Platform reviewed: Nintendo Switch
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Release date: 21 July 2023
I thrive in systems of organization that wouldn't make much sense to anyone else, but the real-time strategy meets puzzle adventure that is Pikmin 4 makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, my life is somewhat in check.
Reintroducing a colorful world brimming with curious critters, Pikmin 4 offers a variety of all-new environments to explore and adds a handful of new companions, but really it’s the same premise of the older games: you’re in a completely alien land, and you need to utilize the strength of the planets minuscule plant-like inhabitants (Pikmin) to collect various parts and treasures, take down enemies, and solve puzzles in order to progress.
It’s the same formula which has made the Pikmin games so enjoyable since the series debuted on GameCube in 2001, and that formula holds up today.
Despite being less popular than many of Nintendo’s other long-running offerings, there was still a lot of anticipation surrounding Pikmin 4’s launch, especially given how long it has been since the last. Those expectations, I’m confident, will have been exceeded for many players. Pikmin 4 is a charming game, and there are many reasons you should consider shrinking down and seeing what the world has to offer, even if you haven’t sunk into the franchise before.
Explorers old and new
Instead of continuing the tradition of taking on the role of the franchise's favorite captain and protagonist of the previous three games, Olimar, you’re first tasked with creating your character who will be the face of your exploration. I felt skeptical at first about having to take the reigns and create my explorer, but after getting stuck in and seeing how Pikmin 4 has been built to not only scratch the itch of veteran Pikmin fans but also welcome new players with open arms, this platform to personalize your experience through creating your own unique rookie does help make the experience more approachable.
The voyager logs created by Olimar, which detail the narrative and purpose of Pikmin 4 help to reintroduce the concept of the game to older players, while explaining things to new players without feeling overwhelmed by information overload. There is a lot to learn, and the introduction to each character presents a huge amount of information to digest, but the humor between characters eases the pressure slightly and despite the barrage of information, you’ll slowly learn everything you need.
Finding a music box that immediately started playing the Song of Storms from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time when my Pikmin picked it up.
There are also numerous new mechanics introduced to the game to separate it from alternative titles and keep what could become a pretty stale routine of fetching items to bring back to your ship. New Pikmin species and their accompanying capabilities are introduced, so while you still have the traditional red, blue and yellow, you also get to meet and in turn utilize the new skills of both Ice and Glow Pikmin. The introduction of night time excursions as well also offers a more high-stakes mission for anyone brave enough to face stronger enemies in a style that leans more heavily toward a tower defense-like minigame.
But, the most valuable new addition has to be Oatchi. This sweet pup accompanies your adventure from the very beginning, and rather than being a take-it-or-leave-it addition to your crew, he is an integral part of the adventure. In fact, his support is so integral to your experience, it’s hard to believe there were games before this one that didn’t think to include such a perfect pooch, and hopefully, any future Pikmin games think to bring him along for the ride.
Alongside being a more convenient way to bound about the map and keep all your Pikmin in one place, the ability to switch between playing as your character and Oatchi makes it a lot easier to navigate dungeons and puzzles which need an extra pair of eyes, especially during your first few days in an entirely new environment.
One day at a time
An in-game day spans 20 minutes of real-time, which sounds like a pretty reasonable chunk of time until you’re running around a garden throwing Pikmin onto ledges and desperately trying to find the next castaway before the dinner bell rings. Fortunately, this time is slowed to a snail's pace when you start to explore the various cave systems underground on the hunt for castaways, giving you a slight leeway in how much you can get done in a single day.
There’s a huge emphasis on organization and prioritizing tasks to ensure your days are as streamlined as possible, which I think I drastically overlooked across the first few days alongside my crew of fellow space travelers, but once you’ve got to grips with the general location and you’re coming in armed with an array of Pikmin species rather than a single color, you’ll naturally start to optimize the flow of your day.
But, in case you feel like fleeting days will have you rushing through the game, there’s no actual time limit to how many days you can spend exploring, so there’s no need to rush through things like caves and locations in a frantic rush to find Olimar. With the amount to do in each different environment, like locating any hidden treasures and completing simple puzzles to gain access to new areas, you’re likely to get swept up in side tasks more often than not too, which is why the lack of time restriction helps make Pikmin 4 more enjoyable.
A few growing pains
While there’s no denying the fact Pikmin 4 is an incredibly consuming game from start to finish, it still does have a few creases that prevent it from being seamless. They aren’t detrimental to the experience, and they certainly aren’t enough for us to not recommend this game to anyone looking for a genuinely sweet slice of classic Nintendo gaming, but they are worth considering before you jump in with both feet.
Firstly, the auto-lock, which guides you to target specific items or enemies when throwing your Pikmin, is a great feature in theory but it’s not much use even when you do try and lock on to either an item or a creature. I often found myself having to go out of my way to force the target to select the thing I wanted to hurl my Pikmin at, which feels like it defeats the point of an auto-lock ability entirely.
In addition, multiplayer within the story mode feels slightly lackluster. With the ability to switch between Rookie and Oatchi, I would’ve assumed multiplayer might hand the role of the lovable pup to a second player, but instead, any stand-in adventurers are left to throw projectiles from the back of Oatchi and generally just follow the lead of player one. Although multiplayer is redeemed slightly through the chaos of a Dandori Battle, a separate game mode entirely, it is a shame that multiplayer in the story feels like an afterthought rather than a core feature.
But, as a whole, these things don’t stop Pikmin 4 from being a fantastic game for both new and old players alike. Content from previous Pikmin titles has been reintroduced in a way that keeps the title from feeling repetitive while not straying too far from the franchise so many players have grown to love. Sure, it has its teething pains, but the general experience of returning to PNF-404 makes these issues worth overlooking.
Even though Pikmin 4 offers incredibly in-depth information regarding every other aspect of the game, it has very limited accessibility options. You have the option to change your camera controls, and the ability to turn off motion control, but that’s about it.
There are no options regarding text size or speed, which is surprising given just how much information you are bombarded with toward the start of the game. Cutscenes come equipped with subtitles, but they still sit on the smaller side of the scale. Luckily if you do miss something though you can easily skip back through the Message Log to catch up, where text is slightly larger than during any animation.
How we reviewed Pikmin 4
I played Pikmin 4 for over 18 hours in both docked and handheld mode on my Nintendo Switch OLED. I completed the central storyline and main objective within just under 13 hours and spent the following few jumping into side quests set by my rescued castaways or returning to locations to continue collecting treasures for my collection.
In addition, I spent an hour or two with a second player to test out what multiplayer is like within the story mode in comparison to standalone Dandori battles, and can safely say that the latter is the way forward if you’re searching for a way to make the most of Pikmin 4 with a companion.
Nintendo has had some fantastic releases already this year, but there are many upcoming Nintendo Switch games worth keeping an eye on if you’re ready to jump into the next adventure once you’ve completed Pikmin 4. If you don’t want to wait though, we’ve compiled the best games on Nintendo Switch too, so you’ll know which games are worth investing in.