The Pikmin series is back and I have to say that the latest addition is quite a thrill ride mixed with some relaxing fun and item collecting. Sure, Pikmin 4 isn’t the revolutionary sequel we have been waiting for but I don’t think Nintendo needs to reinvent the wheel here. In fact, the game’s subtle gameplay changes and additions make it feel refreshing but most importantly, approachable.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Pikmin series, it usually follows the story of Captain Olimar as he tries to navigate the surface of a strange planet, control adorable little plant creatures, collect treasures and face off against nasty bugs and creatures at the same time. Why you may ask yourself? Well, for science obviously! Oh, the strange planet is Earth. So he’s the alien in a way.
But Pikmin 4 changes things up a bit. Instead of playing as Olimar, I got to create a character at the start of the game who was charged with tracking down Olimar and a bunch of other lost captains who crash-landed on the surface. While this new approach might sound drastically different, it isn’t. I went through a series of open hub stages, finding new Pikmin to control, solving puzzles with new abilities and saving other members of the team.
Each team member does offer a unique mechanic in the game to a certain degree. However, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a menu for the same feature in Pikmin 3. The new narrative does help branch off from Olimar who, to be honest, has had his day now.
Some team members kept track of all the treasures I found while some recorded all the enemies. Speaking them at the base would then grant me the opportunity to glance at all the unlocked content in a cool gallery. In a way, the team do add to the overarching story at play. Save as many people as possible, even if they have turned into strange leaf-like beings due to reasons I won’t spoil here.
The thing that makes Pikmin 4 so magical is its gameplay pacing. Each day, I was given a limited time to search the area, collect treasures, find new hidden pathways, fight enemies and in turn, collect a substance called Sparkle which would upgrade the ship and unlock new areas. But even with this time restriction in place, I never felt as if the game was rushing me through anything.
This is where the art of Dandori comes in. While the game struggles to get this message across in the early hours, the later gameplay heavily relied on task management – known as Dandori. The game describes Dandori as the strategic planning, managing and deploying of Pikmin and that’s exactly what it is.
When I was able to carry a few hundred Pikmin around on the back of my dog companion Oatchi, it was important that I ran around and tasked a set number to take on a set task. It went a long way. Instead of standing around and waiting for the Blue Pikmin to collect all the dead bugs I just killed, I would throw them off while making sure the Yellow Pikmin broke the electric gate. The gate would open up a shortcut back to the ship where everything had to be deposited.
Dandori is vital to the game’s progression later on and while it sounds overwhelming, it really isn’t. I just stood there and spammed the A button for a bit, moved to another area and repeated the process. It is also incredibly satisfactory to walk about an area watching all the Pikmin carry out their duties. Sort of like a general in charge of a plant army.
This gameplay approach comes in handy mainly in tighter areas such as the underground – a new level type in Pikmin 4. During these stages, which are scattered across each stage, I was greeted by narrow corridors and limited Pikmin to use. These areas contained treasures, obstacles and enemies. Of course, everything goes faster if I delegated the objectives to a handful of Pikmin and the smaller area hubs made the whole experience feel so much more rewarding.
Then there’s the Dandori Battle. If you can guess what that means, it is a battle against another opponent and his Pikmin. In these fights, I had to run around, gather new Pikmin, collect treasures, fight enemies and try and collect everything to rack up more points than the opponent. He could also charge at me with his Pikmin, steal my items and even fight my Oatchi – How dare he!
These stages are fun and also quite intense. Instead of the slow-paced Dandori that happens in the main game, it is the complete opposite. I felt rushed to get all my Pikmin working as soon as possible. They had to finish a task and get to the next one. I had to fight enemies that gave double the score whenever possible too. Not to mention the later Dandori Battles rely on the gadgets to call Pikmin back and even send Oatchi to help with tasks.
Then there’s the Night Expedition. Now, if you have played Pikmin in the past you would know that the daytime Expeditions are all time-limited. You have a set amount of time to go out and do stuff. You need to get back to the ship before the sun sets else you’re going to get eaten by whatever creatures are supposedly around at night. All Pikmin outside of the ship area also die.
Night Expedition spin the game on its head. It is the activity which the series has always made players fear. At night, I had to set off to collect Lumiknolls with the help of Glow Pikmin. Across each stage, there were piles of these Lumiknolls (which strangely look familiar to Super Mario Galaxy’s star bits) and the Glow Pikmin could be tossed at a pile to collect it.
The challenge comes when the fearful creatures arrive to steal the material. So while walking about and tossing Glow Pikmin at each mount, I also had to toss them at enemies to defeat them. All while managing my Glow Pikmin supply (they are very weak) and trying to collect more of the material while I was at it.
The Night Expeditions are as deep as the daytime exploration but they made for a nice break between the gameplay. There were always times when I wanted to go on the offensive and these stages provided that experience. It is also a welcome addition to the series which I am sure will only grow in the future.
But Pikmin 4 has done quite a lot more to please fans. For example, there’s no more time limit in the number of days needed to complete the mission. So you can go about the game at your own freedom. I forced myself to try and get 100% completion on each stage because it was enjoyable to leave an area knowing I had done so.
Pikmin 4 is also teeming with personality and if anything, is a peaceful game to play. I often played in bed at night and the general gameplay is incredibly relaxing. It actually put me to sleep at times. The wonderful sound effects of the world around me felt calming. Birds chirping and water flowing in the stages added to the world. Not to mention the Pikmin sounds all make the experience even more tranquil. I feel like Nintendo should release a Pikmin Sleep Soundtrack and just have the various stage sounds and Pikmin going about their work.
Pikmin 4 is a good example of a sequel done right. There’s so much new here to enjoy while also feeling so familiar with the series at the same time. The new Pikmin create excellent gameplay opportunities to experience and the new modes make the daily Dandori run feel padded with fun new content. It is definitely the best Pikmin there has ever been.
This Pikmin 4 review is based on a code sent to us by Nintendo. The game is out on 21 July only on Nintendo Switch. It starts at R1185
Pikmin 4 may start out slow but it slowly blossoms into a wonderful game which is leaps and bounds above the previous entries. There’s just pure joy to experience here and I hope people finally take the series seriously because this game is superb.