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Pikmin 4 Review

Big enemies, small armies

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Nintendo is very well known for its big name exclusive franchises, from Mario to Metroid. Fans can wait years or even decades between proper new entries, while in the meantime the publisher drip feeds their most popular series into spinoffs and remakes. Perhaps one of the lesser known exclusives in the Nintendo stable is the Pikmin series. Starting back in 2001, this franchise followed a tiny spaceman that crashed on Earth and was able to befriend and control the small titular creatures to help in his adventure. Success was found and sequels followed, but it has been a decade since Pikmin 3 released on the Wii U. While a number of games have adopted the unit-controlling mechanics in the meantime, and even its ant's-eye perspective, the newly released Pikmin 4 shows that the series still carries its own unique charm and identity.

Pikmin 4

The new adventure follows roughly the same narrative formula as before. One of the series mainstay characters, tiny space explorer Captain Olimar crashes on the Earth-like planet that he explored in the previous games. He sends a SOS signal, and some fellow space adventurers from The Rescue Corps traverse space and arrive on the planet to assist – but they crash and get scattered as well. It's now up to the player, a rookie with The Rescue Corps, to also make the trip and save them all, while finding parts to repair the ships and return home. Players get to customize what they look like with a few basic face and color options for the tiny space adventurer. You and all other space explorers stranded are comparatively very small in this world (perhaps about 2 inches/ the size of a strawberry), continuing the series' trademark low ground level perspective.

Soon after landing, you meet with a member of the previous rescue team and a base is established at their crashed ship. You appear to be in a large garden area in front of a home, and you must follow in the footsteps of Captain Olimar in order to find him and the rest of the explorers. Luckily, it seems that the local tiny plant-like creatures known as Pikmin have taken a liking to you, just like they did to the Captain, and you are able to corral and control them. They will do everything as instructed, but do require some manual intervention as they have little sense of self-preservation. You also meet a dog-like creature named Oatchi, who also becomes your loyal companion and is able to help in all tasks. Players will venture out from the base to go and explore the garden, and eventually the interior of the home, in their search for others as well as resources and repair parts.

Each area you get to explore is a standalone, medium-sized 3D level that's often brimming with environmental puzzles, and multiple directions to venture out in. You begin with a single starting location for the portable mini-base, and more locations can be unlocked as you reach them. The position of the base is important because it's where your trusty Pikmin will deliver all items they are tasked with gathering, and you don't want them marching in a big detour around the map. Further, like its predecessors, there is a daytime system that puts a timer on how much you can do in a level before needing to fly back to the main base for the night. If you have any Pikmin that are not at the base when the clock strikes, they will be lost. This gives a small but enjoyable sense of urgency and having to plan your day of adventure. When first arriving at a new level, you'll ponder in which direction to explore, and think about where you'll want to head next time out – so it turns out to be a simple and easy but surprisingly engaging progression mechanic.

Pikmin 4

The base is also where you are able to call upon your chosen Pikmin to explore the levels with. Just as before, these little creatures will follow you around and perform whatever tasks you point the cursor at – whether that's gathering materials, attacking enemies, and knocking down walls. The level design in Pikmin 4 is very solid, if not particularly out of this world. There are usually a few directions to venture out in, and sometimes you may need to return to levels later on when you are able to gather a bigger Pikmin collection. The levels are, as mentioned, replicas of a suburban yard, complete with plants, gardening materials, small puddles that become rivers, and so on. It's a well realized environment that you explore from the perspective of a small creature.

The controls are simple and intuitive, and streamlined over the previous games – the cursor that's in front of your character automatically snaps to things that Pikmin can be directed towards. You can either use it in traditional mode, like most action games, by facing/positioning the explorer accordingly, or utilize motion-based controls. There's also a whistle button that quickly instructs your units in the immediate area to stop and return to you. Pikmin can be sent out one unit at a time, or instructed as a whole group to rush forward. The more of the little guys you put on a task, the quicker it gets done. Pikmin will also carry on without your direct control; you can drop off a few of them to break down a barrier, while you go elsewhere and deploy a few to gather a treasure to bring back to base.You will task them to carry treasures back to your base, as well as (oddly bleakly) bodies of defeated enemy creatures; all of this gets converted into fuel for the ship and materials. Fuel is how you progress through the campaign and unlock new levels, while the materials are used for a few craftable items and upgrades.

There is quite a bit of back and forth traversal – you have to go and grab the units from wherever you last left them, as they don't return to you. However, because you open new shortcuts and paths while exploring, as well as being able to relocate the base at any point, it's never annoying to backtrack and re-gather your mini work force. Later on in the campaign, you can spend the gathered materials on ability upgrades such as calling upon all nearby Pikmin, have them return to base, or even having Oatchi round them up. Other upgrades include health boosts and resistances to damage from elements.

As before, you'll encounter a few different Pikmin types, each usually representing an element and having a distinct role. The default red Pikmin are resistant to fire, yellow ones don't take electricity damage, ice ones don't care about the cold and can also freeze bodies of water to make them traversable for the rest, rock Pikmin can attack specific types of barriers, and so on and so forth. There are a few types to discover, and each area has puzzles or challenges best suited for specific types. A certain number of Pikmin are needed to complete tasks, which the game helpfully displays. You are free to spawn whatever types you want from the base to bring along, but the game also has an auto-deploy function that will give you the best arrangement of Pikmin for the given level, as it knows what types of obstacles you will face.

Pikmin 4

Pikmin preservation is important because some can be fairly difficult to replenish. The red and yellow Pikmin can be spawned easily from any level and from your base, but the other types are only found in specific spots. Not having enough of a specific type can be a progress gate, sending you on a quest to gather more. This makes you care about your units, in a strange way that many other similar games don't tap into. They are both useful and cute, an apparently engaging combination to make players care about their wellbeing. Watching your ant-like Pikmin carry things around or leap into battle is endearing.

While the Pikmin do most of the heavy lifting, your trusted pet Oatchi also allows for changes to the series formula. This little cute dog-like creature can do all the same functions as the Pikmin, whether that's combat or material gathering, but it also serves as your ride. Both you and all Pikmin can simply hop aboard and travel as a single unit, which streamlines having to gather the ever-growing group of Pikmin from previous games. It also opens new opportunities for exploration, as once Oatchi can swim, you can traverse water together with your units, even though majority are not able to swim on their own. You also gain upgrades for the little pup with story progress, increasing his speed and combat efficiency, along with other abilities.

With a relatively low threat level and improved controls, micromanaging the Pikmin is generally not too challenging during exploration, but as you get into combat and boss battles things change. Each level has underground areas called caves, where you'll find most of the missing explorers that need saving. These multi-level dungeons pose the more traditional puzzle room designs as well as combat scenarios. The puzzles are often quite easy, but the combat can be a bit tough, especially because you can't call upon reinforcements down there. You'll be facing off against creatures, real and imaginary, from beetles and worms to Bulbors and constructs of all sorts.

Some Pikmin are better against certain types of enemies, just like in exploration, and combat can be quite hectic and punishing. Again as typical for Nintendo, most boss encounters are in enclosed areas where you wait for the enemy to go through its attacks and become temporarily vulnerable, which is when you unleash your army. However, enemies often have simply devastating attacks, where they smash or consume dozens of your little guys at a time. You can send out Oatchi to do a little extra damage, and you can even participate in combat directly by using consumable items such as bombs and mines which are crafted at the base from materials. The boss battles often have typical Nintendo-like mechanics, such as hard slams, sweeping attacks, and inhaling/blowing air to scatter you and your units. With patience and quick use of the whistle to re-gather your units and send them back into battle from a strategic direction, the combat is simple but engaging. In a bid to be accessible, Pikmin 4 has options to restart the dungeon level, or the entire exploration day, if you feel you've taken heavy losses and want to undo/try again.

Pikmin 4

You'll also come across creatures named Leaflings, who have apparently captured some of the crashed explorers and want to turn them into leaf-covered creatures in a sort of cult. To rescue them, you play special levels called Dandori Battles. These special levels are actually an introduction to the game's main multiplayer option. In these arcade battles, you can only gather Pikmin in-level and try to expand and gather as many treasures and defeat as many enemies as possible before time runs out – while an AI or player opponent is trying to do the same, on the same small map but from the opposite end. It's a fun little mode and a diversion from the main campaign. It's also the only worthwhile way to play with someone else – while the campaign supports co-op, it's extremely limited; the second player simply gets to be a cursor that can shoot pebbles at enemies.

After you defeat the Leaflings they will release the missing explorers, but you still need something to heal them from the condition. For that special nectar, you must venture into another new spinoff mode that has you return to the levels at night. During the night missions, you must defend a special plant from incoming enemies, in a simple tower-defence style. You only get one special Pikmin type here, who automatically return to you and thus help battle the waves of enemies. It's a simple mode but it can be tough if you aren't quick enough to gather a large Pikmin after the larger enemies approach. All of these are decent distractions in a game that's already longer than its predecessors – it takes about 15 hours to reach the story end, but there are still more levels/locations that get unlocked afterward, and trying to find every secret and exploring most of the levels can push the game to over 25 hours.

Pikmin 4 remains one of the few Nintendo titles to try and utilize a realistic visual art style – and while it looks decent enough, on a technical level there's certainly a lot left to be desired. The animations are okay but most of the textures and effects are poor, even by Switch standards. Loading screens are notable and needed each time you transition between caves or levels.

Pikmin 4 is a sequel that brings a lot of welcome changes to the long running series. The controls have been streamlined and improved, and the game is more forgiving with options to undo your failures – if you so choose. And you might, because you grow surprisingly attached to the little Pikmin. They are merely units to command, no different than other similar games, but their cute behaviour and ant-like workmanship makes them endearing, and gives them a sense of personality. From a gameplay perspective, this new chapter also successfully taps into satisfying unit management. It's not the best looking game, nor the most mechanically complex, but it has enough charm and well-designed levels to draw in newcomers and returning fans alike.

Our ratings for Pikmin 4 on Switch out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
The low level perspective retains its charm, but it's not the best or most detailed looking title.
Managing your Pikmin remains engaging and you do care for the little guys. This is the most accessible game yet, with lots of ways to undo mistakes.
Single Player
The campaign offers plenty of content to get through, with nicely designed levels and challenging dungeons and boss encounters. It's not complex, but it is enjoyable nonetheless.
The cooperative campaign option is very barebones, but the included competitive mode is fun in short bursts.
Loading screens are frequent, but not too long. Framerate remains steady.
Although the core mechanic is not unique anymore, Pikmin 4 proves that it can still be fun and engaging to control your little army through a variety of nicely designed levels thanks to a few tweaks to the series formula.
Pikmin 4
Pikmin 4 box art Platform:
Our Review of Pikmin 4
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Pikmin 4 is ranked #828 out of 1990 total reviewed games. It is ranked #31 out of 101 games reviewed in 2023.
828. Pikmin 4
829. GRIME
PlayStation 5
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Pikmin 4
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