If you were to ask any gamer to name a Nintendo franchise that starts with P, ends with N and has a K somewhere in the middle and is filled with cute little critters, I’d hazard guess that most people would say Pokémon. And that kind of makes sense because the other one, Pikmin, sort of flies under the radar a bit. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your attention. The original came out for the Gamecube and it also had a sequel come out a few years later. Pikmin 3 came out on the Wii U, but nobody really noticed. But now Pikmin 4 has burst onto the switch with all its cutesy puzzle solving fun.
Down At The Bottom Of The Garden
A brief catch up for anybody not familiar, Pikmin is all about little astronauts who have landed on a hostile planet. There are all kinds of monsters and beasties out there that’d happily have you for lunch. Luckily the first explorer, Captain Olimar, found these things called Pikmin. They are half animal half plant creatures who like to solve problems. The different colours have different abilities. Red can resist fire, blue can swim, you know the deal. Basically, you can have gangs of these things and head out against the clock to try and explore and gather materials in a puzzley real time strategy game.
Over the course of the games, new Pikmin types have been added as well as some new ways to play. There has also been a relaxing of the time limits of the game. The original famously had just 30 in game days to gather all the bits of your rocket to escape the hostile planet. That’s now gone. Anyway, let’s have a look at how Pikmin 4 shapes up.
First up, there has been a crash, again. Captain Olimar was lost on the planet and called in the Rescue Corps. who have also stuffed the landing. As the newest member of the team, you head on out to try and find the rest of your crew. You have a helper dog called Oatchi who will faithfully stay by your side and help you out. As you find more of your crew you will unlock new toys to play with as well as new abilities for you space pup.
99 Red Pikmin
There are a few differences this time around though. The biggest difference at first is how limited the number of Pikmin you have are. In the older games, you could go to 100 at a time straight off the bat. Whereas here you’re limited down initially, it may be to only 20 if memory serves, and you can increase this by carrying different items back to your base. It’s also a lot harder to get some kinds of Pikmin in the early game. You can come across them just hanging out in some parts of the caves you venture in, but you need to have found an onion of the matching colour in order to be able to make more of those pikmin youself. Some of these onions come in a lot later than you may expect, meaning you have to be very careful to keep hold of the Pikmin that you find. They may be all you get for a little while!
The biggest new addition to the playstyle is night missions. In all the previous games you’ve had a hard time limit of getting everything you wanted to do done by sundown. Because after the sun sets, all of the monsters get a little more aggressive. Well, for ‘story reasons’ you’ve now got to go out at night as well. This plays out as a sort of tower defence. You have to go out and gather new glow Pikmin whilst also stopping these nocturnal pests from wrecking up your night time bases. It’s a nice balance of exploration and fighting and it keeps the gameplay fresh.
The levels where all this gameplay takes place are bigger than ever and look lush and beautiful. You’ll generally start off in a relatively safe area and then as you explore, you’ll open up new areas of the map and new routes to move about. There are all kinds of hazards to be beat which you’ll need to use your Pikmin wisely to overcome. The caves are back as well as new battle modes where you’ll be up against another character, trying to collect the most items against the clock.
A Sense Of Growth
What’s nice about the level design is they will occasionally dangle something in front of you that you know you want, but you don’t quite have the tools to get. Maybe it’s a very heavy item that you don’t have enough Pikmin to carry. Or a new item that is across some water but you’ve not found any blue Pikmin yet. It’s very nicely done and it means you’ll be coming back to the early areas when you’re better equipped to solve puzzles that were previously out of reach. It’s well designed and sort of reminds me of the way you will sometimes comeback to old areas with a new toy in a Metroidvania game.
The attention to detail in this game is occasionally staggering. Each of the enemies is interesting to look at and for the most part they all behave differently. Your Pikmin will start singing to themselves while you’re walking about and you’ll hear their little footsteps change noise as the surface they’re walking on changes. The bosses are big, but not impossible. If you want to really challenge yourself you can try and beat them without losing any Pikmin, but that’s very tricky to do.
Most of the replay value comes from the challenges. Most of the crew you rescue will give you other challenges to unlock various bonus bits. These may reward you for growing lots of Pikmin or collecting loads of items. But other ones will encourage you to replay these battles to get better scores and go for gold on everything.
Pikmin 4 is an absolute delight of a game to spend time with. It’s something I’d recommend to players who like exploring. It’s relatively low stakes. In fact, if you do something you are unhappy with, the game gives you the option to rewind time and undo it. Though, to absolutely beast some of these challenges you need to be thinking in multiple parallel threads. You may need to have some Pikmin opening a gate while another group may be fighting a monster and yet another group is ferrying resources to and from your base.
Listen For The Kew (Gardens)
The game gives you lots of audio and visual cues to let you know when these tasks are complete and getting the gold is all about efficient time management, and I love it. The game calls this Dandori and a lot of the characters will be harping on about it frequently. But to really get the most out of the game you need to embrace it.
There is some multiplayer action to be had here as well. During the main campaign, a second player can throw out pebbles and items to help the main player. It feels a lot like the 2nd player stuff in Mario Galaxy. There is also a version of the Dandori Battle found in the main campaign where a second player can jump in and battle it out. It’s a lot of fun but it’s something to dip in and out of, it’s not the main event to be found here.
Overall, this game is the best Pikmin has ever been. It looks and sounds great. The framerate buttery smooth. The level design is top notch and there is a lot to explore. There is a real sense of progression as you up your abilities to open up new areas of the 6 maps. There is some nice humour in there with the talking between the crew and also the names that are allocated to some of the ‘treasures’ you can find. Both a croissant being called ‘Flaky Temptation’ and a skateboard being called a ‘Personal Injury Plank’ caused an audible chuckle.
I can see this being a game I come back to replay every few years. It’s not so formidable that it takes hundreds of hours to beat, but it is chunky enough to feel like you’re playing something substantial. There is also a good amount of post story content. There are still two areas to unlock by the time you see the credits role and there is a whole extra bit where you get to play as Captain Olimar. It’s all optional, but it is there if you want it.
This Does Not Spark Dandori
It’s not all perfect though. There are some moments where it can get quite confusing as to what is going on, especially in the Dandori battles. Pikmin can be flying everywhere and it takes a moment to figure out which ones are yours and which are your opponents’. And this is while the monsters are attacking you and you’re against the clock. It’s not ideal. Also, the ability to quickly replay some of these missions takes a little while to unlock. It’s not too long but I always find things like this an odd design choice. Beyond that though, this game is stellar.
This is a great time to get into the series as well. For the first time ever, all of the main games are on the same platform. No ‘Hey Pikmin’ though, I’m afraid. Pikmin 1 + 2 are download exclusives for now but are coming soon and Pikmin 3 and Pikmin 4 are available right now. I’m really looking forward to blasting through all 4 of these on a week off in the not-too-distant future without the inconvenience of having to dust off my Gamecube and Wii U.
Pikmin is one of those B-Tier Nintendo franchises that often get overlooked. But because of that, they’ve been able to shake up the formula a little bit and have absolutely produced on a gem of game design. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait 10 years for Pikmin 5.