PIKMIN 4 just might be the last great Nintendo Switch game.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder will arrive later in the year, that much is true, but Pikmin 4 is here now, and it’s excellent.
Miyamoto’s own blend of exploration, action, and strategy has been revived a decade after the original release of Pikmin 3.
Pikmin 4 is an action-strategy game, in essence, and it manages to be the most inventive entry in the series yet.
You’re part of the spacefaring Rescue Corps, and will be raising and managing a small army of plant-ant hybrid creatures known as Pikmin.
You'll be sending them into battle with either commands or by aiming and throwing the Pikmin directly at whatever foes stand in your way.
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The world of Pikmin is on a micro-scale — it’s similar to our own world, but with slightly stranger creatures.
You’ll be exploring locations such as the Giant’s Hearth, which is an outdoor barbecue the size of a small castle when compared to your avatar and their legion of Pikmin followers.
The first three Pikmin games have a key throughline: each is bigger than the last, in pretty much the exact same way.
Pikmin 2 introduced two more Pikmin and an extra playable character, and then Pikmin 3 introduced two more Pikmin and an extra playable character.
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Yes, Pikmin 4 does, in fact, introduce two new Pikmin, and there is a new playable character, but things are different now, as we explained in our Pikmin 4 preview on Oatchi.
Instead of just adding another player character, complicating how many things you already have to juggle, Pikmin 4 ditches all others aside from your created character, and Oatchi the Rescue Pup.
Your created character has broadly similar abilities to Pikmin protagonists in the past.
You're a little dude in a space suit who can whistle, throw, and pluck, essentially — but Oatchi is quite different.
You can ride Oatchi like a mount, or give Oatchi specific orders, like rounding up stray Pikmin in a stage, transporting an item back to your base, digging up treasure, and much more.
Giving Oatchi orders frees you up to manage stray Pikmin and organise tasks without running back and forth around a level by yourself repeatedly.
Oatchi can also change the flow of battle thanks to a new Rush ability.
Pikmin 3 introduced the ability to send a type of Pikmin in to rush at a foe, and now Oatchi has that ability built-in.
When Oatchi collides with a foe it does damage, sure, but all of the Pikmin clinging to Oatchi get thrown off, landing on whatever is dead ahead – usually an enemy.
A large army of Pikmin can destroy almost any foe in seconds when they’re all attached to its weak spot, which means Oatchi actually trivialises a lot of the combat in Pikmin 4.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still some fearsome bosses present that can take out your entire army in seconds if you’re not cautious.
But the difficulty of the average enemy feels lower than ever, especially when you have Oatchi at your side.
While there are a few bosses that might feel overwhelming in the longer caves you explore, the threat of enemies has been drastically reduced compared to past entries, giving you the ability to focus on exploring and collecting treasures.
Enemies do not respawn in a stage until you’ve completed a stage 100% either, meaning you’ll only endure each encounter once, usually.
You’re on this alien world for a reason, though, and that reason is mostly to clean up past protagonists' messes.
Olimar’s past galactic exploits have tempted travellers from a variety of worlds to explore the Pikmin planet.
Unfortunately, almost all of them have either crash-landed or come across some kind trouble during their time on the planet.
As a result, it’s up to the Rescue Corps – and you’re the only member that gets anything done – to bring all of them safely back home.
Rescuees are often hidden behind bosses or deep within caves, so you’ll spend quite a bit of time getting them all.
One of my favorite parts of Pikmin 3 were the Challenges, which gave you unique stages and a time limit to collect all of the treasures within them.
Pikmin 4 brings these back but implements them smartly into the main story.
Alongside caves you’ll also encounter entrances to Dandori Challenges – which are the aforementioned timed challenges – and Dandori Battles.
Dandori is, as the game explains, the art of organising your tasks to complete them most efficiently.
That’s definitely the skillset these Dandori stages ask you for, especially if you’re aiming for platinum medals in each stage – though just a bronze will be enough to clear through them and take back any rescuees.
Dandori Battles are a bit different, forcing you to compete with another character also assisted by a Rescue Pup of their own, offering a different challenge.
This can also be played with a friend instead of the CPU, if you have a Pikmin-playing pal.
This is the most distinctly “different” Pikmin game, and fans of the series will recognise that.
The way the cursor snaps to enemies and treasures is weird at first, but the way it works eventually clicks, just like the momentary pause that happens when you throw Pikmin and the desired amount has been reached.
These minor changes will feel alien in an otherwise familiar game, but they’re actually solid quality-of-life features that you’ll grow to appreciate.
The game engine may have been changed, but the essence of Pikmin is still intact.
Pikmin 4 is great, with more content than players are expecting, some truly brilliant environments, and the way Dandori stages have been integrated into stages is smart.
Though I can’t help but feel a bit conflicted: some of the most intense and memorable moments I’ve had playing Pikmin in the past involved imposing bosses and a fight for survival as I struggled to keep my Pikmin alive.
Unfortunately, I can only remember one moment that was even close to that in Pikmin 4.
As a kicker: if all of a single Pikmin type get wiped out in a cave, which is the most likely place to find trouble, you’ll be given the option of rewinding to the beginning and keep all your Pikmin.
It takes out a fair amount of the risk and challenge, allowing you to play recklessly and think about the consequences later.
In one situation I even threw a bunch of my Pikmin to their death, as a restart was a better idea than pushing through after a mistake.
This didn’t promote cautious play until it was necessary, and most of the time, it’s not.
The improvements on the two-decade-old Pikmin formula are a solid step forward for the series, and Oatchi is a brilliant little addition – I love my rescue pup pal.
But the ease of the game – outside of getting a platinum medal on Dandori Challenges – takes a lot of the bite out of the experience.
It might not be the best in the series, but Pikmin 4 is visually gorgeous and incredibly satisfying.
This is one of the few games where going for 100% completion is satisfying and sensible, without turning into a grind, and it’s the best way to play.
Pikmin fans already know they’ll be playing Pikmin 4, but if you’re new to the series the gentle difficulty curve and quality-of-life additions make Pikmin 4 a no-brainer.
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Pikmin 4 for the Nintendo Switch is a great game, and possibly the best entry point the series has ever had for new players.
Written by Dave Aubrey on behalf of GLHF.
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