Screenshot by GameSkinny

Pikmin 4 Review: Pikmin, Puzzles, and Pups — Oh, My!

A perfect entry point for newcomers, and a delightful return for experienced players.

Pikmin first bloomed in my heart with the original release, and Pikmin 4 is a delightful reminder of what the puzzle game brings to the RTS genre. Each discovery adds to your expedition, compounding into an all-out colorful and entertaining game that encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of its world. This cult classic comeback will entertain newcomers and experienced players alike.

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From the get-go, Pikmin 4 sets itself ahead of its predecessors with a brand-new character customization feature. Considering the 10-year gap between games, the personalization opens the door to new players who aren’t familiar with the original protagonist, Captain Olimar. Rest assured, he’s still a main component of Pikmin 4, but this go-around, he needs our help, setting the stage for the story to come.

Pikmin 4 Review: Pikmin, Puzzles, and Pups — Oh, My!

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Pikmin 4 is, at its core, a search and rescue mission, and to complete the task at hand, you’ll be solving puzzles and slaying a variety of alien creatures. The game opens with an overwhelming amount of tutorials, but once you get past the how-to’s, you’ll be enchanted by the whimsical world of Planet PNF-404 — And you can explore at your own pace, because unlike previous installments, the story doesn’t have a time-limit.

Each day will begin from the humble but beautifully-designed outpost of the Rescue Command, where you’ll meet your crew and catch up with rescued Castaways. The Castaways, while not the stars of the show, offer their own charming backstories — from the budding archaeologist to the fashionable stylist, they’re a lively bunch, and I found myself looking forward to meeting each one.

Returning to the outpost is a key component of the game because it’s where you’ll perform upgrades, construct gear, and train the newest addition, Oatchi. Oatchi is a two-legged dog, who proves to be your best friend on your adventure. The lovable furball will assist you in a multitude of ways, like sniffing out the in-game resource Sparklium, fighting monsters, and hauling Treasure.

Most notably, Oatchi is a mount for you and your army of Pikmin. If you’re a newcomer to the series, the Pikmin are your subservient leafy minions who will follow your every order — even if it leads to their doom. At the start, Oatchi is a shy pup who needs some encouragement and training to unlock his true potential. Thankfully, he has his very own skill tree for you to unlock at your own pace.

It didn’t take long for me to grow fond of Oatchi. The endearing space dog offers a solution to many in-game struggles that would trouble the newer player or perhaps frustrate the veteran. He’ll learn to swim, allowing you to traverse to areas of the map with all types of Pikmin, not just those that can swim themselves.

Additionally, Oatchi will allow you to travel through tight areas without any Pikmin going astray, which helps prevent some backtracking. He can even charge enemies or objects, dealing damage or helping knock Treasure down from out of reach. The pup is undoubtedly a good boy, and I hope he’s here to stay.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

The puzzles of Pikmin 4 often have calculated solutions, where you’ll be synchronizing your Pikmin selection with the puzzle at hand. The trick is, Pikmin 4 only allows you to have three Pikmin types out at a time, tightening the reins a bit. However, when entering the dungeon-like cave puzzles, the game offers you an “auto” selection, which provides you with the best three Pikmin types for your run. Once again, it’s a warm welcome to newer players.

The caves are a necessary challenge in the game. At first approachable and simplistic, they grow in depth and difficulty as you progress in the game, and rightfully so. The underground puzzles will introduce you to new enemies, Pikmin types, and plenty of Treasure. What’s more, they take place in a suspended timezone, so while you’re under the pressure of a daytime clock on ground level, you’re free to take your time beneath the surface. 

The caves will often have a boss at the end, but the battles never ceased to surprise me with their creative attacks. From dance-inducing smoke bombs to mysterious interdimensional beings, I looked forward to the discovery of what Nintendo had in store for me.

While the world of Pikmin 4 is cartoonish and cutesy, you can quickly cross paths with an oversized enemy or an aforementioned boss that demolishes your Pikmin and leads to a cascade of last breaths. Now, I’m appreciative of my minion’s endless efforts and much prefer the tune of their battle cries, so watching their tiny souls drift off into the abyss broke my heart because these little cuties really just don’t deserve it. Thankfully, Pikmin 4 has introduced an undo button: Rewind Time.

Rewind Time will take you back to your last save-point, like when you arrived at a certain location. So, the feature isn’t a free-for-all and feels like it’s designed to be a last resort rather than a tool you use just because. I wasn’t annoyed by this, because I wanted to feel like I had something on the line. Rewind Time could’ve easily been a feature that over-simplified things, but because of its restraints, the game maintains its stride.

Screenshot by GameSkinny

Speaking of time, as a franchise first, you’ll be able to explore at nighttime thanks to the introduction of Glow Pikmin. The Glow Pikmin are a visually interesting bunch, but you only interact with them in the limited night mode. They’ll assist you in curing the altered Leafling Castaways that you’ll rescue throughout the game by harvesting medicine in a mini-tower defense mode. The mini-game has varying difficulty depending on which area you pick, so it’s a somewhat customizable experience. You’ll return to the mini-game each time you’re in need of more glow-sap medicine.

The Glow Pikmin aren’t the only thing bringing a mini-game. The Leafling Castaways will make you play a game of Dandori to rescue them. Dandori, Japanese for strategic planning, is a race against the clock to obtain the most Treasure in a cave, often set in colorful backdrops. You’ll either play against a Leafling in a race to the finish or just play against a time limit.

In a single-player format, this game mode fell a little flat for me because I just wanted to get back to the rest of the game. However, Dandori offers the best co-op experience in Pikmin 4 by far. Dandori Battle is a standalone mode available from the Pikmin 4 menu, and I had a blast in the local co-op mini-game. While I didn’t feel the competitive incentive when pitted against a Leafling, the PvP mode was a good time that I’d return to. It follows the same Dandori format, except you’ll gain the addition of randomized attack items, like a lightning strike.

Co-op elsewhere fails to impress. The Dandori Battle mode also offers a 2-Player vs CPU mode, and the second player is left simply dropping health and attack boosts during the match, which really puts them in the backseat. The same goes for the two-player story mode, so if you’re looking for a co-op experience in Pikmin 4, your best bet is the PvP Dandori Battle.

Pikmin 4 Review — The Bottom Line

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Pros

  • Oatchi takes the cake
  • Welcoming to newcomers and veterans alike
  • Consistently builds upon itself throughout

Cons

  • Co-op is one dimensional
  • Approachability might bore the experienced Olimar
  • Takes a little to get going

Overall, Pikmin 4 was worth the wait and is a joy that will make new fans of the franchise. While slow at the start, when the going gets good, it just doesn’t stop. The puzzles grow in difficulty at the right pace, and each new mechanic adds an interesting yet intuitive layer. I relished my time with the game, and l didn’t experience any performance issues whatsoever.

Throughout my time playing, I looked forward to uncovering each new biome’s secrets. The Treasures are a nostalgic nod to tokens of the past, like an Ocarina or Ring-Pop, and the notion of discovery motivated me to seek them out. Additionally, the freedom to complete the story at my own pace encouraged me to experience all the game had to offer.

In general, it’s tough to find flaws in Pikmin 4. The welcoming quality-of-life changes might feel like a watered-down experience for some fans, that is, until the difficulty ramps up late game. Aside from that, if anyone is looking forward to a quality two-player experience, you’ll be limited to the Dandori Battle mode. However, when it comes to the core gameplay, Pikmin 4 is a game that just keeps giving, creating a memorable, charming experience.

[Note: Nintendo provided the Switch copy of Pikmin 4 used for this review.]

9
Pikmin 4 Review: Pikmin, Puzzles, and Pups — Oh, My!
A perfect entry point for newcomers, and a delightful return for experienced players.

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Author
Maddison Ahlbrand
Maddison started her gamer journey traversing the lands of Runescape and World of Warcraft. These days, she can be found playing just about anything, but a lot of her free time is spent playing FPS games like Fortnite, CoD and Valorant. She's been with GameSkinny since February 2023, and has a BA in Art History.