Pikmin 4 (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Michael McCann 05.08.2023

Review for Pikmin 4 on Nintendo Switch

How to follow up a rave review for the recently released ports of Pikmin 1+2 on Nintendo Switch? Many of the beats will feel similar, superficially so, as there is a direct delineation from that review to this one. One must reinvent and keep things fresh despite having to use a lot of the same words and cover a lot of the same ground and talking points. Indeed, Pikmin 4 can be categorised as a RTS-lite action puzzle title, but a review of it must top the one of that for its predecessors, naturally, taking into account the learned wisdom and experience gained from the original work. It is a difficult task, especially with all of the hype and speculation surrounding the long wait for this review. Perhaps it needs an all new angle? Some line of difference hewn in the great tapestry of video game review history? That's what Nintendo would do. How about a brand new character? Perhaps an upgradable bipedal dog-type thing that's capable of fundamentally shaking a review up from end to end? That could do it.

Disregarding the influence of featuring prominently on the marketing materials, Oatchi, that bipedal dog-type-thing, is undoubtedly the most immediately evident component of Pikmin 4 that distinguishes it from previous titles in the series. Much as 'twas before, control is assumed of one or multiple of the spacefaring Hocotate, which, by various contrivances in each title, find themselves stranded on an alien-yet-familiar planet. There they discover an ally in a flowerlike creature called Pikmin, and so it is that the titular Pikmin can be directed simultaneously in droves or from any division therein to assist in objectives and tasks ordained by the parameters of the game design.

It operates much like a strategy title that might have one command troops into the field and multitask between those commands; for example, between fighting in a battle or defending a castle. In Pikmin 4, however, that castle would be a mound of dirt and the battle could have in its place a giant Game Boy Advance SP that needs to be transported to a spaceship, and the addition of Oatchi here fundamentally augments the usual formula by way of giving an almost super-like Pikmin to also assist in the field.

Screenshot for Pikmin 4 on Nintendo Switch

Oatchi is a weird character design for sure, presenting like the boss-eyed, gammy, respiratory problem dog that's always passed over in the kennel for one that is more typically conventional. Much like this imaginary dog, though, a fondness grows for Oatchi quickly - rather, not in spite of its quirkiness but because of it. It helps that Oatchi has a lot of utility in Pikmin 4. They can be controlled independently, as a replacement for the character swapping of Pikmin 2 or Pikmin 3, or can be made use of as a vehicle, acting as a transport to protagonist and Pikmin, or even kept in the cycle of the immediate party and, as aforementioned, utilised like a type of super Pikmin.

It is a welcome divergence from the established gameplay loop and creates far more mechanical options than ever for accomplishing tasks, even if it does become more than a little overpowered in practice as well. Oatchi is more resilient and has the strength of multiple Pikmin in one character, for the sake of argument. Enemies can be taken down and heavier treasures can be collected just by Oatchi alone. Furthermore, by riding on their back, an extra layer of protection is afforded to the Pikmin as they can totally bypass obstacles, such as bodies of water, that would normally be more of an issue in previous instalments.

Screenshot for Pikmin 4 on Nintendo Switch

Other new additions include nighttime expeditions, consumable items, upgrade trees, dandori battles, and new ice and glow-type Pikmin. Therefore, although Oatchi may be hogging the limelight on the game box, there is much more in this package contributing to a fuller experience overall, and certainly it is the most packed Pikmin title to date. With that comes more tutorialisation and, as oft bemoaned, this ends up being one of the few gripes with Pikmin 4.

It is understandable that Nintendo wants to cater to a broad demographic, and that one of the more important to them not to alienate is younger players, but too often does it put a hard stop to the gameplay in exchange for slow moving text-box patter or will cover the HUD in button prompts that one has already been made aware of multiple times prior. Both of these examples aren't deal breakers, but neither are they particularly desired by the seasoned player or offered an option to bypass.

The writing isn't bad by any stretch, either - it does a lot of character building and tone setting, which will be enjoyed by many - but in place of the reactive journals or logs of previous titles it comes off as rather longwinded and not quite as effective. This criticism extends to the hub area, which is returned to between missions to either stock up, upgrade or chat to tertiary characters. It seems like an attempt to prescribe and make Pikmin more appealing to modern sensibilities, but these implementations slow down the pace too hard and too often, distracting from the core appeal.

Screenshot for Pikmin 4 on Nintendo Switch

That said, a lot of these design decisions do play into affirming a framework for Pikmin 4 that is to be the most casual Pikmin title to date. Whereas Pikmin 3 nodded more towards the original Pikmin by incorporating a time limit mechanic on proceedings, albeit much more forgiving, Pikmin 4 is a bit more like Pikmin 2 in the sense that it places no such restriction on the main adventure, allowing one to take as much time as they like to 100% any given map and progress through the story. That, and, well, the return of caves, which are much improved here.

It is much more varied and less focused in that sense, but offers quite a few more gameplay loops than previous titles to get stuck into. There is a pattern present in Pikmin 4 that Nintendo has employed on a lot of their titles recently, whereby it sets up the main experience to be quite an accessible and easy-going affair, but then hides a surprise of more hardcore modes and challenges within the postgame. Taking this into account, Pikmin 4 attempts and largely succeeds in incorporating the best parts from the entire series.

The map design and world in Pikmin 4 is more vibrant and just as charming as ever, too. The amount of detail and the sense of scale that the designs afford is without a doubt at the series' best. Some levels even have conditional states now that will change on the fly and affect the way they will need to be traversed, or even how the Pikmin will need to be organised to traverse them. Elements like a sand castle or garden bench in a level, for example, become recontextualised from the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-like perspective, and the way in which Pikmin 4 continually dishes out these creative ideas never fails to raise a smile.

Screenshot for Pikmin 4 on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

There is nothing out there that plays or feels quite like Pikmin. This might be part of the reason why it hasn't "exploded more in sales," as Shigeru Miyamoto put it in a July Nintendo Ask the Developer interview, pertaining to, though not directly, a little bit of that "difficulty" he describes. It could also be posited that there is a factor of abstraction to being the sole agent in control of every facet of one's own fate (a factor that was attributed erroneously to The Last Guardian as a criticism, too), preventing it from mass appeal. It is not helped by the fact that Pikmin 4 has been put out at a time relatively close to Nintendo's behemoth The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and an otherwise already hugely stacked year for video games. Make no mistake about it, though, Pikmin 4 is one of the best video game releases of 2023.

Developer

Nintendo

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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