Pikmin 4 Review – A Charming Switch Home Run

    Title: Pikmin 4
    Developer: Nintendo
    Release Date: July 21, 2023
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Genre: Real-Time Strategy, Adventure

When first thinking about Nintendo’s vast catalog, real-time strategy is one of the last genres you’d think would be on the minds of this first-party team. Still, the Pikmin series continues to see releases across multiple console generations. Although Pikmin 4’s development has been lengthy since its first reveal, Nintendo has once again taken this series and the genre to new heights. The result is a whimsical adventure full of challenge and charm that should be in every Switch owner’s library.

Pikmin 4 stars a nameable protagonist sent on a vital mission to save the Rescue Corps, who became lost after heading off to save the stranded Captain Olimar. The narrative surprisingly takes its time setting the stage as players become acquainted or reacquainted with Olimar before he sends out a signal and shifts the perspective to you, the protagonist.

After landing on the planet where the Rescue Corps is helpless, you become companions with the group’s space dog, Oatchi, and are tasked with finding the other crewmates. In these early moments, I found the customization options for the player character fairly limited and followed by lengthy tutorials that really hurt the opening’s pacing. Interestingly, this doesn’t reflect on the later segments of gameplay, but you’ll need some patience as the game acclimates you to the various systems.

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Once you reach the natural gameplay loop, though, you’re in for a flavorful treat. Essentially, your primary goal is to find missing members of the Rescue Corps, other castaways, and, hopefully, the leading man himself, Olimar. But to do that, you’ll need to increase your search area, made up of a series of tasks all on its own. Utilizing the Pikmin you’ll encounter on your travels, as well as the space dog Oatchi, you’ll uncover treasure and other valuables that provide the essence known as Sparklium. After each milestone, the group’s search radius will increase.

Materials and treasure can be discovered on the surface and within caves comprised of multiple sub-levels offering many areas to explore. The series’ fundamentals are in place, as the Pikmin, made up of unique types, can carry objects that vary in weight and size. Pikmin can battle enemies, too, but they are fragile and can be quickly lost if you don’t plan out a strategy. Knowing how many Pikmin to have at a given time adds to the necessary planning stages and creates a few challenging sections as you do what you can within the maximum limit of Pikmin available, which does change over time.

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The original Red, Yellow, and Blue trio is back, but there are some other types that may be familiar to some, along with new species. My favorite, by far, is the Ice Pikmin. These variations can freeze water and enemies, who are then left vulnerable as the remaining Pikman cause high damage. I found myself having a decent number of Ice types with me since their ability to make enemies immobile can lighten the challenge of some fights. Winged Pikmin, originating from Pikmin 3, are also helpful because they can fly and bypass traps that cause difficulty to other types.

Oatchi also lends a hand and allows the Pikmin to ride on top of him while assisting in battles and carrying items to the ship. Plus, he can be upgraded to improve his capabilities, such as increasing his stats and enhancing his swimming skills. Your own health and base attributes can also be improved. There are even moments where you can switch to Oatchi and split up, so he can be considered a protagonist of his own in a sense. You’ll be using him constantly, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Oatchi the most significant new feature of this entry.

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After a few missions, I found Pikmin 4’s gameplay loop to be exceptionally addictive. Each mechanic feeds into the other brilliantly, as every completed mission objective rewards the player. For example, when you rescue a castaway, Oatchi receives an upgrade point. Then you can use those abilities after examining the environment to reach other rewards that provide more Sparklium enabling new regions of discovery and Pikmin; rinse and repeat.

Further, there are raw materials scattered around each area to keep progression fresh. Not to be confused with treasure or other valuables, these raw materials are used to craft inventions and open up inaccessible paths on the maps. Their multi-faceted uses make them invaluable during exploration.

The inventions themselves are varied in utility. For instance, one calls back idle Pikmin to a set location, while another is a bomb that doubles as an obstacle destroyer and enemy slayer. You have a respectable selection of items to craft, making these choices a vital facet of player individuality. While this may seem like a lot to take in, Pikmin 4 manages to implement a seemingly overbearing assortment of systems elegantly to the player.

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However, with all that praise being said, there is one gameplay feature I’m somewhat mixed on, and that is the option to rewind time. You can do this at any point to undo mistakes, and while the windows to return to are pre-set, the number of times you can rewind is unlimited. Coupling this with the no-day limit, this seems a little too generous.

I would’ve preferred the rewind option to only be usable a certain amount per day. Granted, you can ignore the option entirely if you’d like and stick to the consequences of your actions. So, there’s at least that. I just wish it was contained within its own choosable mode from the very start for beginners who wanted it.

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On an offhanded note, I highly recommend going into the settings and disabling the motion controls since they’re on by default and can ruin you in stressful situations, like a struggle against a boss. Speaking of, the boss fights in Pikmin 4 are mostly memorable. Not all of them hit the mark, but those that do are inventive in presentation and concept, leaving lasting impressions.

Another gameplay element worth noting is the Dandori Battles. These can be accessed from the main menu and are competitions where you use your Pikmin and Oatchi to gather and bring back as many collectibles as possible. This can be done in multiplayer, though it’s also in the story mode at select locations. These bouts against a mystery individual instill the experience with a freshness that prevents any potential repetitiveness found in the core gameplay loop, and it never overstays its welcome. There are nighttime expeditions, too, though there isn’t much to say about them; they’re tower defense-like scenarios that are fairly lenient in time and overall requirements.

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Surprisingly, I found a lot of joy in reading entries within the Voyage Log. These are notes from Olimar you’ll obtain as you progress that add context to the mechanics and Pikmin traits. Still, some humor is injected here and there, so they’re worth checking out. The Rescue Journal also has noteworthy comments you may consider significant if you’d like to learn a bit more about the cast. The Rescue Corps is far from the main draw of the title, but they can make you crack a smile every now and then.

Regarding performance, I don’t recall any memorable instances of slowdown. Pikmin 4 feels lovingly optimized; both docked and in handheld mode. Nintendo has a tradition of making fantastically-running games for their hybrid device, and Pikmin 4 is no different. It runs and plays like a dream. If there are problems present, they’re likely minor enough for me not to notice.

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Pikmin 4 is one of the best Switch experiences I’ve had. There’s an addictive gameplay cycle where every moment spent playing is rewarded with vast new areas to explore and tools to discover. Further, the added Dandori Battles for multiplayer and rankings provides appreciated replayablity. The expanded narrative isn’t overbearing on the experience, and Oatchi only adds to the overall charm found during every moment of gameplay. Sure, the lengthy opening tutorial isn’t completely necessary, but getting past that reveals one of the most wholesome gaming experiences you’ll have this year.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.