Pikmin 4 review: Genre giant blooms on Switch
Pikmin has always been a franchise that skirted the edges of popularity. Ask the average gamer if they’ve played a Pikmin game and they’re likely to say no, but most have probably at least heard of the games or seen the funny little creatures that inhabit them. They’re iconic, but in the shadow of Nintendo’s genre-defining superstars, these flowery RTS games have sometimes felt a little forgotten.
This isn’t helped by a decade-long wait since the last major instalment on the Wii U back in 2013. We heard about a fourth game being close to completion a long time ago, yet radio silence from Nintendo in the following years quelled any notion that Pikmin 4 is a game we should actually be getting excited for. That is, until its official reveal in 2022.
The game is finally here, and after such a long time waiting for it to release, Pikmin 4 surprisingly fails to make a good first impression. A lengthy tutorial, constant interruptions from your crew and other hindrances prevent you from jumping right in and getting to the good stuff. The tutorials eventually cease, but the lengthy dialogue persists throughout, and the amount of repetitive cutscenes you’ll skip is bordering on absurd.
For a time I was seriously worried this game might have fallen into the trap of adding too much downtime when it should be prioritising sheer fun. It's important to power through the start of the game though. Once you finally free yourself from these early shackles, you’ll discover one of the best games on the Switch.
Pikmin 4 is a tiny titan, another triumph from Nintendo on a console that has gradually become the pinnacle of many of its most esteemed franchises. It looks great, plays great, and should appeal to all players regardless of their Pikmin proficiency.
A big and beautiful world
The world of Pikmin 4 is one of its crowning achievements. Its sprawling greenery is a sandbox for you to freely traverse and tackle challenges in the order you prefer. With no more demanding time limit for you to complete the game, you can really take the time to absorb all the details in the environment.
Zoom the camera out and you’d see tiny slices of reality; zoom in and they become oversized dioramas replicating a small patch of a garden or living room. Despite their alien inhabitants, these places are believable and immersive. Puddles become great lakes, sandcastles become real castles and kitchen countertops become cliffs high above distant floor tiles.
Caves are an intricate series of tunnels with their own themes, disconnected from the more realistic outside world but serving as a more linear dungeon for you to delve into. These caves are where the greatest dangers lie. Returning to the surface is a breath of fresh air after a long trial, but even the surface is littered with things to watch out for. Your expeditions are as freeing and joyous as they are daunting.
The Pikmin series has always had excellent creature designs and Pikmin 4 is no different, only here they’re more expressive and detailed than ever. There are more Pikmin designs, more enemies and more ways each side can interact with the other.
Throwing Ice Pikmin at an airborne enemy will freeze it and send it plummeting down to earth. Some enemies need to be crushed by your chunky Purple Pikmin, and others are coated in poison, flames or electricity. Spider creatures will ambush you and try to steal your treasure, but if you're ready to charge with Oatchi you can smash them before they can grab anything. Each enemy is its own miniature puzzle.
The Pikmin themselves are pretty much perfectly designed. Each has a role to play, and only being able to use three types at a time forces you to strategise and plan your route for the day. Yellow Pikmin can jump higher and deal with electric gates, but Red Pikmin are stronger. Blue Pikmin can carry things across the lakebed, but you might need Ice Pikmin to freeze the water instead. Finding a new Pikmin type on your travels is always an awesome moment.
Classic enemy designs return, and new ones are better than ever. This is the strongest suite of enemies in a Pikmin game, with memorable boss fights and regular enemies dotted everywhere in the overworld and caves. The goofy Bulborbs are iconic, but enemies like the Giant Breadbugs and Cannon Beetle make for more varied and interesting fights, never overstaying their welcome before you stumble into another new beast to take down.
A compact collect-athon
Pikmin 4’s titular creatures are miniscule, but the amount of content here is gargantuan. It’s full of things to see and do, with huge collections detailing each treasure or monster you’ve encountered. It’s very satisfying growing these collections and flicking through them to see all the trinkets and fauna you’ve found.
It encourages exploration too, not that you’ll need much encouragement. Adventuring with your Pikmin is a treat by itself, and even if rewards weren’t a factor I’d want to traverse each corner of Pikmin 4’s levels to take in all of its gorgeous scenery and fill my Piklopedia and Treasure Catalog along the way.
But Pikmin 4 does reward you for your efforts, and it does so with a huge variety of upgrades for you and your canine companion. You can buy new tools, improve Oatchi’s abilities or purchase consumable items with materials you find on your expeditions.
These upgrades make the game quite a bit easier. It’s worth noting that Pikmin 4 is already one of the easier Pikmin games, and the main focus here is having fun rather than overcoming a great challenge. You’re not forced into upgrading everything unless you want to, and you can choose to prioritise certain things over others. For some players, this will be a welcome change, and for longtime players, it shouldn’t affect the quality of the gameplay.
Who let Oatchi out?
Pikmin 4 is more accessible than any other game in the series with an easier learning curve, and a large reason for this is Oatchi.
Oatchi is a dog creature you can use for riding, digging, fighting and more. He’s a jack of all trades and a master of them all too, and he’s just too much fun not to use all the time (even when it starts to feel a little cheap). There are few joys in gaming equal to riding Oatchi over a lake with all your Pikmin clinging onto his fur. He adds a whole new dynamic to the Pikmin formula and fits into the gameplay so well it’s hard to imagine we went three games without him.
Pikmin 4 strikes a nice balance between carefree exploration and stressful moments. It’s important to keep a sense of danger - you’re a tiny explorer in a huge, uncharted world, and you never know what strange creatures or obstacles are right around the corner. Combat isn’t too difficult with Oatchi by your side though, and while you might lose some of your Pikmin it’s quite simple to bring down even the largest of foes.
If you make mistakes you can rewind time and try again. Yet even with this safety net it still hurts to watch the ghosts of your Pikmin floating out from the beastly Bulborb that just ate them alive. You’re in control of your Pikmin squad, so every loss stings a little even if you finish your mission. When the invincible Waterwraith starts rolling towards you down a tight corridor you’ll realise just how powerless you can feel even with a horde of Pikmin by your side. The cutesy aesthetic tends to mask a sense of terror sometimes.
It’s nice knowing that you’re free to make the game as easy or as difficult as you desire. You can simply opt out of rewinding, buying the strong upgrades or using Oatchi all the time, among other things. Being able to tailor the experience to your personal tastes helps Pikmin 4 appeal to a wider range of players, adds replayability and creates a sense of freedom that might’ve been impossible if the game railroaded you into using everything on offer.
Plucking the weeds
Not everything is a winner though. Dandori Battles are perhaps the weakest part of the gameplay. These time-based duels see you facing off against an AI to see who can gather the most goods. The forced split-screen isn’t very enjoyable to look at when you’re playing solo, and the mode feels too chaotic to be satisfying. The co-op features in Pikmin 4 are also weak and barely worth looking into for most players.
The solo Dandori Challenges are much more fun, as they test your strategy and organisational skills in a way that makes more sense for a single-player game. They usually come down to the wire too - getting the last couple of treasures in before the time limit expires can be pretty intense.
There’s one minor annoyance that crops up when you’re collecting everything in an area, and it’s that some treasures can only be found by using Oatchi’s scent ability. Essentially when using this feature you just click a button and the game will take you to the treasure without you needing to do anything. It removes the sense of discovery and blemishes the experience of fully exploring a location yourself, as every now and then you’ll be left with a random potato almost completely hidden under a mound of indistinguishable dirt.
It’d be more satisfying if you could realistically 100% clear an area without resorting to inferior gameplay mechanics. Thankfully these moments are sparse, and the rest of the game lets you play the way you like without missing out on anything important.
Pikmin 4 is a tiny titan, another triumph from Nintendo on a console that has gradually become the pinnacle of many of its most esteemed franchises. It looks great, plays great, and should appeal to all players regardless of their Pikmin proficiency. With captivating gameplay, a beefy postgame and tons of things to collect, this game has earned its place as one of the best Nintendo games in years.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.