Pikmin 4 doesn’t stray too far from the series’ action strategy formula, but it’s still the best series entry yet – and the dog is seriously cute. Our review:
Pikmin fans surely deserve a reward for being so patient. While the Deluxe version of 2013’s Pikmin 3 migrated from the Wii U to Switch in 2020, this was a mere pebble drop compared to the big splashes The Legend of Zelda, Mario and even Luigi’s Mansion all made when they made the transition over to Nintendo’s hybrid console. Fortunately, Pikmin 4 goes a long way to right this wrong, sanding down the light strategy series’ rough edges and making the act of exploration nothing short of a pure joy.
Pikmin 4’s big difference stems from your main objective. Unlike previous entries where your aim was mostly to discover, learn, and gather resources, Pikmin 4 sets you on a rescue mission. Usual hero, Olimar, has gone missing, prompting a unit known as the Rescue Corps to go find him. Unfortunately, it isn’t long after that the Rescue Corps itself also becomes in need of rescuing, and it’s this that serves as the main thrust of the adventure.
Luckily, as is customary in a game where you command squads of plant-like creatures to find treasure and solve puzzles, your player-created character isn’t alone in this endeavour. You’re still exploring multiple biomes using various unique Pikmin types, most of which boast specific strengths and talents ideal for certain scenarios. Red Pikmin, for instance, are fire resistant and pack a decent punch, while Rock Pikmin make their return from Pikmin 3 and come in handy when you want to shatter crystal structures. Choosing which type to take out with you depending on what you want to achieve in a day still forms much of the tactical fun – as does managing your time.
Despite the vast number of options available to you pretty much from the off, Pikmin 4 doesn’t overwhelm. It offers access to the different Pikmin colours gradually during the campaign’s early hours, and introduces new mechanics as you find each missing Rescue Corps member. It’s a smart approach to take in what is easily the largest, most expansive Pikmin game yet, especially when you take into account the number of hubs, caves, and then the sublevels within those caves.
It helps, then, that accessibility and approachability is placed so firmly at the forefront this time, too. And this is most noticeable in how time is treated during your daily expeditions. The strict 30-day limit from the original Pikmin is gone – as it has been for a while – but the pressure is also off when exploring caves and their sublevels in that you can take as long as you need. This encouraged me to thoroughly complete these investigations, seeking out every missing explorer, bit of treasure, and resource more carefully than if I were working within a time limit. Time passes above ground, yet this is more used as a way for the game to show you how much progress you’ve made in completing a hub.
Speaking of progress, while your explorer character can be developed in the form of upgrades that let you, say, run faster, resist certain enemy attacks, or track objectives better, it’s primarily through the efforts of your cute dog companion, Oatchi, that you’re able to tell how well you’re doing. While at first he acts much like a giant Pikmin, he quickly becomes pivotal to the adventure. You can ride him and use his strength to hop up small ledges, swim across rivers (with your Pikmin on his back), and bump into walls to bring higher-up treasures into reach.
For all of Pikmin 4’s familiar elements, Oatchi is transformational and what makes this entry stand out, mainly due to how much he shakes up exploration in the ways outlined above. He can’t scale walls or pass through bars, however, meaning in certain instances you won’t be able to take him with you, again forcing you to think tactically and consider a different approach. The same can be said for the new Ice type Pikmin – albeit to a lesser degree. They make a good impression at first, since they’re capable of freezing lakes solid so you can walk on them and temporarily stunning enemies. But both uses become less important as the adventure rolls on.
Equally haphazard in execution are the new night expeditions, which Nintendo has pushed a lot in Pikmin 4’s marketing. You’d be forgiven for thinking this means not having to abruptly end your daily expeditions as you can simply carry on into the night, yet this is far from the case. In fact, night expeditions work almost as a separate mode or mission type, where your priorities change from gathering materials to protecting arbitrary objects called Lumiknolls.
Night expeditions essentially play out as a less sophisticated type of tower defence game, wherein your Pikmin army is completely replaced by Glow Pikmin, a second new type, which would be welcome if they didn’t behave almost exactly like Red Pikmin with an added glow effect. Managing different teams of Glow Pikmin to protect Lumiknolls (required to heal ill-stricken explorers back at base) is a cool idea in theory, but it never quite comes together – to the extent that you’re not missing out on much should you choose not to engage with them at all.
A lot more successful, thankfully, despite the off-kilter name, is what’s called Dandori, a type of ‘battle’ focused on gathering that’s intended to test how efficient you can be when issuing Pikmin commands. Dandori caves challenge you to either compete head-to-head with an AI component to hoover up treasures faster, or to reach a score within a set time limit. If Dandori doesn’t sound revolutionary, that’s because it’s not – though it does make you think differently about where to expend resources, and contrasts with the laid-back feel elsewhere in the game.
While it’s disappointing that night expeditions and new Pikmin types aren’t as revolutionary as Pikmin 4’s marketing would have you believe, this doesn’t dampen what is easily the most refined, approachable, and joyous version of the formula we’ve seen yet. Oatchi alone is an ingenious addition that changes the flow of exploration for the better. This, combined with the incentive to rescue rather than discover, provides a renewed sense of drive and freedom that means Pikmin 4 has been well worth the wait.
In between daily expeditions, you can speak to the various crew members you’ve rescued. Some act as storefronts in which to buy upgrades or new gear, but others will reward you for completing side objectives, such as discovering enough creatures or gathering a set amount of treasure.
Not all of Pikmin 4’s big new features are as transformative as I’d like them to be, but it’s still the best series entry yet.