Disclaimer: Writer is an investor in Nintendo.
Shigeru Miyamoto once said “the next Mario is Pikmin.”
While I admire his optimism, I think it was, and still is, pretty clear that the series doesn’t have much hope dethroning Mario. Pikmin games are about strategy, after all, and ask the player to use their noggin to overcome challenges – it’s not as immediately fun as platforming. It didn’t entice me, and after many years of ignoring the games I eventually received Pikmin 3 Deluxe last Christmas and enjoyed it quite a bit. I still wasn’t sure I’d grab Pikmin 4 at launch, but after trying the demo I was hooked. Now I’ve played it through, and am ready to tell you how the game holds up from both a gameplay and faith perspective!
Unlike some of Miyamoto’s other creations, Pikmin actually has some lore behind it. The first 3 games held together a continual narrative, and while you would expect this game to follow suit, it’s not quite clear that it does.
Captain Olimar has crash-landed on the planet PNF-404, and is searching for his missing ship parts. This is the same exact scenario that played out in Pikmin 1 – and according to his notes, it appears to be his first time there. However, unlike the GameCube original, he sends out a distress signal before gathering all parts and disappears. A group known as the Rescue Corps come to save him only to also crash along with dozens of other castaways on the planet. Hmm… could something specific be causing all this?
You, the Rescue Corps’ newest recruit, are the last hope as you fly in solo from homebase to the mysterious planet. I’ll leave the rest of the story unspoiled for your enjoyment, but just know that while things may seem simple at first glance, the lore quickly deepens if you take time to read characters’ logs.
Rescuing Olimar requires searching PNF-404 and gathering enough ‘Sparklium’ to power the Rescue Corps ship to return home. It’s found in just about every creature and object on the planet – which means there’s lots of work to be done.
As with the past games, the main gameplay consists of building up and commanding an army of creatures known as ‘Pikmin’. They can be thrown or swarmed on enemies, and will carry back defeated enemies’ corpses to the ‘Onion’ which will produce more Pikmin. They can also be commanded to carry those Sparklium-rich treasures to your ship, build or destroy objects, and more. It all makes for a very fun gameplay loop, and due to its semi-automated nature, you can have multiple projects going at once.
You do need to be careful though – Pikmin are pretty weak. It’s not unusual for a few of them to be eaten up by an enemy if you take it head-on. They can also be squashed, burned, shocked, poisoned, drowned… nature sure is tough. However, they do have some strengths. The creatures come in several different types, each with its own abilities. For example, Red Pikmin are immune to fire and Blue Pikmin can survive underwater. And Ice Pikmin, new to this game, can freeze enemies! The developers play with the various types and give you plenty of puzzles that require proper utilization of their mechanics.
Also new to the series is rescue pup Oatchi. He sort of acts like a second captain you can switch to like in Pikmin 2, but is much more powerful. While he can call and command the Pikmin, he can also attack enemies, carry back objects, and even jump up ledges. To be honest, towards the end of the game when you’ve upgraded his abilities close to the max, he begins to feel pretty cheap. After all, the Pikmin don’t get stronger. He begins as a strategic alternative, but eventually becomes an absolute powerhouse that sometimes discourages careful management of the Pikmin.
Finally, for the first time ever, you can venture out at night. These shorter adventures have you defending the homes of Glow Pikmin against unusually aggressive enemies. You’ll receive a small amount of glow sap in the morning, which can be used to cure ‘leaflings’ that are found around the planet (castaways that have been sucked up into an Onion and transformed). It’s a fun time, but nothing incredibly exciting if I’m being honest. There’s not as much strategy involved as in the daytime – just keep track of where enemies are coming from and make sure you take them out before they get too close.
Alright, a couple negatives before moving on to the graphics. I’d say the biggest issue this game has by a longshot is the constant character dialogue. There’s a lot of it in the intro, sure, and that can perhaps be understood as the need to explain everything to the player. However, as you continue your adventure you’ll notice that members from the Rescue Corps will keep reminding you about basics, like when you’re able to upgrade Oatchi or that there are Pikmin sprouts you haven’t yet uprooted.
Even more frustrating was the constant talk at homebase. Several upgrade shops and galleries are accessed by talking to folks, but each time you must sit through an entire box or two of dialogue before you actually get to browse – along with more word salad when exiting. This doesn’t feel like a problem at first, but quickly becomes fatiguing as one accesses these resources dozens of times over a playthrough.
Also, while you can certainly set certain limits on yourself (such as not upgrading Oatchi or avoiding the rewind feature) I would still vastly prefer that Nintendo add a few difficulty modes instead. There were certainly some challenges to be had, but a good portion of the game is quite easy and I’d love to see a full-length experience that pushes you more.
Time to discuss the graphics! When I was taking a look at the game’s box, I was shocked to see the Unreal Engine logo on the back. To my knowledge, Nintendo hasn’t ever used Epic Games’ engine in any of their games – often, they make their own. Nevertheless, I think it was a good call here because man this game is pretty. The lighting is wonderful, the textures high quality, and the environments realistic. Whether you find yourself on a sandy beach navigating pools of water or… inside a modern house crawling along the couch, you will continually be enjoying the views.
Just to add on to it all, the Piklopedia allows you to inspect each enemy and item, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to take a closer look at what you collect. The ‘newly nostalgic’ series of treasures such as the Gameboy Advance and GameCube disc in particular are very enjoyable to view this way. Nintendo really nailed all the small details.
Now, there are a couple downsides of games that look this nice on the Switch – loading can take a while sometimes, and there were a few instances when I noticed textures suddenly upscaling after the camera moved in quickly from far away. Overall though, nothing distracting and I don’t think I ever saw framerate drop below its consistent 30 FPS. Yea, 60 would be nice, but that’s not happening on this console.
From a faith perspective
Perhaps what Pikmin 4 has to teach us the most is about responsibility and mortality. You are given full control of a hundred of these little plant creatures, and one slip-up can result in the deaths of many.
When God entrusts us with the power over many things, our actions suddenly have greater consequences and life can become increasingly stressful. “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12:48)
I’ve certainly felt it running this website the past few years. I often find myself filled with a lot of anxiety when I look at an article that received a lot of views, knowing that it impacted a good number of people, perhaps positively but maybe also negatively. What if we missed something in the morality/parental warnings section that would have otherwise prevented someone from buying a game that will tempt them into sin? What if I spread false information by discussing something I failed to research sufficiently?
I was talking about this with the priest at my campus ministry once, and he shared that he has a lot to look over with the many people that are entrusted to his care. He prays that God will use him to do good, however important and mistake-prone he might be. Simple advice, but still very important.
Anyone who’s played Pikmin can tell you there are times when you get impatient, and just want to take out an enemy with your army as quickly as possible. While most of them have openings you can wait for, it’s also a strategy to take them head-on, but can bring many casualties. I once had my entire squad wiped out in just a couple of seconds doing this, and it felt awful.
Similarly, when we are given responsibility over others but focus on our own wants over their needs, we might just find ourselves using them as tools – and disposable ones at that. This could be as small as getting an obedient coworker or classmate to do something you ought to complete, or as grave as a world leader sending troops into danger for vanity. Be responsible, and don’t treat people like Pikmin!
Pikmin 4 stands out as another great addition to the Switch’s library. Its content is much more plentiful than I had originally expected – it probably takes about 20-25 hours to beat the main story, not including the separate adventure that becomes available later or the time it takes to 100% each area. It does have some shortcomings, most notably the lack of difficulty modes and a lot of unnecessary character dialogue that cannot be disabled. Still, it makes for an amazing strategy game and will probably satisfy newcomers and old-timers alike.
Replayability: 4/5 (could use difficulty modes)
Violence: Pikmin can be eaten, drowned, crushed and more. There are crunch noises when they are eaten, but they just disappear into a rising soul once killed. Enemies, on the other hand, will go limp afterwards and their corpses can be carried back to the Onion.
Sex/Nudity: Included in the collectible treasures are real-life (artistic) statues that feature nudity, Venus de Milo and The Thinker. Some of the male characters in the game look very female, but nobody is said to be trans/nonbinary. Additionally, peaches are called ‘mock bottoms’ and the treasure catalog jokingly describes it as a ‘sensory experience’.
Magic/Occult: Many of the treasures, even if they are just everyday objects, are interpreted by the characters as talismans or something similar. They might be speculated to be related to the divine, used in rituals, or useful for good luck, etc. Additionally, one of the castaways you rescue is a fortune teller.