"In the last seven years, there's been nothing like it," I wrote in my review of New Play Control! Pikmin a couple of months back. I eulogised the surreal strategy adventure's charm, still-striking originality, perfect balance and faultless new pointer control - but gave it the mildly disappointing score of 7. On this occasion at least, there was method to my madness.
"Only, of course, there has: its sequel," I wrote. "And this presents us with the biggest problem by far with this release. Pikmin 2 is also due a New Play Control! reissue this year, and it's a better game in every respect. It's longer and more sophisticated, with more varied Pikmin and enemy types; it has co-operative and competitive multiplayer; it has randomised caves with finite Pikmin numbers, ideal for the game's challenge mode; it has no time limit. It represents much better value, and we're hard-pressed not to recommend you hold off and buy that instead."
The happy day has come: you don't need to hold off any longer (well, not any longer than a week - it's out on Friday 24th). And I don't need to qualify my statements any more, or temper my love of Pikmin with a stingy score. Pikmin 2 is back, and in the last five years, there's been nothing like it.
The foundations of Shigeru Miyamoto's gardening-inspired sort-of-strategy sequel are identical to the first game; refer back to the New Play Control! Pikmin review for a study of those, and of the impact of the new Wii control scheme. For those who don't want to click away, here's the prÚcis: inch-high spaceman cultivates and commands an army of ant-like flower-people to do his bidding in backyard landscapes.
They collect and harvest stuff, fight all manner of wondrous and bizarre creatures, overcome obstacles, die pathetically in a manner that makes grown men cry and are adorable. The game is beautifully designed within a short span and rather clumsy time limit, the pointer controls are a perfect fit for it, and the music and atmosphere are reminiscent of the dreamlike lullaby weirdness of 1970s preschool childrens' TV.
In Pikmin 2 Captain Olimar returns from his adventures to discover that his employers, an intergalactic shipping firm, are going bust. He's dispatched with clueless dogsbody Louie to return to the Pikmin planet and bring back "treasure" (batteries, crushed cans, fruit and vegetables, Nintendo memorabilia) with which to pay off the company's debt.
It's a silly plot - albeit nicely exploited for gentle laughs by a witty script in a superb translation (as ever with Nintendo). But it has two salient consequences for gameplay. One, the pressure is off - Olimar's not running out of oxygen, so although play is still broken up into days, there's no hard time limit and you can take as long as you like to complete the game. Thus there are no changes to Pikmin 2's save structure for this new Wii version, because this time, it doesn't need them. (In fact, controls aside, there are no changes to the game at all.)