This isn’t so much a review of Pikmin 4; it’s an appreciation. A celebration. I’ll still rate it, as I fully understand that’s what many readers will target here. But since reviews have been out for a month now, this is more about us joining the victory party than helping you determine whether to give Pikmin 4 a try.
You absolutely should, by the way. Pikmin 4 is my favorite game in the series. This is mostly because the new elements Nintendo has rolled in perfectly complement the core gameplay. Compare this to most of the recent Fire Emblem games, for example, where all the tacked-on diversions interrupt and distract from the action.
Before I get to those elements, here’s a quick setup. In Pikmin 4, our recurring hero Olimar has crash-landed his spaceship on an unknown planet. A rescue team is dispatched to save him, and they also crash land. You’re then sent to rescue all of them, and our adventure begins.
The planet is populated by a species called Pikmin, which is good news for you. These little fellows seem lost without having something to do, and they eagerly accept your every assignment. Toss them at enemies to kill them, at plants to harvest them, at objects to retrieve them.
Differently colored Pikmin have different specialties: red are strong and fast, yellow fly higher and are immune to electricity, and blue can swim. Those are your primary Pikmin, but various other types/colors can break sturdier objects, carry heavier items, fly, and more. New to Pikmin 4 is the Ice Pikmin, which can freeze water for easy traversal and freeze enemies for easy destruction.
Perhaps the biggest immediate change in Pikmin 4 is the communal feeling. Unlike Pikmin 1, 2, and 3—which focused on 1, 2, and 3 characters, respectfully—Pikmin 4 involves a growing commune of people who help in various ways. The more you play, the more rescuers and castaways you uncover. These characters can then be used to provide the training and items necessary to complete your goal of rescuing everyone and escaping the planet.
The gameplay progresses in intervals that provide a complete day to explore the area for various treasures, characters, and the precious sparklium that’s used to repair the ship, provide building materials, and unlock new abilities. Your available Pikmin can carry these items back to your ship, but you’ll first need to make sure you’ve cleaned out enemies along the way.
It’s also important to open more direct paths between the items and your ship. Pikmin 4 is big on the concept of “dandori,” which is described in the game as, “…the art of organizing your tasks strategically and working with maximum efficiency to execute your plans quickly.” Why make the Pikmin carry a treasure across the entire map when you can bust upon an electric gate and move your ship right next to where the treasure is? Why follow your Pikmin around as they harvest sparklium when they’re perfectly capable of carrying it on their own? Be efficient; you can (and should) have tasks running simultaneously.
It helps that you have a trusty companion this time. New to the Pikmin franchise is Oatchi, a dog, of sorts, that’s capable of carrying Pikmin on his back, attacking enemies, and defending his territory. Oatchi is able to reach areas that your character cannot, and he can control Pikmin when separated from you. He’s great when working with your character, especially for charged attacks that burst into an enemy and instantly fling all the Pikmin onto its back for heavy damage. But there will be times when separation is important, especially during the numerous challenges presented throughout the game. Oatchi learns new abilities throughout the game, allowing you to assign him objectives or just work with you on getting things done faster.
The latter is key, as there are numerous side-events in Pikmin 4 that are required for completion. These include two types of dandori battles in which you either must complete tasks in a certain amount of time or battle against another character in split-screen to see who can collect the most items within the time limit. These get very tough by the game’s end, but you don’t need to be perfect to complete them; achieving bronze level is enough to win, often resulting in the release of another castaway.
But you’re not done there. The castaways are inflicted with a leafy condition that makes them unidentifiable, so you’ll need to go on new night missions to obtain the luminol that can cure them. These are basically tower defense levels in which you and Oatchi must defend one or two luminol bases with the help of Glow Pikmin. These new creatures are obtained by carrying sparklium back to the luminous, but if you spend too much time collecting, you won’t be able to defend. Stressful? Yes. But if you’re having trouble, you can bypass them altogether by having a castaway complete them for you.
It’s certainly a lot more to manage than in previous Pikmin games. As I mentioned earlier, however, each new gameplay element serves a purpose. They complement each other well, breaking up the gameplay mechanics just enough to keep things feeling fresh as you build your dandori skills. I also believe this is why—unlike with Pikmin 3—there is no true co-op multiplayer. A second player can help you fight by tossing pebbles at monsters, but you can’t explore with a partner. Why? Dandori. The very point of Pikmin is to use the resources available to you to organize your tasks into efficiently achieved objectives. Relying on a second player would somewhat defeat that purpose.
Let’s also not forget that they all look fantastic. Whether you’re above ground or underground—exploring by day or by night—the world of Pikmin 4 is wonderfully detailed and lushly colored. It’s a beautiful game that’s easy to get lost in.
There’s plenty more I could cover here, but I think it’s time to let you appreciate the game on your own. If you haven’t already tried the game, the demo is still available. And no worries if you’ve never played Pikmin before; Pikmin 4 is a great place to start. The games get tougher as you go back, and they’re all available on the Switch. Join the celebration, won’t you?