Our review of Pikmin 4, developed by Nintendo EPD. Available now for Nintendo Switch.
WHAT IS IT?
The fourth entry in the consistently amusing cute little aliens series of real-time-strategy games.
IS IT GOOD?
It’s consistently amusing, if samey towards the end.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN
Inspired by a procession of ants marching through the yard of famed Mario/Zelda/Donkey Kong creator Shigeru Miyamoto, the original Pikmin was a respectable hit on the Nintendo GameCube back in 2001. Casting players as a stranded astronaut on an Earth-like planet (okay fine, it’s clearly just Earth) populated by oddball little plant-animal creatures, conveniently colour-coded based on their abilities (some are strong, some are fireproof, and so on), Pikmin proved the sort of low-stakes, high-fun romp that Nintendo is known for.
Twenty-plus years and three entries later, and Pikmin 4 demonstrates that the gratifyingly simple gameplay loop – and adorable aesthetic – is just as solid today as it was several console generations ago.
Pikmin 4 is so darn cute. From its customizable player character – here on a rescue mission to save Captain Olimar, protagonist of the previous games – to its multiple Pikmin types such as the new Ice Pikmin, everything about this game just screams “hug me”. Plus, Pikmin 4 retains the sense of humour, and easter egg-happy spirit, which made its predecessors so much fun to explore: at any given moment, you might stumble across a discarded matchbox, a Gameboy Advance SP, or some other signifier of the human civilization which once populated the planet. Because the game is told from the perspective of a bunch of teeny-tiny creatures, the comic effect of seeing them lug around, say, a giant strawberry or a cocktail skewer (which doubles as a sword, natch) never ceases to be funny.
The gameplay, finely honed over the course of twenty-two years, is also fantastic. Resembling in certain respects the StarCraft or Command & Conquer style of Real-Time-Strategy (or RTS), gameplay largely revolves around deploying teams of Pikmin to take on different objectives in different parts of the map, all playing out in real-time. And so, you might send a few of your strongest Pikmin to pick up a Nintendo Switch Joy-Con, while another few work to tear down a barrier created by a fallen tree branch. The game does a decent job of hinting which direction to go, though it still leaves enough room for experimentation that you don’t feel like you’re simply going through the motions.
Sadly absent from Pikmin 4 is a meaningful co-operative multiplayer mode, despite long standing demand from fans. While there is an assist-style mode, through which a second player can use an on-screen cursor to interact with objects (similar to the Super Mario Galaxy games), you can’t actually have two friends managing your Pikmin army at the same time. A competitive “battle” mode does let you team up, 2 players vs. the computer (or player-versus-player), but really, Pikmin is long overdue for a fleshed-out co-op mode that lets you tackle its mini-grand adventure with a friend.
That minor concern aside, there’s really just a lot to love (and want to hug) in Pikmin 4. Its ant-scale world looks great (the oversized fruit looks particularly delicious), certain tweaks have been made to make the game faster and more efficient, and the story mode is compelling enough to see you through the 16 or so hours it takes to see the ending. (Spoilers: Olimar dies a horrible death at the hands of neighbourhood cat… just kidding.) Pikmin 4 is also very family-friendly, both in its pick-up-and-play structure which invites shorter play sessions, and in the gameplay mechanics which are easy enough to follow for a younger gamer. As the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids of video games, it’s one of the most joyful titles available on Switch today.
Final score: 9/10 Ant-Mans (Ant-Men? Ants-Man?)
Visit the official website for Pikmin 4 here.