As far as first party Nintendo titles go, Pikmin has always been something of a funny one. Not quite having the gravitas of a Mario and Zelda, but popular enough that news of Pikmin 4 was warmly welcomed by the gaming community at large.
Now in its fourth iteration, one of the major changes here is that you’re not playing as series’ long-time hero Captain Olimar. Instead you’re a custom character sent out on a rescue mission to find Olimar only for their own ship to crash, meaning you have to find both him and the rest of your crew on an oversized planet, with only the titular leafy creatures to help you. Broadly speaking then, it’s the same basic premise fans will be familiar with, but with a few updates and additions that make this iteration as welcoming for those coming in for the first time as it is veterans.
You’ll spend most of your time exploring one of several overworld areas, using Pikmin of various colours to explore, find treasures and fight off various creatures that are intent on eating your leafy friends. Pikmin come in one of several colours, each with their own quirks – for example, red ones are fireproof, yellow ones can be thrown further, while purple ones can carry ten times the weight and blue ones can swim. It’s a fairly established formula that the game gets a decent amount of mileage from, as you figure out not only how to get to these treasures but also the safest way to bring them back to base. Every now and then you’ll also come across pipes that lead to caves – which act as mini-dungeons testing your skills you’ve learned and usually end with the reward of rescuing someone, progressing the story.
You have a set time limit each day, at which point you’ll gather up your Pikmin and return to base camp between missions. Here you’ll get to spend what you’ve earned on new abilities for yourself and your loyal pup Orachi, who’s a very versatile canine companion who can be ridden around, and can help transport Pikmin who can’t swim on his back. You can also talk to those you’ve rescued so far and they’ll offer you side missions, or you can also replay challenges you might have uncovered.
Soon enough, things are shaken up with special kinds of stages, such as competitive PvP-like Dondori Battles, where you’re placed into an arena with an opponent and their dog and race to get the most points back to your ship. Then there’s the solo challenges where you’ve an arena and a time limit, and must try and get everything in the stage to your spaceship as fast as possible. Each of these is introduced with whimsy, and in such an endearing fashion that is the signature style of Pikmin at this point, four games in.
What you wind up with is something of a collector’s dream game. You’ve got a list of people to save, treasures to find, sub missions to complete. You’re not required to 100% the game by any means to see the story, but Pikmin does everything in its power to reward you for completing every task on its checklist, whether that’s via new powers, fresh, exciting toys, or more resources. While this could get repetitive in other games, the charm is what sets Pikmin apart and makes it unique. Absolutely galaxy-sized amounts of the stuff. Even the treasures that you’re picking up; some of these are classic items from Nintendo’s past, which will already draw a smile. But despite them being recognisable Earth things, you’re not. So each of these things is given a lovely Pokedex-like description of what they think it is, and it really is a joy to read many of these. For example, a finger-skateboard is given the name ‘Personal Injury-Plank’ while a Peach is dubbed with the hilarious moniker ‘Mock Bottom’. This charm permeates throughout the Pikmin 4 experience in spades, whether it’s the daily interactions between your crew in the downtime sections, or in the whole aesthetic – music, visuals and all – of the Pikmin themselves, such as when you’re just wandering around collecting items and they break into a jaunty little song.
And yes, several hours into Pikmin 4, it does get a little repetitive as you repeat the same cycle of seeing an object, finding the best way to get to it with the Pikmin at your disposal, and then executing on that plan to bring the object back to the goal. But you’re carried through that loop – no pun intended – by the aforementioned charm and that little extra hit of endorphins when you get to speak to a quirky new character or uncover another codex entry that elicits a chuckle.
As well as the repetitiveness, the game can feel rather simplistic at times as many challenges are unlikely to tax your brain for too long, and more often than not the most regular solution is just to throw all the Pikmin at a problem and overcome it through sheer numbers alone in a brute force fashion. That’s fine in theory, but sometimes it’s not quite clear if that was the way you were ‘supposed’ to clear that problem. It reminds me somewhat of Tears of the Kingdom, and the way players would brute force their way through solutions, but with far less creative freedom.
Another new addition in Pikmin 4 are Night Missions. These return you to the maps at night, but rather than picking up items, you’re trying to defend things around the map with just one set of Pikmin- the Glow Pikmin. You’re given about a minute to set your defences (read – gather more Glow Pikmin) – and then so begins a rudimentary tower defence mode, only it’s just you solo ordering around your Pikmin to attack the incoming waves, rather than building any towers. It’s a pretty good idea, but the execution is a little too simplistic. With only one type of Pikmin, it’s again really a matter of literally throwing numbers at a problem and winning by attrition rather than feeling like any strategic skill is involved.
The freeform nature of the game – where it gives you the gentlest nudges of what to do next is great in some aspects, but it’s very easy to entirely be unsure of if you’re making the progress to unlocking the next area or part of the story that you think you are. As an example, I didn’t end up meeting the rock Pikmin until I’d nearly completed the first three areas entirely, which made pacing feel a little inconsistent. The thing is, there is so much to do – while the initial story mode is relatively short, even after the credits roll that’s not really the end of the game as a whole load of new things open up and add themselves to your checklist, including an entirely new mode that harkens back to the original Pikmin. It’s commendable that there’s so much stuff to do, but your mileage may vary whether the game’s charms are enough to compel you to see it all through to the very end.
If you’ve never played a game in the series before, Pikmin 4 is a great entry point – and it’s of course worth picking up if you’re very familiar with the series too and haven’t played for a while. But if you’re starting to feel a bit of Pikmin fatigue at this point – especially if you’ve played the recent HD releases of the first two games – things are going to feel very familiar even if the new additions are a nice occasional distraction.