Shigeru Miyamoto’s inspiration for Pikmin came out from witnessing ants carrying leaves across his yard one day. Because of its zen-like origins, the series has always been a mix of relaxation and time management that has given players a whimsical game filled with exploration and wonder. It’s not as action-oriented as some Nintendo’s other notable titles, but the series has continued evolving over the years adding more gameplay elements, characters, and welcome adjustments that make it stand out on its own.
- Clever level design with lots to explore;
- Dandori Battles and nighttime explorations are great additions;
- Lots of collectibles to find and areas to complete;
- Visually amazing maps.
- Lenient difficulty;
- Co-Op mode is a letdown.
22 years after its debut, Pikmin 4 feels like a combination of all the good things the series has given us so far but also features new Pikmin and an adorable doggo companion that further take it to new heights. Newcomers and veterans will equally enjoy all the innovative upgrades and the familiar concept of time management the series is known for while new areas and gameplay modes will keep things fresh and vibrant.
Same Planet, New Problems
One main difference this time is that the game doesn’t follow Captain Olimar, the protagonist of past games, but instead revolves around your own unique character whose job is to rescue him instead. Yes, Olimar has crashed his ship once again, but this time a group of space travelers known as the Rescue Corps has also gotten into trouble so it’s your job to explore the strange new planet and bring everyone together again.
As with most Pikmin games, exploration plays a key role in getting through the game, and you will soon realize planet PNF-404 is teeming with surprises. It’s the same planet from previous Pikmin games, but new areas mean new dangers and obstacles to clear, and you never really know what to expect unless you discover it on your own. And like in past games, much of your exploration will involve finding treasures that range from rubber duckies to golf balls to even Nintendo handheld consoles and bringing them back to your ship. The object of each area is to explore every inch of it, but doing so requires the assistance of your Pikmin and your new canine companion Oatchi.
Oatchi adds a new layer of gameplay to the game as you can ride on him to explore your environments, jump onto ledges you normally can’t reach on your own, or swim across pools of water. You can also send Oatchi to recover items for you just like you can with Pikmin, and you can eventually upgrade his stats to make him capable of carrying heavier items, do more damage when attacking enemies, or guard against elemental attacks. What’s also great is that you and Oatchi can essentially split up so you can control him in certain areas to solve puzzles or use his powerful sense of smell to locate treasure and other castaways.
Controlling your Pikmin is just like in past games, but this time you also have new Ice and Glow Pikmin that offer fun new ways to take on the various enemies you run into. Ice Pikmin were my favorite ones to hurl at foes as enough of them can freeze them and make enemies vulnerable to subsequent attacks from either Oatchi or your other Pikmin. Each Pikmin type has a special attribute so you can throw Yellow Pikmin onto electric fences to break them down and throw Red Pikmin onto fire plumes to put them out. Knowing when to use a Pikmin and when to call them back before they get killed is an integral part of the game and adds an impressive layer of strategy to your travels.
Your initial task will be to explore the surrounding areas to discover castaways and members of the Rescue Corps group. In order to widen your search radius and unlock new areas, you will need to retrieve as many treasures as you can to turn them into Sparklium to power your ship. However, each time you go out to explore a specific area, you have a time limit of about 20 minutes until sunset. This time limit forces you to be smart with your day before being ushered back to your home base and doing it all again tomorrow.
This concept of time management adds some difficulty to the game, but it also forces you to perfect your “dandori” skills. Dandori is Japanese for planning or preparation so you should know what new area you will tackle each day so as not to waste precious daylight hours. At first, I found myself simply exploring certain areas and figuring out the overall layout of each map. The next day, I’d make it my mission to go to a specific section to discover any remaining treasure that I may have missed the first time. Of course, you can’t expect to find everything in an area the second time around either, but because the game shows you how much percentage of treasure you have to discover, you can’t help but go back to collect them all.
All in all, Pikmin 4 is the best the series has produced so far. It brings with it elements that have worked before to give us a complete package that keeps the magic of Pikmin alive.
This is perhaps Pikmin 4’s biggest draw. Because you only have about 20 real-time minutes to get everything, you will encounter bite-sized adventures that will often feel unique. I ran into different enemies or discovered new shortcuts each time I went out to explore, and these gave new life to existing areas I had previously visited. Plus, sometimes you will need certain Pikmin to explore a specific area of your map so keeping them alive until you get there is another skill the game asks you to master.
What’s more, these locations have various caverns and lairs you can explore, and time relatively stands still in them meaning you can take your time exploring them and collecting all their treasures. These dungeons behave a lot like Pikmin puzzles as some will require you to manage your squad of Pikmin effectively to destroy obstacles and discover the hidden treasures and castaways in each one. Ice Pikmin, for example, can freeze water, but depending on how big the body of water is, you may need a large number of them. If you don’t have enough Ice Pikmin with you, then chances are you won’t be able to nab that treasure unless you go back and try again. Again, dandori plays a key role throughout much of the game, and these small dungeons make the most of this concept.
Dynamic yet Accessible
Despite this, Pikmin 4 is a lot more lenient than past titles and now features ways you can retry certain areas or have the game complete challenges for you if you get stuck. If you end up losing Pikmin due to a bad decision, you can easily rewind the game a few minutes back and try again, hopefully a little wiser next time. You can also purchase gear that offers you plenty of bonuses such as resistances to being knocked away by enemy attacks and even an item that calls your Pikmin back to you after they drop off items at your base. Again, these features are completely optional, but they do make the game more accessible to a wider range of players.
A new Dandori Battle mode builds on this concept of time management and pits you against another Pikmin-wielding astronaut to gather as many treasures as possible before time runs out. Some of these battles take place during the game’s story, but you can also play this mode separately against a local opponent. It’s a change of pace from the more serene aspects of the game as you can use items to sabotage your opponent or have your Pikmin transport bombs to their base to cost them points.
Another mode also gives the game a tower defense feel and involves exploring your surroundings at night to gather special medicine for your crew. In order to survive the night, you need to gather and deploy Glow Pikmin onto enemies that are dead-set on destroying the glowing mounds that you need to defend until time runs out. Even at its highest difficulty, these night excursions aren’t too difficult but offer the game more action elements that you won’t normally find during the day. Plus, knowing when to venture out to gather more Pikmin and when to head back to defend your base is another example of—you guessed it—dandori.
Visually, Pikmin 4 looks beautiful, and you can really appreciate the depth that its environments create for you simply from how they were designed. There is a surprisingly high level of detail on the various treasures you find, and it’s fun to peruse through your collection and view it all from up-close. One thing to note too is that the game has a co-op mode, but it’s not as fleshed out as you would hope—the second player simply throws pebbles at enemies. That’s it. Compared to the fun of Dandori Battles, it’s a letdown but probably means that the main story should be enjoyed as a single-player experience anyway.
All in all, Pikmin 4 is the best the series has produced so far. It brings with it elements that have worked before to give us a complete package that keeps the magic of Pikmin alive. It’s still sad to hear your Pikmin die when you couldn’t call them back to you in time, but now even Oatchi’s wellbeing becomes paramount during a fight. It’s these moments that keep you invested in the game, and the draw of wanting to find every treasure and explore every area keeps you coming back for more adventures.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com