Pikmin 4 Review: Stunning, charming return for beloved Nintendo series
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Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
After playing the rest of the game, and achieving 100% by the end of my playthrough, I can confidently say this game is perfect for both returning fans, as well as those who are new to the series.
Check out the overview trailer for Pikmin 4 below!
For those who have never played a Pikmin game before, or those who have and fancy revisiting the originals, I'd strongly advise you play the original GameCube titles Pikmin 1 and Pikmin 2 which were both recently ported to the Nintendo Switch. After having a go at the ports I'd say they fit right at home on the Switch, controlling beautifully and boasting some wonderfully cleaned-up visuals. They're definitely worth trying before you play Pikmin 4 to get a feel for the gameplay, but they're not required by any means, especially story-wise as they're only loosely connected.
Pikmin 4’s story revolves around saving Captain Olimar, who's been involved in yet another shipwreck and gotten himself stranded on an unknown planet. The Rescue Corps are dispatched to save him, only to be involved in a crash landing of their own, scattering its members across the planet.
You’re then prompted to create your very own Rescue Corps member and embark on a mission to save your team, Captain Olimar, and any other castaways currently lost on the planet.
Character creation is new to the series, but I won’t waste too much time on it as it’s pretty barebones in terms of options. You choose your body, face, hair style/colour and space suit colour, all of which can be altered later in the game if you wish. While it’s not the in-depth character customisation you’ll find in Elden Ring or Cyberpunk 2077, it does the job.
The first few hours of the game are rather tutorial heavy, teaching you the basic gameplay mechanics you’ll be mastering to progress through the game, as well as introducing you to the first Pikmin variants. Controls are rather simple, and not much has changed since previous games which means returning fans won’t have any trouble getting stuck into the new adventure. For new players though, gameplay can be boiled down to exploring various areas and interacting with objects and enemies with your Pikmin, who are cute little creatures that come in many different colour variations. They can carry objects, break down walls and even build bridges and inclines to new areas, all of which can be prompted by throwing them at whatever they can interact with.
They can also attack enemies, who die faster the more Pikmin you throw at them. While combat is a big part of the game, there's not much depth to it, as most encounters, and even some bosses can be eradicated in seconds if you have enough Pikmin at your disposal. The challenge lies in actually amassing the right amount of Pikmin and keeping them alive so you have a sizeable team.
Pikmin colours indicate what they’re best at doing, as each type has its own strengths and utilities. Red, Yellow, Blue, White, Purple, WInged, and Rock Pikmin, all return from previous games, with two new additions being Ice Pikmin, who can freeze enemies as well as bodies of water to safely cross aquatic gaps in terrain, and Glow Pikmin, which I’ll touch on later. You can only have three types of Pikmin in your party at a time, and you're also limited to a maximum of 20 Pikmin at the start of the game. Both of these changes are a stark contrast to previous titles, which let you have as many Pikmin types in your party as you wanted, as well as 100 Pikmin right off the bat. Your total number of Pikmin can be increased by finding special onions, which are hidden throughout the game.
All of this is well explained by the game, which will regularly stop you in your tracks to tell you about a new mechanic or important information. As a returning player, the tutorials halting your progress got a bit tedious after a while, but I can appreciate their importance for new players, plus they can be skipped entirely if you wish.
You'll also be joined by a new companion, Oatchi, a loveable space dog who has a wide range of uses in exploration and combat. Oatchi can dig, destroy and carry objects with the strength of multiple Pikmin and can also carry you and your squad on his back, enabling you to jump to new areas, swim with Pikmin that can’t survive in water, and charge at enemies to unleash all your Pikmin at once. He can also be upgraded later in the game, unlocking new moves, boosting his health and more.
The aim of the game is to explore gorgeously crafted environments looking for various collectables. These include your missing crewmates, other castaways, and “treasures” to power your ship, with the ultimate goal being the rescue of Captain Olimar.
This turns the game into one big collectathon, but you don't have to find everything to beat the game. The main method of progression lies in finding your missing crew, and the treasures, which contain what the game calls "sparklium", a power source that's used to fuel your ship, and unlock additional areas/levels
The treasures were a real highlight for me, and it's something the Pikmin games have always done incredibly well. Every treasure is an everyday object for humans, but for the explorers in Pikmin, they're a complete mystery, often being given funny names like Child Of The Earth (Potato) or Director Of Destiny (Compass). There are loads of them scattered throughout the game, ranging from fruits, tools, and even some retro Nintendo products, like a GameBoy, which I absolutely adored.
Each area you visit is entirely unique, and absolutely stunning. All the environments have their own distinct personality, both visually and audibly, and no two areas feel the same. The starting area is a garden illuminated by glittering sunlight, populated by towering plant life. Giant gardening gloves are laid across plant pots, and enormous watering cans have been left idle, adding a bit of mystery to the world you’re trapped in since it's unclear where everyone is. Whilst previous Pikmin titles have hinted at humanity and where they might be in the game’s universe, Pikmin 4 goes further than ever before, with one level even taking place inside someone's house. Exploring what we’d consider to be normal locations from the ant-sized perspective of the Pikmin is a joy, especially seeing their reactions to the alien environments.
Graphically, it's one of the cleanest-looking games I've seen on the Nintendo Switch, with crisp HD visuals that make practically every part of the game a feast for the eyes. I’d often find myself taking a break from my daily tasks just to wander around and stare at the backdrops.
While I'm sure most players will want to gawp at the scenery day long, your time for exploring is limited, as once the sun starts to set, you need to grab your Pikmin and go, as the night is a dangerous time in Pikmin games. Each day of exploration takes around 15 minutes in real-time, but there's no limit to how many days you can take to finish the game.
Caves also return from Pikmin 2, which are basically mini-dungeons containing treasures, wild Pikmin and castaways to rescue. All caves have their own gimmick or theme and often have a mini-boss or challenge for the player to defeat on the final level. Some caves can be pretty tough, but thankfully they can be restarted at the push of a button, and save your progress so you can return to them later.
This is a great addition, especially for more casual players or if you simply get hit with some bad luck.
At the end of each day, you'll be automatically transported back to your ship along with all the Pikmin currently in your party. Once morning comes you'll be able to roam your base, which grows in size as you find your crew and castaways. As you rescue more people you'll unlock more to do in your base, like upgrading Oatchis and yourself with new gear and abilities. Upgrades can include more moves for your Pikmin like a charge ability, or protective enhancements like elemental resistances or more health.
For the most part, Pikmin 4 is a very traditional Pikmin game, but there are two brand-new additions that will likely stand out for returning fans of the series, Dandori Battles and Night Expeditions.
Dandori Battles are bitesize challenge levels that see the player going head-to-head with an opponent to rack up the most points, which are rewarded for collecting various treasures scattered around an arena. There's also a time-attack variant that involves collecting as much as possible before the clock runs out. Both versions are incredibly fun, and progressively get more challenging with each area of the game. I'd often find myself replaying the time-attack ones, in particular, aiming for the, very best score, which is attained by collecting everything in the room. They're great fun and can feel really rewarding, especially since later Dandori Battles require nearly perfect mastery of your Pikmin and their abilities. They can also be replayed at your base and you can even set up another controller to have Dandori Battles with one of your friends too.
Night Expeditions are the next and while I enjoyed them, I didn't see much point to them aside from beating the game 100%. As the name implies, these are short levels that take place at night, where all enemies become more hostile. It's during these that you're introduced to a brand new Pikmin variety, Glow Pikmin, who can only appear in dark places, and live in little nests that produce a substance called Glow Sap, which is important for the story as well as side missions. The objective is to defend these nests for a certain amount of time using only Glow Pikmin, who are very fast and can even combine into a giant energy ball that severely damages enemies and stuns them temporarily. There are quite a few Night Expeditions, which are unlocked as you discover more areas, and you'll be rewarded at the end of each expedition with Glow Sap and some Glow Pikmin, who you can take into caves to bolster your numbers. I liked how the Night Expeditions progressively got more challenging, eventually throwing some bosses into the mix, but I didn't find myself eager to play the next one as they started to feel repetitive after a while. Regardless, I thought they were a good addition, and it was cool to finally see the dangers of night-time in the Pikmin world with our own eyes.
I'd call Pikmin 4 a near-perfect return of the series and well-worth the agonising wait for the game's release. Pikmin 4 feels like a game that took so many years to make, as it's practically overflowing with creativity. It lovingly combines the best parts of the first three Pikmin games, whilst implementing its own fresh new ideas into the mix. There's an astounding level of heart and charm in the game's world, its characters, and its gameplay, and it was a joy unearthing everything it had to offer, like a real explorer discovering a mysterious new world. If I could change anything, it'd be the inclusion of an option at the start of the game to say whether you'd played the previous games in the series. Ideally this would keep the tutorials to a minimum for returning players, as well as bump up the difficulty of the enemies, like giving them slightly more health. For the most part though, the game is well-balanced when it comes to challenge, it'll likely just feel significantly easier if Pikmin 4 isn't your first dandori-rodeo.
Pros: Gorgeous visuals, a solid storyline, welcomed new gameplay features like Oatchi and new Pikmin types, Dandori feels rewarding, overall great for new and old fans alike.
Cons: Early-game tutorials and overall difficulty may feel too simplistic for returning fans.
For fans of: Super Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing
Pikmin 4 releases on 21 July 2023 for Nintendo Switch. Code for review provided by Nintendo. Read a guide to our review scores here.