After a decade of waiting for a new entry in this fan-favourite series, is Pikmin 4 the pick of the bunch or a crash landing? Find out in our spoiler-free Pikmin 4 review on Nintendo Switch!
As a Nintendo kid who preferred handhelds over consoles, I, to my own personal shame, missed the Gamecube entirely growing up. No Mario Sunshine, no Luigi’s Mansion, and certainly no Pikmin. My touchstone to the Pikmin series has only ever been Captain Olimar’s inclusion in the Super Smash Brothers games.
While the Captain made for a unique fighter in Smash, I was never interested in learning more about his series after playing as him. Pikmin has always felt like this strange real time strategy game that I didn’t quite understand but knew that the people who loved it, loved it.
When Pikmin 4’s July 2023 release date was announced earlier this year, I saw praise online to the great Nintendo gods above that, after 10 long years, Pikmin fans would finally have a new mainline entry in their beloved series. As a new player, I was curious as to why this series had cultivated a cult following and wanted to discover if longtime fans would be satisfied after a decade of waiting.
After spending over 30 hours with Pikmin 4, I can’t help but kick myself for never giving this series a shot. Pikmin 4 is an absolute delight from start to finish, and anyone who has never played an entry in this wonderful series truly doesn’t know what they’re missing.
The adventure begins!
Pikmin 4 Review – Plot
“Bad news recruit! Our beloved Captain Olimar has gone missing! His ship has crash-landed, and, well, since the Rescue Corps ship we sent to save him also crash-landed, you’re our only hope! Your mission? Get out there, find Captain Olimar and the Rescue Corps, and come on home!”
After a short prologue that teaches you the basics, you are introduced to, well, you! In a series first, Pikmin 4 sees you play as a customisable space cadet sent on the rescue mission of a lifetime. After creating your avatar in a simple character creator, you land on a bountiful, beautiful, bizarre planet with a strange likeness to Earth and set out to find the stranded Rescue Corps members. From the ship’s chief scientist and the Rescue Corps captain to a lovable alien puppy named Oatchi, the team sets up a base camp and concludes that their ship needs repairs.
Oatchi is the goodest boy and I love him!
While Pikmin 4’s opening hour achieves its goal of setting the tone for the whimsical adventure you are about to embark on, the opening tutorial level and the narrative set-up that follows are unfortunately riddled with familiar Nintendo trappings. Overexplained mechanics, stop-start gameplay, and tedious expository dialogue almost made me lose interest as quickly as it captured it.
Once the plot is set up, however, the game lets go of the reins and allows you to explore each overworld setting at your leisure as you unlock them, occasionally stopping to teach you new mechanics, but in a much faster and less intrusive way. Tasked with searching for the materials needed to get you airborne again, you’ll find more stranded explorers on your adventure to bring back to camp. Rescue Corps members, wayward travellers, and some bizarre folk that may be the key to finding Captain Olimar.
As your camp expands, you’ll unlock more options to build out your codex. You’ll rescue castaways that help you keep track of the treasure you find or the native life you encounter and unlock text files, ID badges, and other pieces of lore that are continuously added to the menus to flesh out this world and its story.
While Pikmin 4 presents a basic albeit quirky narrative, occasionally bogged down with unnecessary exposition, I was impressed with its ability to entice my wanderlust. From finding castaways and bringing back treasure to discovering new threats and investigating clues to Captain Olimar’s whereabouts, the more I achieved, the more I wanted to get back out there and explore. The plot of Pikmin 4 not only encourages exploration, it accentuates it.
A journey of a thousand miles…
Pikmin 4 Review – Gameplay
Accompanied by Oatchi, you’ll quickly find you’re not alone on this strange planet. Plucked from the ground and raring to go, the nine Pikmin types found in Pikmin 4 each introduce themselves in adorable little vignettes and are more than willing to help you. Series classics return, like the Blue Pikmin, who can traverse water, and the fire-immune Red Pikmin, while new additions are sure to impress series veterans, like the cold-to-the-touch Ice Pikmin and the intangible, nocturnal Glow Pikmin.
What’s cooler than being cool?
Understanding each Pikmin’s abilities is crucial in solving puzzles, creating pathways, and traversing the terrain. From smashing walls and freezing lakes to pulling pot plants out of the way and building bridges, the Pikmin are here to help clear these environmental puzzles if you have the right Pikmin for the job. Since Pikmin 4 limits you to only being able to use three types of Pikmin at a time, being strategic when deciding which Pikmin to bring to each expedition made exploring feel fresh and rewarding on each day.
It also doesn’t hurt that these adorable little critters are a joyous accompaniment on your journey. They’ll sing little songs together, play with Oatchi at camp, and even sound cute when they scream in terror while being attacked by monsters, birds, and giant insects.
While most of my time exploring every nook and cranny of Pikmin 4 made for a calming experience, now and then, a creature comes out of nowhere and attacks you. Ranging from harmless bugs to vicious predators, I was impressed by the diverse range of monsters in Pikmin 4. With over one hundred creatures and beasts to battle, I was consistently made to think on my feet about how to handle a new encounter.
Defeating some creatures simply requires a swarming assault of Pikmin or a swift headbutt from Oatchi, while others require a bit more strategy. Does your enemy breathe fire? Throw some Red Pikmin at it! Perhaps your foe has a strong defence. Have Oatchi tackle its side when it’s not looking, and have your Pikmin kick it while it’s down! The rush felt from being attacked by a strange new beast and quickly figuring out the right strategy to defeat it is a gratifying experience throughout Pikmin 4.
Easy hot stuff!
It’s to Pikmin 4’s credit that while you get lost in exploring this beautiful world and solving environmental puzzles, the strategic combat encounters add an element of heart-pumping action that I found to be the right kind of stressful in what is otherwise a cosy experience.
This combination is best captured in Pikmin 4’s many dungeons. The underground cavern systems are a treat to explore, filled with detailed puzzles, rare treasures, and consistently epic boss encounters. Moreover, these dungeons feature excellent quality-of-life choices, letting you know if there are still monsters to face or treasures to find on the sublevel you are on before you proceed to the next one. A most welcome call for completionists!
These cave systems are also where I found the most challenging moments in Pikmin 4. While the average combat encounter isn’t difficult once you figure out the right strategy, some subterranean terrors I fought required multiple tries. This was easy to do, thanks to the new rewind mechanic.
Allowing you to quickly reload to your most recent autosave after fighting and losing many, many, Pikmin to these boss encounters, I was able to retrace my steps and attempt the encounter again, now equipped with the knowledge on how one strategy may play out. If you find your Pikmin aren’t enough, you can always purchase powerful battle items in camp to help your Pikmin out in a fight, like bombs, mines, and paralysis-inducing carrots.
Must protect Oathci at all costs!
Battle items are just one of the things you can purchase at camp. Utilising simple RPG mechanics, Pikmin 4 offers an upgrade and equipment system for you and your best pal, Oatchi. Your canine companion can learn new skills that make him stronger, faster, and even capable of tracking treasure or controlling the Pikmin for you.
Further, you’ll be able to unlock upgrades for your suit, offering elemental immunities and health improvements, as well as gear that will help you on expeditions, like a treasure sensor and a headlamp. I was surprised by the sheer quantity of upgrades and gear available, and the constant rollout of these unlockables kept the core gameplay feeling fresh throughout.
But why go to all this trouble gathering Pikmin, training Oatchi, and buying the best gear to take down these monsters? Well, for their corpses, of course! After defeating a monster, your Pikmin will drag their bodies back to your nearest collection point, where the felled creatures will be converted into Sparklium, the resource needed to repair your ship. Dead monsters aren’t the only way to get Sparklium, as the Pikmin will heave and ho all kinds of treasure during your playthrough.
We caught ourselves a big one today!
Treasures in Pikmin 4 are plentiful and wonderfully designed. Ranging from fruits, vegetables, and everyday household items to sports equipment, toys, and other fun surprises, these realistic-looking treasures brought me dopamine spikes every time my Pikmin successfully secured them. Some are hidden in secret locations or are prizes for solving an environmental puzzle. Others are simply in plain sight but are heavy and require many Pikmin to help carry them.
To my delight, these everyday items are named as if discovered for the first time and labelled quite literally. Puzzle pieces are instead ‘Memory Fragments’ or a pacifier titled ‘False Lollipop’. The creativity on display here genuinely got a few giggles out of me during my playthrough and made treasure hunting feel even more exciting than it ought to be.
While Pikmin 4 doesn’t cap how many days you can explore its world like in earlier entries, each expedition does have a time limit before you must return to camp. Splitting up your Pikmin and sending them on multiple treasure retrievals or combat encounters simultaneously to optimise your time is a rewarding challenge, culminating in two new game modes introduced in Pikmin 4, Dandori Battles and Dandori Challenges.
“Dandori – the ability to organise tasks strategically and work effectively to execute plans.”
Dandori Challenges and Battles are not only core gameplay modes designed to drive Pikmin 4‘s plot forward but are also a blast to play. Challenged by the mysterious Leaflings, tackling the Dandori modes requires you to take everything you’ve learned on your adventure and execute it in a strategic, time-management challenge.
In the Dandori Challenge mode, you are armed with a small group of Pikmin to start and must gather as much treasure and defeat as many enemies as possible in a limited time, earning points for doing so. Dandori Battles are similar, with the key difference being you have competition. You’ll compete head-to-head with an AI, or even in local multiplayer modes, to gather more resources than your opponent by any means necessary.
It’s Dandori time!
At first, I felt these challenges to be a fun break between regular gameplay. Only after a few Dandori Battles did I realise this mode illustrated what my squad were truly capable of. I grew more efficient with my time in daily expeditions, organising my Pikmin to make the most of their time and becoming more strategic with how I fought creatures and collected treasures. This, in turn, equipped me with the skill to bring home more Sparklium on each expedition and capable of attempting more challenging Dandori contests in the late game.
They’re right behind me, aren’t they?
The Dandori modes aren’t the only additional gameplay mode mixing things up in Pikmin 4. In a series first, players can explore each region at night. While your core cast of Pikmin is fast asleep, you’re accompanied by the ghostly Glow Pikmin in this tower defence mode. Monsters become much fiercer come nightfall, so you and your Pikmin must defend your base from waves of angry enemies while harvesting energy from mound-like towers. Success comes from surviving until morning or clearing all enemy waves.
Night missions can be exciting, and progressivly challenging, but ultimatly felt like a less interesting game mode than the Dandori battles. While completing night missions is necessary for growing your camp, you aren’t forced to complete these at any specific time and can jump into them when the mood strikes you.
I absolutely loved how the Dandori modes synergise with the core gameplay loop of Pikmin 4, making you feel like you were always getting better. Combined with a plentiful supply of upgrades to unlock and gear to buy, a bounty of monsters to encounter and overcome, detailed overworlds and layered dungeons to explore, environmental puzzles that recognise creative thinking, and a plethora of treasure to collect, Pikmin 4 offers a unique gameplay experience that consistently rewards time well spent. The adventure doesn’t stop after the credits roll. You’ll get no spoilers from me here, but know that Pikmin 4 leaves some of its best surprises for last.
All in a day’s work!
Pikmin 4 Review – Visuals and Audio
Pikmin 4’s world is whimsical and wonderful, mixing the realistic art style in its environments with the goofy look of the Pikmin, explorers, and monsters. Water glistens in the light, and smog plumes from pooling flames, all while oddly shaped bugs and fantastical foes roam the lush and vibrant gardens. The detailed environments are a feast for the eyes and impress on the Nintendo Switch’s older hardware.
Each level’s introduction showcases the gorgeous visuals and incites a deep curiosity and wanderlust. Pikmin 4’s sense of scale does a remarkable job of making you feel like a lost little explorer in a strange land. However, that grand sense of scale does a disservice to each overworld, as once an enemy is defeated or a path is cleared, the obstacle will remain completed on subsequent visits. This means that completionists returning to a level to find those last few bits of treasure may end up exploring a relatively empty landscape. While this doesn’t lessen the quality of the Pikmin 4’s art direction, it was made very clear when I was close to completing a level based on how little there was in the environment.
I encountered no bugs, less the giant monster kind, throughout my playthrough and was impressed to see that I could experience the lush world and sometimes frantic gameplay with no quality or framerate dips on both handheld and docked mode.
What’s up this hill?
Riding upon Oatchi through the rich and detailed terrains was made even better by the sounds accompanying it. From the gleeful giggles of the Pikmin themselves to the worrisome wails of the beasts you encounter, the native wildlife you meet are brought to life by the sounds they create. I will forever be haunted by the mournful sigh a Pikmin ghost makes as it ascends to the afterlife!
On top of the detailed sound effects themselves comes an excellent soundtrack. From calming melodies while peacefully exploring to roaring themes that intensify sudden monster attacks, Pikmin 4’s immersive world was even more so, thanks to the detailed soundtrack.
Pikmin 4 Review – Conclusion
I finally understand the love and attention offered by fans of the Pikmin series that I’ve only ever seen from the sidelines. I adore how the layers of Pikmin 4 all work in unity. Gameplay mechanics encourage the exploration of a wildly creative world filled with a bounty of treasure to collect and creatures to combat.
The Dandori modes and night missions not only offer a fun and challenging reprieve to the core gameplay, but they also embody the game’s core theme of being strategic and efficient, creating a desire to improve how you play. This synergy culminates in the excellent dungeons, creating an experience unlike any I’ve played before.
While Pikmin 4 struggles with a weak, slow introduction, once it starts to sing, the melody is unlike anything else. Pikmin 4 is an unexpected expedition that is absolutely worth embarking on.
So, why should you play Pikmin 4?
- You’re a Pikmin fan excited for a new game.
- Interested in trying unique new experiences on your Nintendo Switch.
- Love cute creatures and collectathons.
- Enjoys strategic combat and environmental puzzles.
But why shouldn’t you play Pikmin 4?
- You don’t want to feel stressed in your cosy game.
- Not looking to learn a new gameplay system.
- You enjoy story over gameplay.
A code was kindly provided by Nintendo Australia for the purpose of our Pikmin 4 review. To continue exploring some of 2023’s best Nintendo Switch games, check out our review of Fire Emblem Engage and join the chat over on the Official Qualbert Discord!
Author: James Grech
James is a writer and absolute dork who is as passionate about making puns as he is about video games. From Melbourne, Australia, when he’s not playing Dungeons and Dragons or rocking out at karaoke, you can usually find him engaged in some kind of story. Keep up with James on Twitter, or check out his Folio for more game reviews!