategy games, so maybe I would find RTS’s more frustrating than enjoyable. Also, I can’t use a mouse on a computer (because it kills my hands), and I suspect the genre wouldn’t work well with a touchpad. If I didn’t have a laptop at home, I would consider switching over to a trackball; that would probably work well as an RTS input device, and other people I know with RSI problems say that trackballs work okay.

Anyways, back to the game. It’s very similar to Pikmin, with only minor gameplay tweaks. The main changes are:

  • There’s no 30-day time limit.
  • There are two new colors of pikmin: white and purple. (Along with another kind of pikmin-like creature, the confused bulborb, that you sometimes control in caves.)
  • Much of your time is spent in the aforementioned caves: there’s about as much to do above ground as in the previous game (maybe a bit less to do, actually), but the gameplay is extended by storing lots of the treasure in caves.
  • There are two characters to control instead of one.

There are some minor changes, too: yellow pikmin no longer carry bombs but are, instead, resistant to electricity; the treasures held by boss monsters at the bottoms of caves usually provide slight upgrades to your leaders; there are a couple of juices you can use to either power up your pikmin or freeze monsters.

So: is it an improvement? Getting rid of the 30-day limit is, on the whole, an improvement, but only a slight one. When playing through the first game, I made it about a third of the way through, decided that I wasn’t making progress fast enough, and started over, knowing the game faster and not saving at the end of a day unless I’d made enough progress. So I had to play several days a couple of times, but on the whole it wasn’t particularly tedious.

The thing is, while getting rid of that resource limitation, they added a new resource limitation to this game. Lots of the game takes place in caves; while in a cave, you don’t get new pikmin (at least through normal mechanisms), so, assuming you don’t want to play through a cave more than once, you have to restart a floor if you’ve lost too many pikmin. And, to make matters worse, there’s no convenient mechanism to restart a floor (or to not save your progress when going down a floor if you’re not sure if you’ve lost too many pikmin): you have to exit the cave, be sure to select that you don’t want to save, then end the day, again being sure to select that you don’t want to save, and only then can you reload. Which is just tedious, and it’s silly for game designers to get stuff like this wrong: I don’t mind gameplay elements that require you to play them over and over – indeed, it would be a little unsatisfying if, say, boss battles weren’t hard enough to make you go through them more than once before succeeding – but if you’re going to do that, don’t design the user interface to make restartng gratuitously difficult.

Another gripe that I have about the caves is that they tilt the balance of the game more towards fighting than in the original. I’m not sure that this game has fewer treasures that require clever thinking before you can recover them, but it’s certainly the case that it has many more treasures that only require fighting to recover them. Along these lines, it’s a pity that using both your leaders isn’t required for more of the puzzles in the game; sometimes, it’s used well, but much of the time the second leader is irrelevant to the action. The extra flavors of pikmin are occasionally cleverly used in puzzles, but honestly it feels like they were added mostly because a sequel has to have something “new” about it. (And to provide another somewhat gratuitous resource limitation, since it’s much harder to get new purple and white pikmin than the other colors.)

Don’t get me wrong – it’s a solid game. There are too many bosses to fight, but usually I enjoyed the boss battles. Another little thing the game did well is to provide multiple satisfactory ending points: you can finish the main goal of the game after playing only about half of it, so if you want to stop there, you’ll still feel like you’ve accomplished something. It looks like, in fact, there are two goals after that, to find Louie again and to recover all the treasures (and discover all the monsters, if you wish). I say “looks like”, however, because I decided to play through the remainder of the game in a way as to leave Louie to the end; I have one and a half caves left, but unfortunately the cave I’m fighting through now is one that exists only to stretch out the length of gameplay. Which is, actually, fine with me – if I were on a limited income, I would appreciate mechanisms for stretching out the gameplay – but, as it is, I’m taking a break for now to play other games. (I might get back to this game; if so, though, I’ll probably exit the cave I’m in halfway through, and try to do the other cave with Louie at the bottom instead.) And Miranda likes it; she’s played through the first few days, though it gets a bit too tricky for her once she can’t avoid combat any more. The first game was solidly designed, enough so to easily support a sequel.

Minor infelicity: bud pikmin really are pointless – with normal gameplay, you’ll never create them after your first few days in the game. They’re not hurting anything, so it’s fine that they’re still there in the sequel, but they were a mistake, albeit a slight one.

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