Pikmin might be one of Nintendo’s more obscure and lower selling franchises, but since its inception on the GameCube over two decades ago, it’s also been one of the most consistent. Each new instalment has built on the series’ unique, compelling premise in excellent ways, and Pikmin 4 continues that tradition, maybe even to a greater extent than any of its predecessors. It was all the way back in 2015 that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto said development on Pikmin 4 was almost complete, so clearly, the wait for the franchise’s fourth mainline instalment has been a long one- but Pikmin 4 is well worth the wait, and then some.
In a first for the series, Pikmin 4 puts you in the shoes of a fully customizable avatar character. After the Rescue Corp’s mission to save Captain Olimar following his crash-landing on the mysterious Earth-like planet goes wrong, it falls to you, the Corp’s newest and most inexperienced member, to rescue both, the Rescue Corp and the captain. Accompanying you this time is the adorable space dog Oatchi, a constant and incredibly helpful companion who, as it turns out, also represents some of Pikmin 4’s biggest gameplay improvements.
"It was all the way back in 2015 that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto said development on Pikmin 4 was almost complete, so clearly, the wait for the franchise’s fourth mainline instalment has been a long one- but Pikmin 4 is well worth the wait, and then some."
Not only can Oatchi help your army of Pikmin in attacking enemies and carrying and trasporting objects back to your ship, he’s also an excellent traversal tool. At any time, you and your Pikmin can hop on his back and sprint around the map at greater speed, in addition to being able to paddle across water bodies and leap up to ledges that would have been otherwise inaccessible to you. That cuts down the time you spend traversing maps significantly, which means there’s much less downtime, and much greater emphasis on being actively involved in various activities.
Something else that contributes to that is just how densely packed all of Pikmin 4’s maps are. There are various different enemies to fight, treasures to dig up, items to seek out and find, caves to explore, and more. Several new gameplay additions also throw in additional layers to this loop of content- for instance, no longer does your Pikmin’s Onion have the capacity to spawn a hundred little critters right from the get go. You now have to seek out Onion upgrades in the world and bring them back to your ship, each increasing your Onion’s capacity by 10. Meanwhile, there are now also crafting components to collect, which not only serve as currency to buy items and new equipment, but are also used to get past various environmental obstacles, like building clay bridges to cross chasms.
There are also way more ancillary systems and mechanics than Pikmin has ever had before, all of which are solidly executed and fit into the core loop very well. The aforementioned item and equipment purchases, for instance, allow you to visit a Lab in your hub and purchase consumables with various effects and buffs, as well as several permanent items that can have many uses, like instantly summoning any and all idle Pikmin on the map to your location, or becoming resistant to different elements, or being able to see in the darkness of caves. At your hub, you can also train Oatchi and upgrade his abilities by spending Pup Drive, which are essentially skill points earned upon completing each rescue. From being able to swim faster and getting increased health to being able to carry extra weight and more, there’s a solid list of options available that keeps expanding, with the vast majority of these options feeling like genuinely useful and rewarding upgrades.
"At any time, you and your Pikmin can hop on his back and sprint around the map at greater speed, in addition to being able to paddle across water bodies and leap up to ledges that would have been otherwise inaccessible to you. That cuts down the time you spend traversing maps significantly, which means there’s much less downtime, and much greater emphasis on being actively involved in various activities."
Your hub also keeps expanding as you make more progress in the game, with each rescued castaway becoming a permanent fixture in the location. Most of them also tend to come with their own side quests, which are another excellent addition to the Pikmin formula. By design, they’re not particularly unique in their objectives, and almost always tend to align with things that you’re going to be doing plenty of anyway- blooming a certain amount of Pikmin, exploring a certain number of caves, encountering a certain number of unique enemy types. But that’s exactly why they work, because just like item and equipment purchases or Oatchi’s upgrades, they are simple and straightforward, but fit in nicely with the core loop and feel like a valuable part of the experience.
Given how it rewards you at every turn in so many different ways, exploration always feels incredibly engaging in Pikmin 4. That, of course, has always been a hallmark of the series, and Pikmin 4 proudly continues that tradition- a lot of which is, of course, also down to the environments you find themselves in. This is a series that has always done an excellent job of taking mundane human environments – like a lawn or the inside of a regular house – and recontextualizing them from the lens of the tiny people and creatures you play as as massive, mysterious locations, like an even more bizarre version of Toy Story.
Exploring these environments and finding gargantuan versions of everyday objects that the characters perceive as being way more mysterious than they actually are has always been a big part of Pikmin’s charm, and it continues to fuel exploration and make it feel consistently rewarding in Pikmin 4. And it’s not just the main maps themselves that are this good- even the caves scattered throughout these maps, which effectively serve as dungeons and mini dungeons, are almost all incredibly designed, each coming with their own unique themes and challenges. There’s no shortage of variety in Pikmin 4’s environments, and in how those environments make use of the game’s mechanics to consistently keep coming up with interesting objectives and unique spins on familiar ideas.
"Given how it rewards you at every turn in so many different ways, exploration always feels incredibly engaging in Pikmin 4. That, of course, has always been a hallmark of the series, and Pikmin 4 proudly continues that tradition- a lot of which is, of course, also down to the environments you find themselves in."
Meanwhile, for the first time in the series, you can now also explore all of these environments at nighttime, courtesy of the new night expeditions. Here, Pikmin 4 turns into a tower defence game, tasking you with protecting mounts of Luminknoll from waves of enemies until dawn breaks so you can extract the substance and bring it back to your base. Things do get more complex and hectic as you play more of the game, and night expeditions can be plenty of fun from time to time- though they lack the inherent depth and density of the bulk of the game, and can get a little repetitive as time goes by.
Much more interesting as a new addition are Dandori battles and challenges, which are, in essence, the purest distillation of the series’ core gameplay loop. Each Dandori battle begins with you and a small group of Pikmin, and after that, it’s up to you to reach a certain score threshold within a time limit by expanding your group, managing their tasks, and bringing more items back to your ship. Some Dandori battles are against other characters (or against another player as a separate multiplayer mode), while some are solo challenges, but thanks to the simplicty of their design and, again, the variety they exhibit, they remain one of the highlights of the experience from beginning to end.
Beyond all of its major gameplay improvements, Pikmin 4 also makes numerous smaller quality-of-life changes that make it an almost entirely frictionless experience. The game controls like an absolute dream, and the new camera works with next to no hiccups, allowing you to not only view the wonderful maps from a new, more zoomed in perspective, but also to control the action more smoothly and with greater precision. Not once while playing the game have I felt like its moment-to-moment action is being hampered by fundamental issues, which, for a real-time strategy game on a console (albeit an utterly bizarre one) is a huge achievement- but then again, that’s always been one of this series’ biggest strengths.
That’s not to say Pikmin 4’s core loop is not without its issues, chief among them being how easy the game is. Pikmin has, of course, become progressively easier with each new instalment, and it’s now gotten to a point where it’s more or less been completely defanged. Pikmin 4 is a chill, easygoing experience that always remains fun and engaging, but at the same time, it doesn’t ever really put up too much of a challenge. Some of the larger enemies can be a bit tricky to take down, but once you figure out how to deal with them, the challenge disappears almost completely. In fact, you can also now rewind time by increments of several minutes, which, don’t get me wrong, is an excellent addition and one that I appreciate massively- but it does blunt the difficulty even more.
"Pikmin 4 is yet another significant step forward in a series that has only ever improved with each new entry, and proves once again that Pikmin deserves way more love and attention than it gets."
From a visuals perspective, Pikmin 4 is a delightful game, to the extent that I was constantly surprised by how good it looks. No, it’s not a technical miracle by any means, but all of its environments are densly packed with detail, everything looks sharp and crisp, and the animations of enemies and Oatchi and the Pikmin themselves are a joy to witness. If I have one issue with the game’s technical aspects, it’s that there are too many loading screens that keep breaking up the action. Sure, each of them tends to be only about 10-15 seconds long, but the sheer volume of them did get on my nerves a little bit.
Even with the few relatively minor issues it has, Pikmin 4 is an excellent game. Coming a decade after the series’ last mainline instalment and eight years after it was first said to be nearing the end of development, Pikmin 4 had significant expectations to live up to, and it does so with surprising ease and confidence. It’s yet another significant step forward in a series that has only ever improved with each new entry, and proves once again that Pikmin deserves way more love and attention than it gets. In what’s clearly the twilight era of the Switch’s life, Nintendo has delivered yet another gem in its adorned library.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
Plays like a dream, thanks to excellent controls; Revamped camera is a major improvement; Several quality-of-life improvements make for a more refined Pikmin experience than ever before; Oatchi is an excellent new addition that radically changes and upgrades the gameplay experience; Solid new ancillar mechanics feel rewarding and contribute to the core loop in satisfying ways; Maps are large, densely packed with a variety of things to do, and boast consistently imaginative design; Exploration and collecting items never gets boring; Night expeditions are a fun addition; Dandori battles remain an absolute blast throughout the experience; Caves are excellently designed and consistently varied; Looks excellent.
Tends to be a bit too easy; Too many loading screens keep breaking up the action; Night expeditions can be a bit repetitive.