It’s the end of a productive day in Pikmin 4, and much to my surprise, I encounter a Porquillion, a large, shelled creature that fires sets of pointy spikes at me and my squad. Unfortunately, these spikes catch me off guard, leading to the demise of nearly half of my army of Pikmin.
Initially, frustration sinks in, but thanks to the game’s new checkpointing system, I’m able to retry the battle to get through without losing any Pikmin at all. In previous entries, I’d have to live with my mistakes. But Pikmin 4 prioritizes fun more than any of its predecessors.
Pikmin 4 is a quirky real-time strategy game in which you play as the newest Rescue Corps recruit. Your job is to save stranded castaways across a mysterious planet. Along the way, you encounter Pikmin, plant-like creatures that you can command to perform various tasks such as carrying objects, digging holes, or attacking alien creatures. The latest installment is bursting with thoughtful new features that make it the most approachable and fun entry to date.
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
But what exactly do you do in Pikmin 4? Much like a Metroidvania game, you explore large, wonderfully-crafted stages and unlock new abilities and Pikmin, which then help you complete tasks and reach previously inaccessible areas.
Each stage features a day/night cycle, and you must rally all of your Pikmin and escape before the sun goes down. This adds an intriguing time constraint that feels rewarding, yet approachable thanks to improvements from past iterations.
The original Pikmin games were a bit daunting, due in part to the strict day/night cycle and clunky gameplay mechanics. Specifically, in Pikmin 3, you reach a game over screen if you run out of food, forcing you to be as efficient as possible each in-game day, which causes more anxiety than fun.
But Pikmin 4 completely eliminates the need to continuously eat food, making it more approachable than ever before. Sure, being efficient is still useful and recommended, but you’re no longer penalized as hard for taking your time.
Likewise, you’re able to effectively reset to the last checkpoint with the use of the new “Rewind Time” feature, which lets you maximize your efficiency with each day. No longer are you penalized by making a small mistake this time around — yet another welcome addition for newcomers.
A Whole New World
The sheer wonder of arriving at a new stage in Pikmin 4 is unlike anything else, and is easily one of the game’s best aspects. You view each stage from the perspective of a two-inch explorer, and as such, everything around you seems massive. Flowers are immense and bodies of water are gargantuan, playing with size and perspective in a fun way. The stages in this entry are much larger than before, giving you much more to do, without overcomplicating things.
New in Pikmin 4 are the underground areas, which are much more linear and condensed. They feel more like dungeons with multiple floors, often leading to useful rewards at the end (like a new survivor or treasure). These break up the expansiveness of the above-ground world, offering more variety in terms of the layout and ways to play.
Since Pikmin 4 runs on a day/night cycle, you have to be careful with how you plan each day. But doing so effectively is immensely rewarding, especially after a substantial haul. Some days, you may bring in a slew of treasures and survivors, while others may only result in a handful of items. Eventually, you’ll learn how the Pikmin work and how to maximize your time, and that’s when the fun begins.
Nintendo has absolutely nailed the gameplay loop in Pikmin 4, incentivizing you to explore by littering obstacles and treasures throughout each stage. Come across a deadly electrical fence with no way to get through it? Just wait — the Yellow Pikmin can take it down with ease.
Once you discover the right Pikmin for a job, you’re free to explore a wide array of new areas. This rings true for nearly all the Pikmin in the game, pushing the player to find all the Pikmin as soon as possible. Because of this, I’ve never been more compelled to earn 100 percent in a game than in Pikmin 4. Stages are absolutely packed with a slew of treasures, survivors, and many other items to collect, nearly all of which offer some sort of gameplay benefit.
The survivors you rescue eventually offer certain services, such as the ability to purchase useful items or upgrade Oatchi’s abilities. These light RPG mechanics feel dynamic and offer clear incentives to replay — a nice touch compared to the much more linear predecessors.
On Your Toes
Things can get hectic in Pikmin 4, due to the deadly enemies you come across. Though they appear cute and cuddly, they’re all lethal and can take you and your Pikmin down with relative ease.
This forces you to be choosy with the Pikmin you bring along — as well as how you use them — so as to not lose them in battle. For instance, there are certain enemies with a hard shell, most easily cracked by using the Rock Pikmin. But sometimes, you’ll come across enemies under the water, meaning you’ll have to use the Blue Pikmin (which are the only ones that can swim). There are often multiple ways to take down your foes, giving you some freedom in terms of how you play.
All of what you’ve learned during each stage culminates during the climactic boss battles, which often require a combination of Pikmin to defeat. Certain bosses may fly overhead, encouraging you to use the Yellow Pikmin (which can be thrown farther), to take them down. Others might breathe fire, while some can only be hit at just the right time. These bosses are often colossal and challenging, but not frustrating, resulting in satisfying battles that often yield worthwhile results.
New in Pikmin 4 is the ability to embark on nighttime expeditions, which make use of the new Glow Pikmin. These segments require you to defend specific bases across each stage, which feels remarkably different from exploring during the day. While the nighttime missions aren’t as fleshed out as their daytime counterparts, they’re a nice addition that once again sprinkles more variation and variety into an already densely-packed experience.
Pikmin 4 does an admirable job of expanding upon its predecessors while simplifying some of the series’ lingering frustrations. This is the most approachable Pikmin to date, with satisfying gameplay systems that will appeal to a broad variety of players.
Pikmin 4 launches exclusively for Nintendo Switch on July 21, 2023.
INVERSE VIDEO GAME REVIEW ETHOS: Every Inverse video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth your time? Are you getting what you pay for? We have no tolerance for endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about a game’s design, world-building, character arcs, and storytelling come together. Inverse will never punch down, but we aren’t afraid to punch up. We love magic and science-fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are made.