Published on July 26th, 2023 | by Richard Banks
Pikmin 4 Nintendo Switch Review
Summary: Pikmin 4 is, to put it simply, Pikmin at its best.
Growing the Distance
Despite over twenty years behind the franchise, Pikmin has never quite managed to reach the dizzying success of some of Ninty’s more illustrious series, but Pikmin 4 feels like a fresh start for one of gaming’s most humble IPs. It’s bigger, prettier, and, most importantly, much more fun than ever, with new features that elevate a once casual strategy into something else entirely. To put it simply, this is Pikmin at its absolute best.
But if you’re a long-time Pikmin fan, don’t let the idea of ‘new’ scare you off – most of the changes here are for the better. It’s clear that fan feedback has been listened to, with Pikmin 4’s fresh features (and, in the case of dungeons, much-welcome returning elements) some of the best bits of the series to date. It’s Pikmin at its most ambitious, and while some of the new inclusions will be a source of much debate, Nintendo’s riskiest series entry also feels like its most complete.
The foundations, however, remain the same, with you and your tiny crew stranded deep in the depths of an Earth-like planet, surrounded by armies of plant-like Pikmin to command at your whim. Like in Pikmin 3, series regular Olimar is relegated to a supporting role, but instead of playing as another pre-made intrepid adventurer, players fill the boots of a bespoke crew member instead. Although simple, the character creator is a nice touch, allowing players to inject a little of their own personality into a game already brimming with endless character.
Speaking of character, Pikmin 4 is one of the best-written entries in the series, with plenty of signature wit throughout the kooky explorer ensemble. The storyline is equally great, if a little familiar, but it’s perfectly silly stuff that compliments your crew’s chatter and the daft entries you fill in your log book as you journey through this mysterious frontier. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about the Pikmin series – it’s never afraid to embrace the bizarre, and this latest entry is no different.
Journeying through the weird isn’t exclusively a job for your Pikmin and crew, as one of Pikmin 4’s best new characters also tags along for the ride. Oatchi, your space-dog companion, is an absolute game changer, providing you with a friendly face that can do a heap of tasks, from carrying items to helping out in battle. He becomes the go-to guy for most Pikmin-related heavy work, even acting as a mount for both you and your leaf-headed friends, who hang off the back of Oatchi in adorable fashion.
Oatchi is especially useful when exploring each of Pikmin 4’s elaborate garden and beach-themed locales. He’s an expert sniffer dog, using his nose to hunt out lost castaways, Pikmin and, following time in Pikmin 4’s newly integrated upgrade system, much more. He also comes complete with a useful charge attack, which can not only send Pikmin flying into battle, but can also be used to smash through specific objects blocking your path. He’s an all-around superstar, making the multitasking madness of Pikmin a much easier and much more fluid experience.
Not that your Pikmin are useless, though, and with nine variations of the little guys, there’s a Pikmin for every situation. The two new types are great too. Ice Pikmin have the ability to freeze enemies and bodies of water, while Glow Pikmin only come out at night.
Yes, you read that right – your crew send you out at night in Pikmin 4. It isn’t traditional Pikmin fare, though, as Night missions play out almost like a tower defence mode, where you manage Glow Pikmin in order to keep angry monsters from attacking points on the map. Like everything in Pikmin, these missions start off pretty easy but can quickly become stressful, especially as multiple points begin enduring waves of enemies at the same time, occasionally plunging you into micromanaging hell until the safety of dawn.
Night missions are tonnes of fun, but the real crowning glory of Pikmin 4’s new modes is Dandori Battles. These point-based contests pit you head-to-head against an opponent to see who can collect the most treasure before time runs out. While implemented seamlessly throughout the game’s single-player mode, Dandori Battles are also available from the off in multiplayer, and despite only being available against CPU or local opponents, they’re an absolute blast. In fact, my only criticism of Dandori Battles is that there just aren’t enough maps – replaying levels to achieve better medals for my performance kept me going for a while, but I could easily see myself playing Dandori Battles for a long time to come if it receives more locations in the future.
It’s not all new stuff, though, and the main campaign feels as good as ever when it comes to exploration and its signature strategy-lite style. There are more enemy types to try and best, and plenty of rarely too-taxing puzzle moments that put both your wits – and too often than not, the lives of your Pikmin – to the test. Exploration has never felt this good either, with gorgeous and highly detailed environments, packed with secrets, hidden details and fantastic designs, complemented by a charming plinky plonky piano soundtrack. The camera controls are great, allowing you to look around corners and under nooks and crannies, all with the aim of hunting down pesky hidden treasures. The developers have had a great time playing with environment sizing, doing a wonderful job emphasising the scale of your surroundings when compared to your Pikmin and crew. It’s hard not to step outside after playing without looking down amongst the grass, with the hopes of spotting Pikmin in the real world.
Hunting treasures down has always been one of the most joyous experiences the Pikmin series offers, but it feels like the series’ treasure hunting has peaked with Pikmin 4. There are over 200 items to find, all hilariously named based on their appearance, such as the ‘Skin of the Phoenix’ – or a paper crane, to you and me. Early in the game, you’ll also meet a fellow survivor who will help you document these treasures, opening up a treasure-hunting side mission that expands on Pikmin 4’s already bulky amount of content.
It’s not the only side mission either, and while many of these are easy to complete through normal exploration (such as completing a very expansive bestiary), it’s a good reflection of Pikmin 4’s genuinely impressive scale. Completing the main story took me around 25 hours with ample extra exploration, and I still have plenty of things I’m yet to complete, including some very generous post-game content. It might not sound like much when compared to, say, The Witcher 3, but it’s the first time I can honestly say a Pikmin game feels like a serious contender in the Nintendo Big leagues.
While there’s plenty to do, it does take a while to get going, with the first few hours of the single-player campaign running at a slower pace than I would have liked, but the game does a good job of introducing new features at a rate that does its best not to overwhelm both returning and new Pikmin players. That’s what really stands out about Pikmin 4. Although it’s perfect for established Pikmin fans, it’s perhaps the best entry point for those who want to see what the series is all about. There’s undoubtedly challenge here, but it always feels like the difficulty curve perfectly matches any learning curves the game throws your way.
That’s always been one of my main complaints of Pikmin games in the past – just how difficult the games can be. Luckily, Pikmin 4 goes out of its way to ensure any mistakes you do make are easily rectified. One of the best new features is the ability to rewind time whenever you make mistakes – and you’ll make plenty of those. In a cave and accidentally get your Pikmin squashed by a giant bug? Simply go to the menu and find the closest rewind point that you want to go back to. As an absolute perfectionist, I used this feature countless times to ensure my Pikmin death count remained as low as possible – I just loved the freedom of being allowed to perfect my strategies without having to restart entire sections.
The game also goes easier on restrictive time limits. Gone are the days where you rush back before nightfall to ensure your Pikmin aren’t picked off by aggressive creatures of the night, and while there’s still a roughly 20-minute day cycle in place, time stops in caves to allow you to explore for as long as you wish. Coupled with the ability to rewind time, exploring Pikmin has never felt so freeing, whilst still keeping an aura of the time management aspect that adds an extra layer of challenge to the game’s exploring phase. Exploring has also been made even easier by the addition of new items and gadgets that can be utilized throughout your adventures too, including collars for Oatchi that can stop your furry friend from getting frozen and bombs that can destroy troublesome obstacles. The game never makes a big song and dance out of these new items, and they never feel hugely impactful to your time in the game, but they’re all welcome additions.
Unfortunately, while Pikmin 4 is a pleasure to play solo, the game’s co-op offerings are far from as enjoyable. The second player doesn’t get the full Pikmin experience and is instead relegated to simply throwing bricks in the direction of enemies. No doubt this will be a blast for kids, but there’s nothing substantial here that warrants those wanting to play ‘proper’ Pikmin in a pair.
Still, this feels like a minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things – frankly, Pikmin has never felt better than this. Pikmin 4 takes that signature series charm and packs it with neat new ideas, stunning graphics and solid gameplay, making it easily one of the best games on the Switch.