Pikmin 2

It doesn�t break as much new ground, but it�s still Nintendo�s secret masterpiece.

Pikmin 2 is an exercise in loopy game design genius�an offbeat delight that defies classification, despite some passing resemblance to a Muppet-themed RTS. Then again, that�s what the original Pikmin was, too. Theoretically, that makes Pikmin 2 an unoriginal sequel to one of the most original games of this console generation�but who cares, really, when you�re having so much fun?

Perennial

A quick conceptual recap: you control two tiny astronauts who can, in turn, control a horde thinking, blinking color-coded carrots called Pikmin. These Pikmin collect shiny things, reproduce, and kill (and are occasionally killed by) all manner of surreal bugs in order to maintain the weird, bittersweet circle of life that exists in a backyard you�d find in your dreams.

Pikmin 2 dutifully redresses all the minor �problems� of the original�the 30-day restriction has been lifted (that this was a problem is debatable), the challenges are more varied thanks to new dungeons, the game is a whole lot longer (hooray!), and there�s even now some sort of 2-player mode�but it also leaves 80 percent of the original game totally intact. That means it has the same inspired control scheme (arguably the best use of the GameCube controller there is), the same Miyazaki-marshmallow graphics, and the same sound effects (when Pikmin chant, it fills the heart with glee!). That also means you�ll recognize an awful lot of the same enemies; and a lot of the landscapes will look very familiar to fans of the original. That stalwart sameness is actually the game�s only disappointment�the sense that you�re constantly discovering something new isn�t nearly as prevalent. Even the new Pikmin types (poisonous white and heavy purple) aren�t as life-changing as they could have been�the original red/yellow/blue seem to be given more to do.

The best new addition is the challenging subterranean mazes, where the daytime cycle ceases to exist and you�re given limited resources (once you lose your Pikmin, it�s hard to get them back) on a quest to reach the goodie on the bottom floor. These caves add loads to the longevity�they�re long, interesting (despite being �random�), and quite often extremely challenging.

The second-best addition is the two-player modes�one of which is a simple, split-screen sort of mini-Warcraft pitting two Pikmin armies against one another in a frantic scramble for marbles. It�s nowhere near as deep or complex as a regular RTS, but it�s still fun. There�s also a healthy injection of personality in the form of a neurotic, pedantic onboard computer that tries to explain Earth�s quirks, and often falls comically short of the mark. It�s worth collecting all the batteries, dice, and soda bottle caps just to see what it deems their �purpose.�

Evergreen

While Pikmin 2 may be more of a hybrid remake/expansion pack than a sequel, it�s still funny, fun, brilliant, and more daringly weird than what comes out of 95 percent of most major game studios. It�s two of a kind.