July 21, 2023
Comfortably one of gaming’s most iconically endearing franchises, Pikmin has become a much-loved addition to the Nintendo roster. Spanning over two decades now, it’s not hard to see where Pikmin secured its staying power, combining whimsical world-building and characters with a very approachable strategy/exploration gameplay loop.
The latest installment, Pikmin 4, builds upon that foundation and expands the scope of the series in new ways. With Dandori Battles, Night Expeditions, a new doggie companion and much more, Pikmin 4 feels like it advances on the formula and largely succeeds in that ambition.
New for the series, you play as a player-created character rather than series protagonist Captain Olimar. Your journey is that of rescue as you land on the mysterious planet in search of Olimar as well as the original rescue team, all of whom have crash landed and are in need of your help. You’re a rookie to the rescue team operation, which gives Pikmin 4 a good opportunity to reset and invite new players into the franchise. Everything is re-explained and rediscovered through the eyes of your avatar, making Pikmin 4 a fantastic entry point.
“Everything is re-explained and rediscovered through the eyes of your avatar, making Pikmin 4 a fantastic entry point.”
Unlike previous Pikmin games, your goal here is much more focussed on that of rescue. There’s a defined goal in sight and a set of characters you need to assist, all whilst utilising the planet’s native and friendly, sprout-like creatures to help, of course. Joining you on this journey is Oatchi, an adorable and incredibly useful doggie companion who takes a liking to you and immediately supports your rescue and traversal efforts.
The standard gameplay loop of Pikmin hasn’t shifted much here. Exploring an oversized world à la Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, you’ll uncover new locations, discover new Pikmin pals, and then utilise those Pikmin alongside Oatchi to battle hostile creatures, unlock shortcuts, and recover relics from the environment. There’s a familiarity but also a nostalgia to it all, as vibrant visuals and pleasing audio samples accompany everything that you do. The Pikmin and Oatchi in particular create such heartening vibes as each action is amplified with a happy woof or an adorable woohoo from your Pikmin Pals.
Your exploration happens against the clock, as when day turns into night, creatures become ferocious and will hunt down anything left wandering around the open. This is where Pikmin’s light strategy elements come into play, encouraging players to maximise their efficiency and achieve as much as they’re able to within the span of a day.
You can command your Pikmin and Oatchi to achieve certain tasks independently, perhaps one lot is dragging a relic back to the spaceship whilst another set is battling an enemy and knocking down a wall. It’s like a super friendly and accessible style of real-time strategy, where splitting your attention across different actions and plotting your movements can achieve great results. Of course, there’s no true punishment to being inefficient in these spaces, it would just mean the player requires more days to complete an area. Pikmin succeeds in this capacity almost better than any other franchise, being a phenomenal introduction to strategy without punishing players for underachieving.
At times Pikmin 4 can verge on being too easy, with a rewind feature that allows you to essentially undo any mistakes you make. The game may have been more fun had it been more challenging, though it’s hard to deny how accessible and meditative the experience feels with those difficulty barriers torn down.
The strategy deepens somewhat when newly coloured Pikmin are discovered, each having their own properties. The blue Pikmin can survive in water, the yellow can survive electricity, and the purple can carry more weight, for instance. Brand new Pikmin are introduced in Pikmin 4, though these are probably better left as surprises. They don’t necessarily advance the strategy or gameplay in any significant ways, but are fun additions nonetheless.
Whilst rescuing crash-landed explorers is your main goal, recovering relics is also crucial as these generate a resource that allows you to scan and travel to further locations in the world. These locations all share an “I’m tiny in a big world” vibe, but also bring in their own fun properties that keep the environments fun and whimsical. Exploring what is essentially the living area of a human home as an ant-sized creature is honestly delightful, and that joy is simply amplified when your Pikmin uncover a rubber ducky and carry it off to your spaceship, only for that relic to be dubbed “yellow semi-aquatic friend” or some similar name.
“…a phenomenal introduction to strategy without punishing players for underachieving.”
New for Pikmin is the introduction of Dandori Battles. These are sequences that test your efficiency and speed, leaning into the strategy angle and allowing players to flex their multitasking. A battle can happen via multiplayer, though it wasn’t a feature I was able to personally test. These battles also happen throughout the campaign, squaring players off against an NPC as you fight over resources, play tug-of-war with relics, and generally compete for high scores.
The Dandori battles are cute distractions that change up the general gameplay loop. Even when playing against an NPC, your screen will be split down the middle so you can see what your opponent is up to. It’s a novel idea for Pikmin, but on an already small screen in handheld mode, it does feel a little cluttered. The NPCs aren’t super intelligent either so you may watch them make bizarre choices or just kind of stand around for a while. Overall there’s something good here, but it’s not implemented in a way that would instill full confidence in the mechanic.
Another form of Dandori test happens when the player is competing against a ticking clock rather than an NPC. In these instances, the player will start with limited Pikmin and will have to find the most efficient way to complete as many tasks as possible within a dungeon against time. For my taste, this gameplay mechanic worked much better, encouraging Dandori without sacrificing Pikmin’s strongest elements.
Also new for the Pikmin series is Night Expeditions. Traditionally speaking, any effort to explore at night would result in a swift death for your adorable Pikmin friends. This is still largely true for Pikmkin 4, though specific instances allow you to perform Night Expeditions. In these moments, you’ll be defending a point from frenzied enemy attacks as you accumulate ‘Glow Pikmin’. Survive the night and you get access to a resource that can be used to cure a growth affecting some of the rescued characters.
Unfortunately, Night Expeditions are one of the least engaging elements of Pikmin 4. The big problem here is how frequently you need to do them in order to cure everybody. In a game that encourages Dandori and efficiency, a Night Expedition feels incredibly inefficient, taking a whole night to only obtain one resource. It’s a bit of a slog and a bottleneck toward the end of the game. It’s also inelegantly tacked on, rather than a natural part of the day/night cycle.
As the game progresses, players will start to build up a thriving little community of rescued individuals. Each has their own little backstory and many of which offer up passive quests for you to complete. These are often very basic, such as explore 10 dungeons or recover 50 relics. It may not be game-changing, though it is a cute way to incorporate the rescued characters and watch the tangible advancements of your rescue operations.
Other NPCs are more crucial, allowing you to move through skill trees and advance your operation. Training Oatchi to be more powerful in many different ways is an endearing addition, and the item crafting and upgrades to your suit are super useful and provide little goals and rewards to work towards during your expeditions.
Keeping up with NPC quests and upgrades can feel like busywork in the latter half of the game, though it’s still a nice inclusion that largely works in giving Pikmin 4 a different vibe from its predecessors.
“…it is a cute way to incorporate the rescued characters and watch the tangible advancements of your rescue operations.”
Pikmin 4 brings about a lot of little additions that give the game a feeling of grandeur beyond that of the previous titles. Though one way it does fall short is in its co-op offering. A second player can join the excitement, making Pikmin 4 a local co-op option. However, the interactivity for Player 2 is severely limited, allowing them to throw pebbles as a disembodied character in the sky. It’s awkwardly implemented and Player 2 feels wildly ineffective. It’s also just a straight-up downgrade when compared to offerings in the past. It’s an unfortunate thorn in what is an otherwise mostly blossoming game.
- A whimsical and delightful world to explore
- Beautifully implemented, light strategy
- Dandori mechanics bring about new and fun ideas
- Oatchi is the very best boy
- Night Expeditions aren't very engaging
- Co-op gameplay is lacklustre
- Some of the gameplay additions can feel like padding
A curious world of delightful wonder, Pikmin will never fail to be a series that invites warmth and joy with its vibrant world and colourful companions. New gameplay ideas are plentiful with Pikmin 4, many of which work towards expanding the game in interesting new directions. Not every new mechanic lands as elegantly as others, with Night Expeditions and co-op mode being two notable disappointments. Though overall, Pikmin 4 still finds a way to bring about that same glee that has lasted within this series since its inception.