Whenever a new entry in a much-beloved video game series is finally announced after years of waiting and hoping, it’s impossible not to cheer in excitement at the news and maybe even turn to the nearest person for a quick high five. After the initial shock has worn off though, those feelings of anticipation can start to attract worries. ‘Ten years is a long time, what if this new game doesn’t deliver or doesn’t have that same magic?’ It’s a lesson learned the hard way in some cases and in others a relief to see your favoured series continue to knock it out of the park one more time. Pikmin 4 thus feels like familiar territory, releasing ten years after Pikmin 3 which itself released nine years after Pikmin 2. Just as was the case with Pikmin 3 then, I’m thrilled the cute critters are back, but also nervous if it’ll deliver after such a long hiatus. Can Nintendo do it again?
Story has never been a focal point for the series but nonetheless, here we are once more with another search and save mission. Unlike other Pikmin titles though, you’ll get to play as your own user-created character, a cute addition (albeit one with limited options). You and the rest of the Rescue Corps have been sent to a distant planet in order to save Captain Olimar after communication is lost following his latest adventure. It’s a mission that hits a rather unfortunate (and familiar snag) when your ship then crash lands on the very same planet. Stranded and alone, you set off in search of Olimar and the rest of your team.
Pikmin has always been this interesting mix of RTS and adventure as you go about commanding an army of 100 Pikmin and using their unique abilities to take on larger dangerous creatures, solve puzzles and carry useful items back to your ship. That same satisfying loop remains here but in many ways, Pikmin 4 feels so much grander in scope than previous entries and that isn’t merely down to the introduction of a couple of new Pikmin nor dog Oatchi.
For starters, the actual structure of the game’s main adventure has a lot going on. For the very first time in the series, Pikmin 4 has a hub area where you’re able to wonder about, grow a few extra Pikmin and talk to your slowly growing line-up of crewmembers and others you’ve saved before setting out to your next destination. The story too sees several objectives both major and minor at play giving the player choice in what they want to tackle next. What initially starts out as a rescue mission turns into a search party for the rest of your team along with a hunt for treasures able to fuel your ship, before turning into a search for a cure for a mysterious ailment before then changing once more into something even grander. As the game’s cutesy story continues to progress Pikmin 4 starts to reveal its many bells and whistles; some returning and some new.
Rescue a treasure hunter for example and you’ll not only have access to the game’s treasure log but achievements rewarding the player for reaching certain milestones. Save the ship’s scientist and now you’ll be able to trade in raw materials for useful items and upgrades. The list goes on and on and while a number of these elements have featured in other Pikmin games before, the way they’re implemented here feels more organic and fits in nicely with its story as a whole. It makes the many characters you’ll save feel like more than just another collectable.
The different worlds meanwhile feel bigger and more dense with things to see and do while the lower-angled camera amazingly does go some way in heightening that sense of how small you and your Pikmin are on this planet. While the surface will be filled with the usual assortment of hazardous obstacles, creatures and treasures to collect, Pikmin 2’s caves also make a welcome return, each one offering several floors of further danger whilst also slowing the game’s day system and limiting you from respawning any Pikmin whilst down there.
Then there are the nighttime expeditions. Challenging missions that see the player using Glow Pikmin to fend off armies of marching creatures as they attempt to topple precious sap-generating Lumiknolls. Less a test of time management this time and more your combating ability, these shorter segments make for a welcome change of pace from the daytime activities. The Glow Pikmin act far differently from the rest of the colourful cast, grown with colourful stars and able to be sent out in one big blast to stun enemies.
Ice Pikmin are the other new addition to the group, these guys able to freeze bodies of water to then cross as well freeze enemies too (although taking out enemies this way will shatter their bodies leaving nothing to carry back and harvest). Both newcomers bring something new and interesting to the table whilst it is also great seeing all seven previous Pikmin get their chance to shine in the game’s main story.
From a gameplay perspective, Pikmin 4 feels more refined and snappier, from the simple act of having your cursor snap onto targets while tossing Pikmin will see your character stop briefly when the required number has been hit to carry an item. Or bigger changes like being able to summon your pod and Pikmin’s onion to specified locations on each map or only being allowed to take out three unique Pikmin types at once. Then of course you have Oatchi the dog, a handy companion able to help carry, attack and even carry you and your Pikmin at pace. Train it enough and you’ll even be able to perform the typical tasks of another leader much like Pikmin 2 and 3. You’ll come to rely on the cute pooch plenty in this game so it’s a good thing it’s so much fun commanding and controlling it.
There’s just so much packed into this game… There are the Dondori battles and challenges too. How could I forget those?
Battles will see you taking on another human or AI-controlled character as the pair of you compete to carry more treasures back to your pod within a time limit. Commanding your own armies of Pikmin you’ll face enemies as well as each other while certain wildcard events trigger throughout awarding bonuses for certain things carried back or providing pesky items able to help yourself or hinder your opponent. The battles are hectic, panicky and a lot of fun, with rounds able to swing back and forth multiple times in each player’s favour. Challenges meanwhile play out like those seen in Pikmin 3, with players tested on their ability to efficiently manage their time and bring back as much treasure as possible within a time limit.
All this (phew), goes on to create a Pikmin adventure that’s big, exciting and packed full of surprises from returning creatures to all-new ones, to unique cave environments to that first rush of marching out into a new unexplored area. Even when you reach the game’s seeming end, there’s much more to tackle with one surprise sure to please fans massively.
Speaking of fans, Pikmin 4 does feel as though it is trying to find that wider audience it is always so hardly fought for and as a result the opening does drag a little with interrupting conversations and explanations preventing you from simply getting on with the task at hand. Many have already experienced this in the demo released recently and thankfully the hand-holding does loosen massively after the first hour or so. The game’s difficulty too doesn’t feel as tough as previous games either. Maybe that says more about me and how much I’ve played those past games, but particularly in the opening few areas enemies rarely posed too much of a major threat. Exploring these areas was still great fun don’t get me wrong, just not super challenging.
It’s also a shame that Pikmin 4 felt the need to reduce its multiplayer options following the excellent selection offered in Pikmin 3 Deluxe. While Bingo Battle might not make a return from Pikmin 3, players can face off in one-on-one Dondori battles that still deliver a welcome competitive change of pace. It’s the game’s co-operative implementation though that feels like a massive step back for the series with the second player now relegated to little more than a glorified distraction creator pointing at the screen and tossing pebbles at enemies. And this applies not just to the game’s main story but also its Dondori challenges too, limited to single-player only and an unfortunate shame especially considering how much time I’d spend playing with my wife as we chased high scores and medals.
The Pikmin series has always been one of my personal favourites of Nintendo’s, delivering something not only unique in their long-illustrious catalogue but the industry as a whole. And with each new entry managing to improve on the last, Pikmin 4 had a lot to live up to, high expectations, particularly from a fan like myself. Yet, somehow Nintendo has raised the bar once again creating perhaps its biggest and most well-rounded Pikmin adventure yet.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo