It’s been delightful to read that Pikmin 4 has met with modest financial success, especially when compared to its predecessors. The Pikmin games are a delight that I’ve loved since my girlfriend introduced me to them. We played through Pikmin 3 together both on Wii U and when re-released for the Switch, and we revisited the first two games back in the Wii U era as well. They’ve never previously seen even a fraction of the success of Nintendo’s flagship games, and that’s doubtless why Pikmin games are so few and far between compared to the abundance of Mario and Zelda titles.
Although, if you’re inclined towards feeling like a special flower, this could be a sad moment, as it’s a rare thing indeed to be able to celebrate a previously little-known Nintendo series.
Pikmin 4 clearly set out to be more approachable than the previous games, which have a fairly aggressive difficulty curve in terms of gameplay as well as an overarching progression system that put pressure on you to make the best use of every precious minute. The game starts out slow with a gentle and extended tutorial which, frankly, I don’t look forward to on any future playthrough. It does do a good job of introducing you to the game’s concepts and mechanics, including the most notable addition to the series’ cast: ‘space rescue pup’ Oatchi.
The pressure of the previous’ games progression system is also done away with. The first two games demanded you complete all objectives in a preset number of days, and the third modified that system slightly by requiring you to gather fruit to feed your crew’s ravenous hunger. In Pikmin 4 you are free to spend as many days as you like gathering treasure and rescuing castaways. Each day does happen on a timer, but there’s little penalty or pressure to not take your time and explore thoroughly and carefully. Whilst the game can still be plenty challenging – and some of the lategame content is more demanding than anything I’ve previously seen in the series – you can see the credits roll without your blood pressure spiking too aggressively.
It’s striking just how much there is to do in Pikmin 4 compared to its predecessors, each of which you could probably play through in a day or a weekend. Pikmin 4’s main story would be equivalent in length to, say, Pikmin 3, if it weren’t for everything else you can do during it. That includes underground caves (reintroduced from Pikmin 2) that can themselves demand as much time as one to four regular surface days to complete; time trials to gather as many items as you can before a timer expires; head-to-head Dandori battles with an AI opponent where you race to grow pikmin and gather treasures; and night missions, which are an entirely new addition and are best described as a kind of Pikmin tower defence game utilising an all-new type of pikmin. (My partner isn’t keen on the latter mode; I love those levels.)
That’s not to mention the sidequests or the post-credits gameplay, which includes an extended story with more new areas to explore and challenges to defeat, as well as Olimar’s story, which is a retelling of the first game’s events and the prequel to Pikmin 4’s own tale. Pikmin 4 is generous in a way the series has never been before; the investment of time and effort here shines in its breadth as well as in quality of execution. It is the best-looking Pikmin game yet by far, and with the work done to make it easier to pick up, to give you more tools and options, to reduce the pressure and give you time to think and plan, it is also the most fun.
Arguably, the addition of Oatchi trivialises parts of the game – once upgraded, because yes of course you can upgrade your dog – by making the transport of the heaviest items easy, and defeating many of the game’s opponents less fraught with panic and pikmin casualties. I am okay with this. I’ve spent my time in the trenches seeing red pikmin die in the mouths of bulborbs, or seeing blue pikmin crushed by frogs and carried away by fish. Being able to more easily defeat enemies who have been mainstays of the series for two decades, especially after spending many hours in Pikmin 4, is a good feeling. Besides which, pretty much every opponent from the series returns in some form here, along with new frenemies to defeat. As for Oatchi himself, he’s a more interesting partner to your main character than the alternate characters available in the 2nd and 3rd games, and his unique capabilities make for more interesting variation in level design and soft puzzling.
Right now Pikmin 4 is the perfect entry point to the series. It is larger, kinder, more varied and fun than any of its predecessors, and wonderful both as an introduction to the series and a continuation thereof. The last month of my life has been dominated and uplifted by Pikmin, and that’s a delightful thing to be able to say.