I like to think I’m a pretty efficient person. I wash my dishes before any kind of pile can form, I try to optimise my route for errands when leaving the house, and my email inbox is (mostly) at zero. My brain is wired in a way that finds great satisfaction in
Pikmin 4 is moulded as a complete retread of the series’ concepts in an expanded format, seemingly to better and more gradually introduce the game’s myriad ideas and mechanics to a completely unfamiliar player. But while its onboarding is prolonged, restrictive, and slow-paced, Pikmin 4 eventually unravels to reveal what is an incredibly rich and charming game, filled with an impressive array of complex, fulfilling challenges to feed the perfectionist tendencies inside you.
The real-world-inspired environments of Pikmin have never felt larger for your tiny space-person and their Pikmin friends. As part of a crew tasked with rescuing original series protagonist Captain Olimar, your custom character comes to discover the titular plant creatures for the first time. They enlist the help of Pikmin to not just track down Olimar, but discover and rescue dozens and dozens of their kind stranded on (what we assume is) Earth.
Several explorable areas consisting of locations like a garden, a human home, a beach, and more exist as enormous, intricate labyrinths that tower over your crew in a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids fashion. Pikmin 4’s more dynamic camera mostly prefers to frame the action down low, making the environments far more grandiose, and making the game feel more like an action/adventure, than strategy – though the series’ traditional top-down perspective is still here. Each stage requires ingenuity and good Pikmin management to reach each nook and cranny, and several visits to explore completely, as you seek to collect the giant ‘treasures’ (mundane everyday objects) strewn and hidden around the stage, and save castaways.
Pikmin 4 has a big emphasis on the space crew and citizens you eventually rescue, who feed into your character’s increasing ability and a strong sense of progression. Upgrading your gear, your space-dog companion, and completing side quests are all among the new ideas which bulk out this Pikmin adventure considerably. This is by far the biggest Pikmin game
The downside is that the first few hours of the game are quite slow paced, as the game introduces not only the idea of Pikmin, how to manage them, and what each different species is capable of doing out in the field, but also crew members, and progression mechanics. Given the introduction of a much bigger cast this time, long conversations are the primary vessel for both functional and narrative-related guidance.
However, once the game’s full suite of systems finally blooms, it sings. Eventually, you’re trusted to pursue your own objectives, and more interesting and challenging stages open up. With a more robust suite of abilities, Pikmin 4 embraces its strategy traditions that have you mentally juggling and executing multiple tasks at once, whether that be using Pikmin to overcome vicious enemies with careful ingenuity or brute force, navigating treacherous terrain, or arranging multiple scouting and retrieval expeditions at once. The more you manage to achieve during the limited time you have to explore the stages each visit, the stronger your feeling of accomplishment.
And despite an obvious focus to introduce brand-new audiences to Pikmin, Pikmin 4 in fact boasts greater potential for strategic micromanagement than its predecessors, thanks to Oatchi, your canine companion and the true star of the show. While your adorable, loyal friend can essentially act in the same way a Pikmin can, he can also be split up from your character and used as a second protagonist. With the ability to take direct control of Oatchi at any time, you can use him to begin new tasks at different parts of the map, while your primary character waits for another group of Pikmin to finish building a bridge they need to cross, as an example.
Several additional modes are nestled within the primary world exploration mission, all of which are housed in discrete portals throughout the world. These include: more confined puzzle labyrinths, each with their own enemies, treasures, and environmental puzzles; one-on-one competitions where you compete against another Pikmin commander to collect the most treasure; and a mode focussed on completing a stage in the most efficient way possible under a strict time limit. All use the same core mechanic of collecting and assigning Pikmin to fight enemies and collect objects, but put a twist on the proceedings that makes each activity fulfilling in its own unique way.
Pikmin 4 also features Night Missions for the first time in the series: combat-oriented sojourns where you’re tasked with defending a location from a stream of encroaching enemies, with the objective to hold out for a designated period of time. Even though the game arms you with a unique and powerful kind of Pikmin in this mode called Glow Pikmin – who come with their own special stun ability, and return to you instantly upon completing a task – Night Missions are rattling and high-intensity affairs, where the pounding horror-like soundtrack does no favours in keeping you calm and collected. Utilising Oatchi to command a second, separate squad is almost always mandatory here, and making it through to the dawn of morning will always come with a big sigh of relief.
Staying true to its nature as an approachable game, Pikmin 4’s demanding Night Missions can be skipped entirely, as can its one-on-one battle and time-based challenges. Any devastating loss of Pikmin life in the main campaign can be reversed with a rewind feature that can load a gamestate from minutes before the tragedy. Not only are these concessions welcome additions for those not accustomed to the deceptive challenge of the charming-looking game, but in the much later stages of Pikmin 4, it allows the game to really push the boundaries of difficulty without the risk of gatekeeping progression.
Despite a painstakingly long and gradual introductory onramp designed for beginners, by the end, Pikmin 4 exhibits the most demanding and multifaceted use of the series mechanics yet, with several situations and game modes that push your ability to strategically think and plan ahead under pressure. Pikmin 4 deftly accomplishes several things: staying true to the challenge and identity of the Pikmin series while expanding its ideas, making its concepts and obstacles more approachable, and simply being a beautiful and charming realisation of the Pikmin world.
Four Stars: ★★★★
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 20 July 2023
A copy of Pikmin 4 was provided and played for the purposes of this review.