Since its inception, the Pikmin franchise has always been highly praised, and yet, very niche. Created in 2001 by the legendary game designer Shigeru Miyamoto (which you may know for the Mario or Zelda series, to name a few), it had since suffered two very long hiatus, to the point where some fans even thought it was dead. The first one between Pikmin 2 (2004) and Pikmin 3 (2013), and the last since last year, when Pikmin 4 finally came out. Nintendo however had already tested the interest for a new game before, with the relatively successful release of Pikmin 3 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch, back in 2020. Luckily for me, I discovered this series in that same year, during the pandemic lockdown, so I didn’t have to endure the long droughts.
But what all this has to do with Pikmin 4? As it turns out, this new entry not only embrace the entire series legacy, as it reinvent and expand it significantly.
A canonical reboot
In Pikmin 1, we control a tiny astronaut named Captain Olimar, who crashes on an alien planet that closely resembles Earth, (although it’s never disclosed that it’s actually our Earth). He has 30 days to collect all the missing parts of his spaceship, in order to get back home before he runs out of vital supplies. Luckily a few small creatures that grow like plants befriends with him and help him carry those missing parts and fight other not so friendly creatures, as long as Olimar helps to grow more their population. Those creatures are the titular Pikmin, and they exist in several varieties with distinct properties, such as resistance to fire, or ability to swim. The challenge is basically to command the Pikmins to overcome the challenges imposed to us, by alternating between the varieties best suited for specific tasks.
In Pikmin 4, we also start with Captain Olimar and a similar premise, although, in this case the mission doesn’t end well, neither for him nor the rescue corps that received his distress signal. Although, there was one last rookie rescue officer available to help. It’s precisely that rookie, that can be customized to our image, that we control during the rest of the game. Our main goal is to rescue all this people lost on the planet.
Rescuing the rescuers
As soon as we start our mission, we realise that there are much more castways needing rescue than anticipated, beside the rescue corps. Apparently many different people were already exploring this planet for very different reasons, but all of them ended in a similar way - either unconscious or infected by a condition that transformed them in some kind of pikmin themselves. In the later case, to rescue them, we need to defeat them in a “Dandori” battle, where the goal is to collect more treasures than the opponent in a confined space and a limited amount of time. But the rescue doesn’t end there. To cure their unique condition, we need to collect a nectar that’s only available during night. As so, beside the usual daily expeditions, where we start at the morning and leave by sunset, we have, for the first time in the series, night expeditions. During those, we only have access to a new type of glowing pikmins and our job is to protect the sources of the nectar from the enemies until sunrise, functioning like a tower defense game.
These two new type of challenges, Dandori battles and night expeditions, bring a fresh spin to the gameplay loop of the series, that before that had its focus solely on collecting treasures. By the way, treasures are still here and continue to be a crucial part of the game, as they serve as fuel for our spaceship in order to explore more areas. Nonetheless, the biggest gameplay innovation Pikmin 4 brings is in the form of Oachi, a dog from the rescue corps that we can use in many different ways. Oachi can carry all the pikmins and ourselves to cross lakes or protect from enemies, carry treasures, break obstacles, fight enemies, and even control pikmins, enableing some degree of multitasking.
A love letter to the fans
While a lot of new mechanics were introduced, the developers were clever enough to understand what elements worked the best in the previous entries and bring them back. The most obvious example of that are the caves, which were a core part of Pikmin 2. While on that game the caves were procedurally generated, creating a lot of unbalanced (and many times infuriating) level designs, in Pikmin 4 all caves are carefully designed, delivering a much more refined experience.
Besides the mechanics, the characters and travel logs also reveal a lot of references to the previous games events, some more obvious than others. After rescuing Captain Olimar, which is the main part mission and what will trigger the ending credits, we can play a new mode where we relive the events from his shipwrecking to the distress signal sending. For new players, this would be just more content to play, which is always nice, but for those who played every previous game to this point, becomes clear that it’s essentially the campaign of the very first Pikmin game, reinvented to fit the current narrative and environments. To have such thing as just a clever bonus content, put in perspective the enormous scope and attention to detail put in Pikmin 4.
- Ton of treasures to collect and castways to rescue
- New Dandori battles and night expeditions give a solid but fair challenge
- The best mechanics of the 3 previous games are present here
- The perfect game for both rookies and veterans of the series
- Soundtrack is a bit forgettable
- UI menus are more generic, comparing with the previous entries
Pikmin 4 was successful in the arduous task of being accessible for new players, while rewarding the longtime fans with a compelling experience full of nods to the series previous entries.
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