Counting down the days...
There’s never been a better time to be a Pikmin fan! In 2021 the Pikmin Bloom app launched, which is still going strong; Pikmin 1 and 2 just received shiny HD Switch ports; And now, a decade after the release of Pikmin 3 on the Wii U, we’re finally getting a brand new mainline entry in the form of Pikmin 4. I got to play around with Pikmin 4 for a little over an hour, including a chunk of the single-player campaign and the multiplayer versus mode, and I couldn’t be more excited to jump back in once the full game is released.
In Pikmin 4, Captain Olimar has once again crash landed on a mysterious (yet strangely familiar) planet, and you are enlisted as part of the rescue party to seek him out. Unfortunately, your ship also crashes on the way there. Oops. Now, not only do you have to save Olimar, but you also have to find the other members of your scattered crew after their embarrassing unplanned landing.
If you’re familiar with the Pikmin series, you should feel right at home once you dive into the game, as many of the series’ core elements remain intact. At the start of each day, you’ll leave your ship and access your Onion, which is where all of your Pikmin are stored. You’ll choose some of them to extract, which you’ll then be able to lead around the environment. You’ll be throwing the cute little guys at enemies, obstacles, and puzzles in your path, discovering treasures, crew members, and other secrets along the way. Again, that core formula is more or less the same as past Pikmin games. However, there are definitely some changes at play here that make this feel like the start of a bigger, grander experience.
To put it simply, Pikmin 4 is gorgeous. The Switch is certainly starting to show its age graphically when compared with Sony and Microsoft’s AAA offerings. Yet the wizards at Nintendo are somehow continually able to squeeze every bit of juice they can out of this system. Pikmin 4 looks breathtaking in comparison to previous entries, enticing you to look behind every corner.
The world of Pikmin is depicted fairly realistically, and it’s absolutely a graphical showcase for the Switch with enhanced lighting adding new depth and dimension to the environments. I also found the animations to be more detailed. As you pluck Pikmin from the ground, they bounce and flip in the air like nimble little acrobats. Everything feels lively and energized.
Exploration is a huge part of Pikmin, of course. Although I was only able to explore one area during my playthrough, the environment felt larger and more open than in previous games. Part of that is due to the camera, which you’re able to manipulate much more easily before. Rather than a fixed overhead angle, you can reposition it behind your character however you like. As a result, areas feel larger and more immediate.
One of the biggest new additions that players will notice right away is your new friend, Oatchi. Oatchi is an adorable, yellow space dog, and he’ll be accompanying you on your mission at all times, carrying out tasks as you see fit. If you’ve got all these Pikmin around, what do you need Oatchi for? Trust me, he is incredibly useful in addition to being incredibly cute.
For starters, you can use Oatchi a lot like a normal Pikmin, to attack enemies, carry objects, or break down obstacles in your way. You can also get on his back and ride him around (Don’t worry, all of your Pikmin will join you). Not only is this a lot of fun (and again, cute), it will also give you access to Oatchi’s jumping and swimming abilities. This will make it a lot easier to overcome small steps and barriers that you or your Pikmin couldn’t normally handle on your own.
If you’d like, you can also completely split up from Oatchi and control him separately, swapping back and forth between the two characters in completely different locations. This option comes in handy for various puzzles and will be familiar to anyone who played Pikmin 3, where you were able to control two or three captains at a time. Oatchi is not quite as versatile as you are - He can’t control Pikmin after all - but you will find uses for him when it comes to various puzzles.
A big focus of Pikmin 4 seems to be in making it accessible to new players, and Oatchi helps contribute to that as well. One of Oatchi’s main skills allows him to sniff out items of interest. Even though the world feels larger and more open now, you can ask him for help if you get stuck. He might sniff out a treasure, or a cave, or something else entirely, but he’s always going to lead you to somewhere useful, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.
Pikmin 4 has a time limit for each day just like previous games, but now there’s also a rewind functionality built right into the game. At any time if you lost some Pikmin or made a mistake or just want to start over for any reason, you can rewind to an earlier point. You can do this as many times as you want without being penalized. This is great news for anyone who feels too much pressure and gets stressed out when dealing with time limits in games. Of course, if you’re a veteran Pikmin player looking for more of a challenge, you’re free to ignore this feature completely.
As you explore, you’ll also be able to move your Onion to set locations as you move around the world. This new feature is super helpful and feels very freeing. In past games, there would often be a moment of panic as the sun began to set and you had to worry about getting back home in time. With this new option, things can feel less stressful while still allowing for bigger game areas and increased player agency.
Motion controls are back as an optional feature in Pikmin 4 for anyone who appreciated their inclusion in Pikmin 3 or the Wii versions of the first two games. Whether playing with Joy-Cons or the Pro Controller, you’ll be able to aim using motion when throwing Pikmin or summoning them back to you with your whistle. Playing with the Pro Controller, motion added a welcome bit of extra accuracy, making it easier to throw Pikmin farther or higher when needed. (Don’t worry, this feature can be disabled if it’s not your cup of tea.)
There are two new Pikmin types in Pikmin 4, in addition to the seven original Pikmin, all of which are confirmed to be featured in the game. I didn’t get to experience the new nighttime levels, so I didn’t have the chance to see how Glow Pikmin worked. I did get to mess around with the other new type however: Ice Pikmin.
After throwing Pikmin at an enemy that breathed ice, they immediately transformed into Ice Pikmin. These guys have a couple of special abilities. For one, they will freeze enemies upon contact, stunning them so they can’t attack you or your Pikmin. If an enemy is still frozen when you finish it off, it will drop additional nectar, which you can use to power your Pikmin up faster. However, doing so will get rid of the enemy’s body, so you will not be able to carry it back to your base to produce more Pikmin.
Because of this, you now have an additional strategic choice anytime you find yourself in a battle: Use your Ice Pikmin for an easier fight and more nectar, or hold them back because you need more new Pikmin. In addition, there will be new obstacles in the environment that you will need Ice Pikmin to freeze in order to break them down and get through to new areas beyond.
Also returning in Pikmin 4 are caves. As you progress through the game, you’ll discover entrances to underground caves which could have one or more levels. In caves, the time limit no longer applies, so you have all the time in the world to find every single secret within. I only checked out two caves during my playtime, so I can’t speak to how difficult they’ll be in general, or what later caves might contain; however, based on the two that I entered, it seems like there’s going to be a bigger variety of experiences found within.
One of my caves featured a series of conveyor belts and switches, requiring me to use Oatchi to press buttons that changed the conveyor belts’ directions. By doing so at the right times, I could safely move my Pikmin across to the areas I needed to reach.
This felt like a natural and welcome expansion of puzzles from past Pikmin games, and I am personally really excited to explore more of those caves in the final game. They gave me a similar feeling to discovering the shrines in Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Tears of the Kingdom; you never quite know what to expect inside, but you can assume there will be some kind of clever puzzle along with some neat secrets.
One of those secrets could be new crew members that you need to rescue, and these aren’t just for points or for completion’s sake; they’re going to have their own unique abilities to aid you in your quest. For example, I found an unfinished bridge that required a specific captain who had the power to convert materials in the environment into something that could be used to complete the bridge. In general, features like this give the game a little bit more of an RPG-like feel, as you’ll be unlocking new upgrades and abilities frequently early on.
That extends to Oatchi as well. He actually has his own skill tree, and as you play, you can upgrade it as you see fit in order to make him stronger, faster, etc. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to pet Oatchi even though he is clearly a very good boy. Instead, you can show him affection by feeding him bones which will temporarily increase his health.
Oatchi upgrades and other captains with their various abilities will be available in a new hub area near your ship, which exists outside the normal time limit of your day-to-day play. Here, you’re able to have dialogue with the other captains, access menus, and upgrade skill trees. With all of these new features and upgrade options, it feels like another layer of depth has been introduced to Pikmin.
While there’s not a full co-op campaign mode as there was in Pikmin 3, you do have a couple of multiplayer options in Pikmin 4. First, there’s a co-op mode in which a second player can assist the main player as an invisible helper, similar to a feature that originated in Super Mario Galaxy. In this version, the second player can shoot pebbles at objects or enemies as a way of helping out. They also have access to a selection of useful items with various effects.
It’s definitely not a full co-op mode, and might be disappointing for anyone who was hoping for something like that. However, it seems like that might have been a much bigger undertaking considering the new camera functions and other features present.
There is, however, a complete two-player battle mode in Pikmin 4 called Dandori Battle. (Dandori is a Japanese concept relating to the art of strategic planning, something Shigeru Miyamoto has apparently taken a real liking to.) In Dandori Battle, you compete with another player to get more treasures and points than them by the end of the match. This is an exciting and competitive mode that should entertain anyone who enjoyed the battle modes in past Pikmin titles, and there are some new wrinkles this time around, including a variety of new power-up items that can be found and used against your opponent.
Late in the match, there’s a possibility that a new item called the Sneak Bomb can appear. If you have your Pikmin carry the Sneak Bomb over to your opponent’s Onion, some of their previously collected treasures will shoot out of it and scatter on the ground. Then, you can either steal those treasures, or simply force your opponent to regather them while you take care of other business.
The Sneak Bomb works as a catch-up mechanic for the player who’s lagging behind, but it can be used against them too. There’s a little tug-of-war that usually occurs, as you and your opponent’s Pikmin can both try to carry items simultaneously, with priority going to whoever has the most units attached. It can be super suspenseful and make for some dramatic finishes when that Sneak Bomb is moving back and forth next to your Onion right at the last second.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time with Pikmin 4, and find it hard to believe how much there was to talk about from only one brief play session. In terms of single-player content, I played through maybe a day and a half of in-game time, and that time absolutely flew by. I was having a blast, admiring the beautiful environments, exploring every nook and cranny, and learning what Oatchi could do.
There’s still plenty I didn’t get to experience, including nighttime missions, more abilities, environments, and story content. I cannot wait to go back to this world and explore every little bit of it that the game has to offer. Based on my time with it, this could end up being the best and most expansive Pikmin game so far.