Pikmin 1 vs. Pikmin 2
After replaying Pikmin 1 and 2 for the first time in seven and four years, respectively, I was struck by how vastly different the two games are despite sharing nearly all of the same basic mechanics. The overlying goal is the same (namely using little creatures called Pikmin to defeat enemies and bring collectibles back to your ship), but what is expected of the player is radically different. Where the first game centers on time-management, the second mostly ditches that in favor of combat-centered challenges. In this blog post I’m going to compare the two games and what makes them different, as well as consider why those changes were made, and how successful they were.
The original Pikmin was first released in 2001 for the Nintendo GameCube. The game received universal acclaim, with the original version currently holding an 89/100 on Metacritic. The game was lauded for its original, accessible approach to real-time strategy, as well as its graphics, sound, and blend of exploration and puzzle-solving. It even won numerous awards, including Game Critics Awards’ Best Puzzle/Trivia/Parlor Game at E3 2001 and a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) Interactive Entertainment Award for Interactivity in 2002.
So what made Pikmin so original? While other real-time strategy games could be incredibly complex and intimidating to newcomers (i.e. StarCraft) Pikmin had significantly fewer mechanics to keep track of. You have three types of Pikmin: red, yellow, and blue. Reds are immune to fire and are strongest in battle, yellows can be thrown higher and can use bombs, and blues can breathe underwater. The strategy comes from which type of Pikmin to deploy in each situation, while also maintaining your Pikmin population. You only have a finite number of Pikmin, so you need to be careful with their lives or else you’ll end up wasting time working to raise their numbers again. It’s not very complicated, but it is engaging in its simplicity.
The difficulty of this game does not come from its individual tasks, none of which are very hard (well, aside from a particular optional boss). The puzzle elements are generally pretty light, even in the final area. Most of the objectives require you to simply use your Pikmin to build a bridge, or knock down a wall, and maybe take down some enemies that are blocking your path back to the ship. Occasionally you have to fight a boss, which could be tough for novice players, but if you know what you’re doing they’re not so bad. The challenge in this game comes not from the objectives, but from the time management.
At the beginning of the game the main character, Captain Olimar, crash-lands on Earth after his ship is hit by an asteroid. Thirty of the ship’s pieces are scattered around different regions of the planet, and Olimar has to retrieve them or he won’t be able to return home. What complicates matters is that Earth’s atmosphere contains poisonous oxygen. Olimar only has enough air to last for 30 days, so he has to find all the essential ship parts within that time span.
In each day you are given about 17 minutes to work with before you have to round up your Pikmin and escape from the planet’s surface to avoid the dangerous nocturnal predators. In that time you need to scout for ship parts, defeat whatever enemies or bosses are in your way, perform tasks such as breaking down walls and building bridges, and carry the parts you find back to your ship. You’ll also need to make sure you’re bringing enough pellets and enemy corpses to your base to increase your Pikmin population if your numbers are getting low.
What makes this game a fun challenge is the planning and the execution of each day. There’s a real sense of urgency that comes from knowing you have to move at a one-part-a-day pace in order to finish the game, as there are 30 parts and 30 days to find them in, and it’s incredibly rewarding when you are able to match that pace or even exceed it. It’s very easy to become addicted and continually jump into the next day to perform some task you noticed the previous day but didn’t have time to tackle. It can be stressful knowing you have a limited time to beat the game, but I think that effectively conveys the danger of Olimar’s situation, and it makes it more rewarding when you succeed.
Not everyone agrees with that sentiment though, as the 30-day time limit was panned by many critics. The chief complaint is that it unnecessarily shortened the game and that it forced players to rush through environments they would rather enjoy at a leisurely pace. Take this quote from the original IGN review:
…it becomes extremely important to take care of your Pikmin because of the tight 30 day schedule. Unfortunately, in game time each day is only about 15-20 minutes long depending on cut-scenes and pauses. So in the main adventure only amounts (sic) to about 10-12 hours of gameplay. This is perhaps Pikmin’s biggest flaw. It rushes you through these lush environments forcing you to complete the game in about 10-12 hours. … It’s a great adventure indeed, but when the 30 days are over and the last level is complete you find yourself feeling somewhat slighted.
By saying that the 30-day time limit shouldn’t exist because it limits the game’s length to around 10 hours, I think this critic is missing the point. Pikmin is a game that wasn’t built to be an epic 25 hour adventure. It was meant to be a shorter game that you play again and again in order to beat your best score, rather than a game you play once and immediately move on from. The shorter length makes it less of an undertaking to start another playthrough, making the game more replayable, kind of like old arcade games.
The replayability is where I had the most fun with this game. My first playthrough was for discovery, and my second playthrough, which I started immediately afterward, consisted of using what I learned the first time to plan out every day and beat the game as quickly as possible. I managed to shave my time down from 22 days to 13 days, and I feel like I could take it down to 12 if I try again. I believe that by implementing the 30-day time limit the developers were encouraging this kind of play, hoping that people would play the game over and over again.
Despite the benefits I feel the time limit added to the game, Shigeru Miyamoto himself, the creator and producer of the Pikmin series, agreed with the critics. In a 2013 Kotaku interview, he called the 30-day time limit a mistake, saying that it was “a little bit too strict and confining,” that it was difficult for novice gamers, and that he “almost feel[s] sorry for the people who played Pikmin 1.” And you know what, he probably has a point there. A lot of inexperienced gamers likely picked up this game thinking it was going to a relaxing experience, and were ultimately too intimidated once they began to play. But you have to be really bad at this game to not come at least close obtaining the 25 necessary ship parts to beat the game. I mean, these guys didn’t know the primary function of yellow Pikmin until day 20, and still managed to collect every part with five days to spare. In the end, though, accessibility won out, and the time limit was dropped for Pikmin 2.
Pikmin 2 was released for GameCube three years later in 2004, once again to universal acclaim. It holds a slightly higher average on MetaCritic than the first game with an average of 90/100, with critics praising the removal of the 30-day time limit, improved Pikmin AI, and the realistic graphics. The game is noteworthy for adding a number of mechanics to the series, including two new Pikmin types, a new power-up system, and new dungeon-like caves.
I entered this playthrough of Pikmin 2 off the high of completing a 13-day run of the first game, expecting to really miss the time limit, ready to hate this game and everything it stands for (slight exaggeration). I vowed to beat the game as quickly as I could, the developers’ wishes be damned. It wasn’t long though before I realized though how different Pikmin 2 is from its predecessor. It’s not built for speedrunning; the way the game is constructed even makes it actively difficult to do so (unless you’re this guy. Most people are not this guy.) Pikmin 2 makes up for removing the time limit by challenging you in entirely different ways.
The game is split between two types of areas: the outside world and the four-or-so caves that are found within each map. The outside world functions mostly the same as the first game. You have about 17 minutes of real time to collect treasure, grow your Pikmin numbers, and accomplish whatever else you want to do. All Pikmin not in your possession at the end of the day will die. The biggest difference from the first game is that there is slightly less to do in these maps; there are only five treasures in each, as opposed to the 7-10 in Pikmin 1, and there are no boss fights. The meat of this game is spent in the caves.
The caves are multi-floored dungeons in which you have to defeat enemies and bosses to collect treasure. The game essentially morphs from an RTS into a combat-based action game. The clock stops altogether, and the goal changes from completing tasks in a limited amount of time to a game of attrition where you have a limited number of Pikmin to defeat enemies and collect treasure as you try to make it to the end of the cave. You need to be careful not to lose your Pikmin too quickly, because you’ll need all types to progress through the floors, and you don’t get many chances to grow new ones beyond the 100 you bring in from the outside world.
These caves start out relatively simple, with the early ones usually consisting of 4-6 small floors. As the game progresses, though, the caves get longer, and longer, and longer, and just when you think they can’t possibly get any longer, they do. The enemies also get brutal as the game progresses. By the end of the game you’ll be fighting all kinds of combinations of missile-launching biomechanical monsters, bomb-dropping insects, giant bulborbs that come back to life after you kill them (oh, and the missile-launching enemies do that to), belly-flopping frogs that kill your Pikmin in one hit, and more. Most of the caves in the game’s final area also have mini-bosses. Things can get chaotic, and it is extremely difficult to complete the harder caves in the game in one run.
Pikmin 2’s caves have this system of increasing difficulty as a clever way to make the game simultaneously much easier and much more difficult than the first game. Pikmin 2 is easier than Pikmin 1 in the sense that beating the game is relatively simple. Rather than having to collect 25 ship parts in 30 days, you have an unlimited amount of time to collect 10,000 Pokos worth of treasure (the company Olimar works for, Hocotate Freight, has fallen into debt, and he and his colleague Louie have been sent to Earth to gather treasure to pay it off). There is over 20,000 Pokos worth of treasure in the game, and the player has total freedom in deciding which treasures to go after. All you have to do to get to 10,000 is collect some treasures in the outside world, complete the first five or so caves, and you’re done. It’ll likely take less than 10 hours.
Again, beating the game is not hard. But completing the game? As in collecting every single treasure? That might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in a video game. The caves get brutal and shockingly unforgiving in the latter half of the game. In the final area every cave is between 10 and 17 floors, has a massive amount of enemies, and you never get a chance to replenish your Pikmin numbers. So while at first Pikmin 2 may seem like a joke compared to the first game, with the removal of the time limit and the ease of paying off the debt, hardcore gamers that stick around to completion will find one hell of a challenge. I’ll never forget how I beat one cave with four Pikmin left, or how I lost 366 Pikmin in one day completing the final two caves. There is a real sense of accomplishment to be found in 100%ing this game.
However, despite how effective the caves are at appealing to novice and hardcore gamers alike, they are far from perfect. The biggest issue for me is that you never know how long a cave is going to take you, which means you never know how a day is going to last. In the first game you know that every day is 17 minutes, and that’s part of what makes it so addictive. It’s late at night and you really need to go to bed, but you really want to play one more day? That’s okay, because you know it will only take you 17 minutes. It’s very easy to jump into the next day, because you know exactly when you’ll be finished. In Pikmin 2 a single day could end up taking 2-3 hours depending on the number of caves you attempt and the number of floors in each. There’s just no way to know exactly how long the day is going to be, which makes it much more intimidating to play. This is also how I think the game actively discourages speedrunning. If you want to complete the game as quickly as possible, obviously you’ll want to tackle multiple caves each day. Well, that’s going to take you upwards of 3 hours each time. The game does save after every cave floor, allowing you to take a break any time you want, but I think it’s much more satisfying to complete a day in a single sitting rather than to break it up.
My other issue with the caves is the lack of puzzle elements. As I said, the game essentially morphs from an RTS to a combat-based action game. And that’s fine; the combat is fun. The bosses in particular are absolutely incredible. But I think Pikmin is at its strongest as a puzzle game, when you have to think your way through what you’re doing. There’s very rarely a time in the caves where utilizing both captains separately is essential or even useful to moving forward, which seems like a missed opportunity that could have led to some engaging puzzles. The randomized nature of the caves (the layouts and enemy placements change every time you enter a cave floor) all but ensures that they won’t have the intricate level design found in the world maps of Pikmin 1 and 3. There is a certain amount of fun to having a slightly different experience every time you play the game, but I would rather more attention had been put into the design of the caves.
All in all, the caves are a positive, and despite their flaws, they are a clever way of adding challenge to the game while removing the need for time management. Pikmin 2 is a great game, and I respect how successfully it took the mechanics of the first game and built an entirely different experience. But, to me, Pikmin 1 is the superior game for its simplicity, its replayability, and yes, its time limit.