Captain Olimar is stranded on a mysterious planet. It’s up to you to rescue him. Together with your crew, you set off on your spaceship. But what turns out? Building spaceships is apparently not a strong point of your civilization, because the rescue ship crashes as well. Now you have to rely on two things to save yourself: your time management skills and the crazy little plants called Pikmin. Does Pikmin 4 bring anything new to the series or is it a slight repetition of moves?
The Pikmin series may not be as popular as Smash Bros, Mario Kart or Legend of Zelda, but it has always guaranteed entertaining games. Pikmin (2001), Pikmin 2 (2004) and Pikmin 3 (2013) managed to add new features to the franchise with each installment. The biggest jump was from the second to the third volume when the switch from SD to HD graphics was made. With each volume also came new types of Pikmin to explore the world with, and Pikmin 4 is no exception. But more on that later.
An adventure story
The story begins when the Rescue Corps receives a distress call from Captain Olimar and sets out on a journey to rescue him. The Rescue Corps team has a new team member that you have to shape through a character creator at the beginning of the game. Of course, this concerns your playable character and you can shape him or her however you want. From types of noses to hairstyles to the color of your spacesuit.
You begin with a starting point from which to explore a map. The locations you and your Pikmin visit range from wooded environments to beaches and even a home that appears to be populated by humans. Within those locations, you will logically find enemies to defeat with your Pikmin, items to collect and special dungeons to descend into and find new challenges there as well. Such dungeons sometimes include Danbori levels, but they are often an afterthought in the story. In the game’s main menu, they have been given their own mode consisting of levels with a time limit in which you must collect items as quickly as possible to score points and defeat your opponent. In this mode, your main task is to use your Pikmin as efficiently as possible. Put Stone Pikmin to work demolishing a wall while your Red Pikmin attack enemies and defuse lava. Completing a Danbori level is not very difficult, but when you want to earn a gold or platinum medal, you have to be especially smart by splitting Pikmin into multiple groups and dividing your time between them.
New friends to get to know
Within the story of Pikmin, you are soon confronted with two new types of Pikmin to use to navigate your way through the locations. Pretty soon you encounter Ice Pikmin that you can use to freeze large areas of water and then be able to walk over them with your other Pikmin. The Ice Pikmin can additionally freeze enemies temporarily, after which they are a lot easier to defeat by your Red Pikmin. The other new species are Glow Pikmin. You’ll only encounter these during the night missions, and during those outings you’ll have to play more of a tower-defense-like mission than the normal setup of levels that take place during the day. You are given a small base to protect and you must use the Glow Pikmin to replenish supplies to spawn new Pikmin. Do you and your base manage to survive the night? Then you have passed the mission and can choose to use your Glow Pikmin for the daytime missions as well.
Besides the various levels and main missions, Pikmin 4 also contains a lot of sidequests to complete. For example, you’ll have to find stranded travelers, improve x number of Pikmin by making them drink nectar, and collect specific collections of items. For example, you’ll find musical instruments scattered throughout the levels. Have you collected all the instruments? Then you get a reward in the form of crystals that you can use in the levels to build bridges to explore new areas, or you choose to use those crystals to unlock upgrades for both your character and Otchi.
This two-legged canine is the biggest gameplay innovation. You can use Otchi to collect items, run into tunnels to flip switches or attack enemies. When you train him, you can improve his attack power, he can carry multiple Pikmin or swim faster. You get those upgrades by rescuing crew members and other people, which results in basically a constant gameplay loop of taking risks and earning rewards. Constantly switching between groups of Pikmin, your character and Otchi means that at first glance it can be quite chaotic to move through the levels, but because the game’s gameplay is tightly structured you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
A colorful immersive world
Pikmin 4 looks very good graphically. Although your characters, Otchi and Pikmin have a somewhat cartoonish style in terms of design, the world around you is rendered quite realistically. It pays to use the map and plan a smart route to get around as efficiently as possible. Although Pikmin 4 still uses a day and night cycle and you only have a limited amount of time to complete all the missions, the time limit is never very restrictive.
I saw the credits roll after twenty-five hours of play, but after that the adventure is not yet complete. In fact, the Pikmin games have a knack for presenting you with a mountain of additional missions after completing the main mission. Pikmin 4 is certainly no exception. I won’t spoil exactly what these missions are after the first credits, but there are certainly aspects that hark back to the very first Pikmin game, and the excellent challenge structure keeps you playing. It never gets frustrating if you get it right and the game slowly but surely builds towards that in an excellent way. Because I was constantly discovering and unlocking new things I kept picking up the game. After more than forty hours of play, I haven’t quite finished the game at one hundred percent, but the end is now in sight. I still want to rescue crew members and bring the story to a really good conclusion, and that just goes to show how much fun I’m having with Pikmin 4.
Pikmin 4 is more of the same, but after the amazing Pikmin 3 Deluxe, that’s not a bad thing at all. More types of Pikmin, more challenges, more areas to explore and most importantly a lot more to do. The Danbori levels are a nice change from the normal story-driven levels, and getting Platinum medals provides enough rewards to spend time in there. Pikmin 4 actually has something for everyone. Accessible and easy to pick up but also deep and challenging toward the end of the story. Pikmin 4 is a delightful game to take on the road this summer when you get a little tired of the hustle and bustle around you.