I stood at the doorway looking at the giant worm-like Empress Bulblax. It had birthed a whole litter of bulblax larvae and didn’t look like she was planning to stop any time soon. I sent all 100 Pikmin I had into battle. They easily took down the larvae, but now it was time to go after Momma. The Pikmin attacked, and for a moment, her HP was going down fast. I can win this! The thing about Empress Bulblax, though is that her worm-like body makes her very capable of rolling. She rolled right over my Pikmin and nearly 100 little Pikmin ghosts rose from the corpses of my now deceased companions. I had to retry that fight almost 10 times before we won. Pikmin 4 is full of charm but doesn’t pull any punches on the action.
Technically speaking, Pikmin 4 is a strategy game but it’s so much more than that. Aside from this grueling combat, Pikmin 4 is an exploration game. It’s got elements of science fiction and horror. Don’t let the cute little Pikmin fool you. Pikmin 4 may be attractive to younger players but like its predecessors, it is not necessarily a game made for kids.There are many things included to appeal to players of all ages. The art style, the cute plant like Pikmin, and the music are definitely aimed at a younger generation of gamers but as an adult, I find that the in depth strategy and big battles appeal to a more experienced gamer. This blend of gameplay is appropriate for kids but also attractive to adults. This is just part of what makes Pikmin my favorite Nintendo IP.
Rescuing the Rescue Corp
As I mentioned in my preview, the basic premise of Pikmin 4 is that Captain Olimar, the protagonist of the first two Pikmin games, has crash landed…again… and sends out an SOS to the Rescue Corps. The Rescue Corps, in turn, also crash lands and calls upon the player to rescue everybody. Along the way, we discover that Olimar’s SOS signal attracted quite a few other people to the planet, designated PNF-404. They’ve also crashed on the planet. In fact, 47 people, including 4 members of the Rescue Corps, need rescuing.
Let’s be clear - I love that Pikmin 4 has expanded the main game to allow for a bigger story. I love that each castaway on the planet eventually becomes someone who can help along the journey by offering side quests. The addition of side quests really make Pikmin 4 shine, bringing the biggest campaign they’ve had in the franchise
That said, I found it incredibly unbelievable that Olimar, an experienced spaceship captain, the entire Rescue Corps, and over 40 others all crashed on PNF-404, but I, the rookie, could arrive and go out to find everyone who had crashed safely. I get that I’m supposed to suspend my disbelief, but that was a tall order in this case.
My disbelief aside, I was thrilled to be back in the world of Pikmin. It was familiar. I was able to pick back up the gameplay like riding a bike. The campaign, while a bit unbelievable, was a perfect blend of puzzles, action, strategy, and exploration. There were times when I preferred that the difficulty of the main story was a bit higher but I love when video games try to remain inclusive of players of all skill levels. In that way, the easy-ish campaign mode was forgivable.
Even combat felt comfortable, like a big hug, despite a big change. Combat has always been about using the right variety of pikmin in the right way, and swarming enemies. The faster an enemy falls, the less Pikmin are lost. Different Pikmin varieties had different abilities. Blue Pikmin could breathe underwater. Red Pikmin could walk through fire. Yellow Pikmin were not affected by electricity.
Introducing Oatchi, the Space Pup!
In Pikmin 4, The addition of the space pup, Oatchi, changed all that by adding a layer to combat that helped define the strategy. There wasn’t a singular way to play Oatchi but I found that my strategy with Oatchi was about protecting my Pikmin. Let’s say for example I was low on White Pikmin. They are unaffected by poison and that means if there was a lot of poison in an area, I’d have to protect my White Pikmin count. That could be hard if big enemies were eating them. Oatchi can’t be eaten so sending him in to do some fighting was one way strategy in combat was completely turned on its head. He truly is a great asset to have in battle.
Otachi is also great for carrying items, even becoming trained to carry incredible amounts of weight on his own thanks to a specialized skill tree. If I was in a time crunch, sending Oatchi to carry a large item that would take 10 or more Pikmin for the same job would free me up to using those Pikmin for other tasks.
New additions to Pikmin, such as Ice Pikmin and Glow Pikmin were also welcome changes. Pikmin is a franchise that with its fourth iteration ran the risk of growing stale and being nothing more than a rehash of previous entries. Had Nintendo kept the Pikmin varieties completely the same, there would have been no real innovation. Instead we get Pikmin that are made out of ice that open up entirely new ways to play. Glow Pikmin are glow-in-the-dark neon green and instead of looking like plants, look almost alien in appearance. They are impervious to water, fire, and electricity. After finishing tasks they immediately come back to their leader on their own. These glowing helpers changed the direction of Pikmin by giving us an entirely new mode called Night Expeditions.
Ice, Ice, Pikmin!
Ice Pikmin provided new ways to strategize. They can freeze enemies, bodies of water, and are impervious to attacks that would freeze other Pikmin. Ice Pikmin have their challenges too. If an enemy dies while frozen, it can’t be carried back to base to be used for Pikmin propagation.
The amount of Ice Pikmin needed to freeze a body of water depends on the size of the body of water. If you send 50 Ice Pikmin to freeze a lake so you can walk across it, they aren’t available to do anything other than keep the lake frozen until you call them back. Calling them back will defrost the lake. Although the difficulty of the campaign wasn’t high, the new additions to Pikmin 4 were all fantastic. They created new challenges, new ways to play Pikmin 4, and most importantly, they helped make Pikmin 4 a fun game.
My Pikmin Bring All the Monsters to the Yard
PNF-404 is a dangerous place. Pikmin are much more likely to die at the hands of vicious creatures that become even more dangerous after dark. For this reason, it’s important to gather the Pikmin and go back to the ship by the end of the day. That’s what we’ve heard ever since the first Pikmin game released on the Nintendo Gamecube. With Pikmin 4, that all changes with Night Expeditions.
Only Glow Pikmin can be used in the Night Expeditions. In a Night Expedition, the goal is simple - Protect their home, the lumiknoll, from being destroyed by menacing creatures who are attracted to the glowing light emanating from within. It has all the makings of a great survival mode. It reminded me of Call of Duty’s Zombie mode or Splatoon’s Salmon Run. While the mode is only available in the story mode and levels have to be unlocked by playing through the main campaign, I am hopeful that more content can come to the Night Expeditions. As it stands, the full library of playable levels is pretty sparse. That’s unfortunate because it’s truly a lot of fun. The higher stakes add to the intensity of an already thrilling and exciting night out with the Pikmin. Nintendo had a great idea with adding in Night Expeditions. Hopefully, they’ll flesh it out more in future DLC.
Chatty Collin and the Never-Ending Side Quests
The vast number of NPCs in Pikmin 4 made for one of the more annoying aspects of the campaign. I could have lived without Collin and Shepherd being so chatty. At first, it was a case of too much hand-holding for new players to the franchise but they never went away. I had to deal with them nagging me the entire game. That even includes their much too helpful advice in the post game when presumably even a newcomer will have a firm grasp on how to play Pikmin 4.
The side quests were a welcome addition to Pikmin 4. Previous Pikmin games didn’t have sidequests attached to the main campaign but they fit very nicely into Pikmin 4. Unlike many games that add more stories, and send the player on fetch quests that ultimately don’t support the main story in any discernible way, Pikmin 4 has side missions that encourage being a completionist. I’m typically not concerned with completing every little thing that there was to accomplish in a game but when it came to Pikmin 4, I found myself wanting to find and explore every nook and cranny.
Each day of the Rescue Mission, the Pikmin are assembled and taken out to look for treasure. These treasures are little easter eggs giving nods to Nintendo’s history and finding ways to incorporate other obvious items from Earth. These items are bigger than our protagonists which is why the Pikmin’s cooperation is so important. Treasures include things like a Game Boy Advance, poker chips, a beach ball, or a rubber ducky. They all contain an element called sparklium which can be used to both repair and refuel the Rescue Corps ship. Without ever actually saying it, PNF-404 is clearly supposed to be Earth making the Pikmin and the people controlling them no bigger than ants.
These little nods to Nintendo and Earth as a whole make Pikmin 4 one of the most charming games I’ve ever played. With 239 treasures to collect, Yutaka Hiramuki, a planning director for Pikmin 4, during an interview with Nintendo higher-ups said that’s more than Pikmin 1-3 combined. That’s a lot of cute and a lot of charm. To add to the charm, Pikmin 4 introduced a character creation tool. It’s incredibly basic and I wish there were more options available, but how cool is it to play as a character of my creation for the first time! One of the castaways is a hairstylist and rescuing him opens the ability to go back into the character creation tool. Still, only one additional option is unlocked during the game.
Dandori Modes are Taking Over
In previous Pikmin games, we were treated to a missions mode and Bingo Battle. During that interview with Nintendo, it became clear that Dandori is replacing those modes. Missions Mode will now be Dandori Challenges and Bingo Battles will now be Dandori Battles. Dandori Battles are timed battles between two players or between one player and a CPU. Players use their Pikmin and the art of Dandori, a philosophy of time and resource management, to collect as many points as possible within the time allotted. The player with the most points wins.
Dandori Challenges by comparison, are almost exactly like missions mode from the previous entries in Pikmin.
Pikmin 4 does more hand holding so there’s an NPC reminding you of all the good Dandori practices. Good Dandori means no Pikmin are idly standing around and Pikmin leaders use their time wisely. This includes finding special bonus items and attacks.
Unlike Night Expeditions and Dandori Challenges, Dandori Battles are available to play from the main menu without entering the story mode first. There are options to play against another human or a CPU or to have two players play against a CPU. I thought this would be great! Two Pikmin leaders working together to take out two CPU Pikmin leaders would be amazing. I was wrong.
Co-op, whether in story mode, Dandori Challenges, Dandori Battles, or Night Expeditions is all the same. Player 2 gets a crosshair on screen to shoot peas at enemies. That's it. I really hope Nintendo fixes this at some point because it is honestly one of the biggest let downs in the entirety of Pikmin 4. In Pikmin 3’s mission mode, each player had a leader and they worked together to collect items and defeat enemies and it was a great exercise in cooperation. Pikmin 4 says “nah, just give player 2 a pea shooter. It’ll be fine.” It’s not fine. It’s stupid. I get the spirit behind doing this.
It makes co-op much more bearable for parents trying to play with younger kids. Leave it in as an option but don’t take away true co-op from the adults who want to play it the way God intended.
Another weird thing I don’t like about Dandori Battles is character selection. Player 1 can choose from their character creation or one of the two main NPCs in Pikmin 4, Colin and Shepherd. Player 2 is relegated to playing Olimar. Olimar’s crewmate, Louie, is not an option. Creating a character for player 2 is not an option. If I play against my wife, one of us will be required to play as Olimar. It’s small but bears talking about because it’s just so…Nintendo.
But the most heinous thing Nintendo did in Dandori Battles, nay, in all of Pikmin 4, was the exclusion of online play. My wife and 10 year old son are the only two people in my house willing to play Pikmin 4 with me. That’s a 100% increase from 10 years ago when I was trying to play Pikmin 3 with people in my house but it’s still an incredibly small pool of players. Most gaming friends playing Pikmin 4 are not even in the same city as me. I have plenty of people I’d like to play this with but I can’t because Nintendo decided that in 2023, we still can’t have nice things! It is absolutely soul-crushing that there is no play with friends or matchmaking options for Pikmin 4. How much cooler could Night Expeditions be if it was more like Salmon Run by giving up to four Pikmin leaders a lumiknoll each to protect from the onslaught of crazed monsters? How much more fun would it be if we had a ranked mode for Dandori Battles that paired players with someone of their own skill level?
I think it’s great that I can adjust the difficulty in Dandori Battles. I can start with 1 Pikmin while my son starts with 50. By the way, I will still win that battle every single time. There is no reason…none at all… why I cannot play online with a bigger pool of Pikmin 4 players.
For quite some time now, I’ve considered Pikmin to be my favorite Nintendo IP. That hasn’t changed. At the time of my writing this, I’ve put in 35 hours into Pikmin 4. I can foresee that I’ll put in many more before I put it away. If you’re an experienced Pikmin player and have enjoyed the last few games in the series, you’ll find yourself right at home playing Pikmin 4. It’s immersive and detailed while being super casual. It’s a great way to get lost in a game for hours at a time or just a few minutes when time permits.
Pikmin 4 doesn’t require players to have played Pikmin before so if you’re on the fence about it and don’t have any experience, don’t worry! You won’t be lost for not having played other games in the series. It’s fun and quirky even if a bit too chatty. I can eagerly recommend Pikmin 4 but be aware of the issues I’ve brought up. If things like online play are really important to you, it might be better to wait for a sale or to see if Nintendo can get their crap together and fix it. Despite its issues, Pikmin 4 is a great addition to the franchise, and hopefully there’s more Pikmin yet to come.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.