Pikmin 4 has finally made me understand the joy of Pikmin
Pikmin 4 is nearly upon us and we were recently invited by Nintendo to go hands-on with the game. However, did we like how the game was shaping up and did it leave us wanting more?
As a lifelong Nintendo fan, there’s one franchise that I’ve never been able to connect with: Pikmin. I can’t explain why. Maybe it’s the strategy elements that put me off or the fact that I’ve always hated Olimar in Super Smash Bros. – but I do know I’m not alone. Pikmin has always felt like one of Nintendo’s most niche first-party franchises.
That might have changed after I was given the chance to spend around an hour and a half with Pikmin 4, the first proper Pikmin game in a decade. While I was only able to play through one stage, something definitely clicked in my brain. I found myself caring about these cute little creatures in a way that I’ve not been able to before.
It was mentioned a few times during my preview session that the goal with Pikmin 4 was to create a more relaxing experience than previous entries, while still offering a challenge for those who want it. That certainly resonated with how it felt during my short time with the game. The closest I got to feeling a sense of urgency was a countdown ticking away in the corner of the screen as nighttime approached, but I never felt pressured to achieve anything specific during each day. I knew that once the timer was up, I could simply return and do more exploring the next day.
My preview session took place in a single area called Sun-Speckled Terrace, which felt like being shrunk down to the size of a bug and wandering around someone’s backyard. It didn’t take long to get used to the gameplay loop, so off I went collecting Pikmin to do my bidding. That could be recovering treasures full of Sparklium to restore my spaceship to its former glory, defeating various bug-like enemies, or hunting for my missing crewmates in underground caves.
The game encouraged me to work on my Dandori, the art of “organizing your tasks strategically and working with maximum efficiency”. This isn’t something I’m used to when gaming. I’m someone who gets distracted by sidequests or whatever shiny thing lies in the distance. But there was something about working alongside my team of Pikmin to achieve our goals together before the day ended that felt incredibly rewarding.
Pikmin’s Best Friend
My favorite gameplay element from my time with Pikmin 4 was definitely Oatchi, the loyal canine companion who followed me around as I explored Sun-Speckled Terrace. At first, my commands were limited. This good boy functioned much the same as my army of Pikmin in the sense that I could send him out to attack enemies, carry items back to my ship, or break down walls. But as I progressed through the game, Oatchi grew larger and learned new tricks like jumping to help me discover new areas.
I quickly realized that Oatchi wasn’t just a cute sidekick, but an essential part of progressing through Pikmin 4. There were vases that could only be smashed by charging up Oatchi’s dash or scents that he could pick up to point me in the right direction. After venturing into one underground cave, I had to leave my main character behind and control Oatchi by himself to solve a puzzle involving buttons and moving platforms. Adorable and functional, what’s not to love?
Exploring the space
Another feature I got to experience was the variety of Pikmin on offer, especially the new ice variants which work exactly as you’d expect them to. Lob them at your enemies to freeze them in their tracks or use their cooling powers to freeze water and make a path to walk across. It’s not a game-changing addition, but it’s another handy Pikmin type to have at your disposal that works a treat when you’re feeling overwhelmed by multiple enemies.
Despite being a relatively small stage when compared to the vast worlds of many modern games, there were absolutely loads of things to discover in Sun-Speckled Terrace. I feel like I could have easily spent another two or three hours just exploring this area, let alone the rest of the stages.
While the core gameplay doesn’t stray too far from classic Pikmin fare, one area that has been given a decent overhaul is the visuals. I’ve never considered Pikmin to be a particularly pleasant-looking franchise (the word ‘muddy’ springs to mind). However, this new iteration marks a pretty big upgrade with environments looking far more vibrant and inviting than in previous outings.
Left wanting Oli-more
This isn’t the kind of game that needs cutting-edge graphics, of course – and we’re never going to get that on the Nintendo Switch anyway. Even so, Pikmin 4 really is quite lovely to look at. I was given the option to play on a huge TV with the Switch docked, but I chose to stay in handheld mode as it looked great on the OLED screen.
Although I was only able to experience a snapshot of what Pikmin 4 has to offer, the sense I get is that this is Nintendo’s attempt to introduce the franchise to a newer audience while also keeping existing fans happy. It’s not reinventing the wheel. But, with a handful of great new features, some lovely visuals, and a more relaxed approach to gameplay, I feel like it’s won me over already.
Pikmin 4 will be available on Nintendo Switch on July 21, 2023.