The screenshots are trying to tell you something.
Multiplayer has been just about the only sure thing regarding Pikmin 2 since the game was first confirmed a few months ago. Most people assumed the feature would manifest in a split-screen mode, and sure enough, the first set of screenshots released include a look at the horizontal split-screen mode for two players. You can see separate target icons on the ground, as each player is working separately. This screen is likely showing a competitive multiplayer mode.
In the next shot, only one targeting reticule is visible. It could be a trick of the camera angle, but you’ll also notice that the display is not split-screen. Every screen released so far depicts both Captain Olimar and his new companion, a fellow astronaut who also seems to be capable of commanding the Pikmin. Yet only one of these screens shows the split-screen mode. Of course, it could be argued that Nintendo has simply implemented a smart split-screen feature, in which the two displays merge into one if the players are close enough to each other. Such a feature has been done in a few games before. But that can’t be a valid explanation, because the two spacemen are close together in the last screen too, which did have a split. It's possible that you can select whether to use split or merged displays during multiplayer. Another reasonable assumption is that the screen is split for competitive multiplayer and shared for cooperative multiplayer.
However, other screenshots may reveal something even more exciting for Pikmin fans. In the next screen, you’ll see that the standard Pikmin interface is in place, but the other spaceman is also in the shot!
There is no sign of a second targeting reticule, so it’s tough to judge just yet, but it’s definitely odd. Of course, it’s possible that this is just like the last screen, but from a later build that includes the HUD. But why is there only one? How is the blue player to control his Pikmin or know how many he has? The answer lies in this final screenshot…
Above, you see the pink targeting reticule, and a pink arrow. There is no sign of the blue reticule, no split-screen…what’s going on? There are two possible explanations. First, the second astronaut could be controlled by the computer, a “bot”, if you will. The first Pikmin sported some impressive artificial intelligence, and having the GameCube control both the little Pikmin and another astronaut, with his own pseudo-autonomous control over the Pikmin, would be quite a feat for the sequel. However, bots are typically used to provide artificial competitors, not helpers. The screenshot above clearly indicates that the other guy is there to help. Either that, or Captain Olimar is really lacking in the homeland security department. It is also possible that the second character is under the player’s control via remote control of some kind, but Pikmin is such an involving game that it’s questionable how much good a second controllable character would be. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be any on-screen information about the second character’s status, which would probably be necessary if the two spacemen became involved in separate tasks at some distance from each other.
The other explanation, and a far more enticing one, is that this second character is being controlled by a real person on a different television screen. The only way for that to happen is network play…either via LAN or an online mode. PGC’s own Louie the Cat has already hinted that several GameCube titles this year would enable LAN play over an Ethernet connection and broadband adapters. And of course, we all expect Nintendo to unveil its online plans at E3 2003 in May. Pikmin 2 is looking like a very ripe candidate for either one or both of these network features.
Please note that this article is highly speculative and that Pikmin 2 is still early in development; these screenshots may not be indicative of the game’s final form. We just wanted to point out a few interesting things that you may not have noticed.
Rick Powers collaborated on this article.