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Allegedly inspired by legendary game developer Shigeru Miyamoto's love of gardening, the first title in the Pikmin series of real-time strategy games was released for the Nintendo Gamecube near the end of 2001 in Japan and North America, with a European release following in the summer of 2002. As the legend goes, Miyamoto was inspired by watching all of the little bugs that typically move about in a garden, and decided to make a game where the players would be able to wander around a similar environment. A sequel, also for the Gamecube, followed in 2004. Given the commercial and critical success of the games, a third Pikmin title seemed an inevitability, and sure enough, Nintendo confirmed the title's existence at E3 2008. Furthermore, Wii-enhanced versions of both Pikmin and Pikmin 2 have also been announced.
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The title that started it all, Pikmin features an astronaut named Olimar (a play on words involving the name of Nintendo's popular Mario character) who crash-lands on a foreign planet. There he encounters the strange race of plantlike creature from whom the game series derived its name. In the original title, Olimar enlists the help of the Red, Yellow and Blue Pikmin to help him repair his spacecraft by directing them to attack enemies, retrieve ship parts and overcome a variety of obstacles. Each of the Pikmin types have their own specific ability -- the reds are fireproof and are the strongest attackers, the yellows can carry bombs and can also be thrown higher and further than the others, and the blue can travel in water -- and Olimar will need all the help he can get, considering that he has only 30 days to repair his ship and leave the planet.
So how does Olimar go about the task of ordering his Pikmin troops around and retrieving parts to his spaceship? The control stick is used to move Olimar around, while the yellow-colored C-stick can be used to move the Pikmin around. The B button is used to whistle and summon Pikmin to your side, while A can be used to pick a planted Pikmin out of the ground (certain items allow you to grow more of the plantlike beings). By pressing X, you can dismiss the Pikmin, and they'll split into different groups by color, which is handy when you have a specific obstacle to overcome. No more than 100 Pikmin can be on the field at any one time, but additional ones can be stored in each colored Pikmin's onion-shaped crafts. Furthermore, there is a Challenge Mode that unlocks during the course of play, and adds some more playtime to the package. All in all, Pikmin was an enjoyable experience, but it is hampered somewhat by the game's restrictive time limit.
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The 2002 sequel picked up story-wise right where the previous Pikmin left off. Olimar has successfully rebuilt his ship and returned to his home planet. There, he is met by his employer, the owner of Hocotate Freight, and his co-worker Louie (again, a play on words, this time for Luigi). As it turns out, the company is in dire straits financially -- that is, until the Boss discovers that an artifact Olimar brought back with him from the Pikmin planet is worth big bucks. So he orders Olimar to take Louie with him and return to the Pikmin planet, with the goal to explore and find enough treasure to pay off Hocotate Freight's debt. Thankfully, this time around, there is no time limit. Olimar and Louie are free to take as much time as they need.
The loss of the time limit is just one of the many improvements Pikmin 2 boasts over its predecessor. The addition of Louie means that players can switch back and forth between the two human characters, multitasking as necessary. There are also two new Pikmin types this time around, white and purple. White are smaller than other Pikmin, immune to poison and poisonous to any creature that happens to eat them. They also can dig for hidden treasures. The purple, meanwhile, are brutes that weigh as much as 10 normal Pikmin and can lift 10 times as much as well. Throwing a purple Pikmin on a smaller enemy will more often than not kill it instantly. Another neat addition is the treasure itself, which are usually common everyday items like Duracell batteries or 7-Up soda bottle caps but are given fancy, usually humorous, names in the game. Due largely to these factors, Pikmin 2 definitely winds up being the better of the two Gamecube entries in this series.
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Overall Rating (Series)
The Pikmin series has been one of the freshest gaming concepts to come about in a long time. Exploring the Pikmin planet is an absolute blast, and the monsters you'll find are usually similar to real-life creatures, yet with their own unique in-game twists. Finding everyday objects that you know and recognize and seeing how they're referred to in game is also thoroughly enjoyable. The game is extremely creative and family-friendly, and the simple, efficient controls prove that a real-time strategy (RTS) game can work on a home console system. While, as mentioned above, I would rate Pikmin 2 over the original Pikmin, both games are definitely worth checking out, and I for one am definitely excited about the future of this franchise on the Nintendo Wii.