- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Pikmin 2 from Nintendo for Game Cube, (Rated E: Content may be suitable for ages 6 and older, $49.99).

The father of Mario and Donkey Kong, legendary Nintendo game developer Shigeru Miyamoto, allows gamers to return to a budding land of creatures and foliage in a sequel that far outlasts and outshines the original.

The strategic simulation appeals not only to the commander and puzzle lover, but to the amateur archaeologist and biologist in the family, too. The player can control a species with the work ethic of ants, loyalty of domesticated canines and characteristics of plants.

The bizarre but addictive game thrives on investigation, survival instincts (in this case, keeping Pikmin multiplying) and time management as it spans four landscapes and 20 underground caverns.

The story has Capt. Olimar, famed explorer and discoverer of the Pikmin species, returning along with a new pal named Louie to pull his employer, the Hocotate Freight Co., out of a 10,000-poko debt by going back to the Pikmin’s planet and retrieving precious junk with the help of their tiny, seed-shaped pals.

Action begins after a spacecraft lands on the planet’s surface, at a place such as the gorgeous Valley of Repose. Olimar and Louie hop out, and the player controls both of them as he decides on the number of different-colored Pikmin from an accompanying onion-shaped ship are needed to explore an area.

After eventually selecting from five types of Pikmin, ranging from the sumo-shaped purple, with 10 times the muscle and girth of their brethren, to fire-resistant red fellows to blue swimmers, a scavenger party is assembled for a timed day’s worth of events.

Pikmin will follow either lead character after he whistles in their direction. He can break them up into groups, command them to move in unison toward a hostile area or predator and even precisely throw the pint-size pals in any direction to achieve an objective.

Not all Pikmin are available at once or in the quantity desired, which helps further the variety of challenges. If a player finds he is in need of purple Pikmin to help crush a paper bag impeding a route, he may have to return to a previously explored area to acquire more of this type.

Tasks during a typical day may include having the miniminions carry back to the ship such precious items as a soda-bottle cap (worth 100 pokos and named a drought-ender by the ship’s mobile computer) or a playing card (worth 140 pokos and referred to as a luck wafer) to knock down Hocotate’s debt. Other tasks include building a bridge to cross a river and battling a burrowing snagret that considers the Pikmin an appetizer.

Unlike the first Pikmin game, the new version gives players unlimited days to explore environments. However, a day is defined by a sun icon that incrementally moves across the top of the screen over 13 points.

When the day has ended, the player has a final 10 seconds to get all of his Pikmin under the spacecrafts to be loaded and flown away. Those unfortunates accidentally left behind are consumed by the vicious nocturnal life forms.

Features that will cause endless moments of merriment for children and adults include landscapes that incorporate lifelike foliage and watery pathways that will be admired as much as explored, strange beasts such as the fire-breathing blowhog, tunes the Pikmin hum while they work, and a really funny reproductive cycle.

Breeding Pikmin is a two-part process. First, a plantlike object must be found and carried to the onion craft, where it is sucked up and seeds are spit out of its top and planted in the ground. Then, Louie and Olimar must pull the developed Pikmin out of the ground to become active.

Pikmin also can jump into certain flowers to be transformed into more specialized ones, and they can find nectar in their environments to make them faster and give a cute flower on top of each of their heads.

The simulation further immerses players in the Pikmin world with two-player treasure hunts, a three-dimensional resource highlighting collected treasures and a creature encyclopedia.

The encyclopedia even offers controllable simulations in which a player feeds the beasts carrots to show how they react.

Overall, Pikmin 2 presents a pseudo-scientific as well as a logic-loaded experience for the entire clan while making a strong case for being the most imaginative and fun family game of the year.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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