Pikmin 2 Import Impressions

We check out Captain Olimar's latest adventure on the GameCube, which is now available in Japan.

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Pikmin 2 is the upcoming follow-up to Pikmin, an original GameCube title that cast you in the role of big-nosed space traveler Captain Olimar and charged you with making use of the mysterious Pikmin to escape an alien planet. The quirky game's unique mechanics made it an unlikely strategy offering that possessed the surprisingly addictive qualities associated with Nintendo's best work. Pikmin 2, which was recently released in Japan, continues the unique franchise with a sophomore effort packed with a host of new features that add to its already powerful appeal. We've been putting our import copy through its paces and are pleased by the direction the franchise has taken.

You'll find several different gameplay modes in Pikmin 2. The single-player story mode will once again cast you in the role of Captain Olimar, the incredibly unlucky space traveler. This time out the good captain has a run of particularly bad luck. (OK, we realize crash landing on an alien planet with a rapidly dwindling oxygen supply--as he did in the original game--didn't exactly qualify as living the high life, but this time things are worse.) It seems Olimar has racked up some serious debt following his escape from the mysterious planet of the Pikmin in the first game, so now he must settle his charges--or he'll have a tough time trying to explore space with no ship. Faster than you can say "Holy Tom Nook," Olimar is back on the planet of the Pikmin, collecting rare items he can sell for cash to get himself out from under The Man.

For better or for worse, Olimar isn't alone in this endeavor, thanks to the presence of Louie, his excitable assistant. Olimar's quest for treasure will send him to new and exciting places on the planet of the Pikmin, in addition to introducing him to new species of the little critters as well as a wide variety of predators. Furthermore, you'll find a multiplayer mode for two players that offers competitive and cooperative play and even offers e-Card reader support.

The gameplay in Pikmin 2 offers the same basic mechanics as its predecessor, although the core system has been tweaked some. The most dramatic change to the system has been the introduction of two new types of Pikmin--purple and white--each with unique abilities. Purple Pikmin are mini-sumo wrestlers who possess mass and strength equal to several of their primary colored counterparts. White Pikmin, on the other hand, are the sleek creatures that are impervious to poison and are whizzes at helping Olimar in his treasure-finding frenzy. The catch to the specialized new additions to the Pikmin family is that you won't get them by feeding the onion-structures tablets or creatures. You'll get Olimar some white and purple companions by making use of color-coded flowers that are designed to eat any of the standard Pikmin classes and can decant white or purple counterparts.

Another addition to the gameplay in Pikmin 2 includes the ability to switch control, on the fly, between Olimar and Louie. Additionally, there is an ability to randomly generate dungeons. While swapping control between both characters initially seems like a gimmick, you'll find that being able to coordinate two sets of Pikmin makes for some truly impressive puzzle-solving. The randomly generated dungeons, meanwhile, offer a head-scratching challenge, since they are enclosed environments that limit the number and type of Pikmin you can take in with you. The limit on your flowery minions adds an even greater tactical emphasis on the experience, which works well.

The graphics in the game possess the same modest charm as the original Pikmin. You'll get an impressive sense of scale between Olimar, Louie, and the various Pikmin as you guide the motley crew through a variety of natural environments. There hasn't been a dramatic upgrade to the overall look of the game, but you will notice a robust assortment of enhancements that improve the overall level of detail in it.

From what we've seen so far, Pikmin 2's Japanese incarnation has come together well. The gameplay feels solid, and the two-player modes seem to add a lot to the experience. Pikmin 2 is currently slated to ship this August in the US. Look for more on the game next week.

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