Eight years – eight years! – since Pikmin creator and Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto announced the existence of Pikmin 4 to Eurogamer in 2015. Now, excitedly, there are only a few weeks left. Was the version Miyamoto had in mind back then the same as the one I played now? How has the program changed over the years? I’d like to know because Pikmin 4 is definitely a different beast from its immediate predecessor on the Wii U. Looking back at the best of the Pikmin series past, changes have indeed been made – and almost everything is for the better. Ultimately it has its eyes set on securing a wider audience while looking for a more modern approach overall.
For those new to Pikmin, the series always offers a beautiful-looking experience – one that requires planning and skill to maximize your time and available Pikmin reserves to explore garden-like environments and defeat bugs. And bird-like enemies to collect resources and treasures – and importantly to do so within a certain time limit. Since your worker ant-like Pikmin can be raised and replenished very easily, strategic time management is often Pikmin’s biggest challenge – both of which require you to maximize what you can do before the 15-minute day each game. For safety, and in the remaining few days to complete your overall goal. For Pikmin 4, it feels like Nintendo has worked to soften this challenge — the game’s skill level better matches its friendly-looking visuals — or, at least, that’s the case initially.
Importantly, Pikmin 4 removes the series’ usual overall time limit, so there’s no longer any need to worry about depleting life support or replenishing food reserves. The triumphant return of Pikmin 2’s dungeon-like dungeons keeps the game focused, allowing long stretches of the adventure without the surface day/night clock to worry about. If a day is going badly, you now have the ability to rewind time if you want to start over.
Other changes include auto-targeting enemies and objects, so you can throw Pikmin more accurately. You can move your spaceship’s base and Pikmin onions into areas closer to you, meaning much less backtracking is necessary. You can now collect and save building resources to repair bridges and more, meaning you always have a supply to use and don’t have to hunt down specific pieces on the map. There’s also a local co-op offer where you can get a friend to join you and get a Super Mario Odyssey-esque on-screen cursor to lend a helping hand with things like the ability to throw rocks at enemies.
However, the apparent ditching of Pikmin 3’s fiddly three-character management has been replaced by a single hero (now a customizable avatar, rather than a collection, named Protagonist) and a different companion, Ochi the Space. the dog Whether or not you’ve already been won over by this pup’s major introduction to the series, you’ll be spending a lot of time with Ochi. He is the friendly face of the game’s marketing, and a handy helper whose skills make the game easier. He can attack, he can carry items, he can charge forward and destroy obstacles that your Pikmin can’t.
In the absence of a humanoid partner for your main character (in the early stages of the game, at least), Oatchi acts as the game’s secondary protagonist – and you can quickly unlock the ability to play as his replacement. But instead of replicating your own skills, playing as Oatchi offers a different experience, only your main avatar can actually command a team of Pikmin.
The only way to get up past the small ledges in the starting area is to switch to a reasonably jumpable Ochi. Meanwhile, your humanoid hero and team of Pikmin can now scale vertical rock faces adorned with climbing points. In a cave area, you have to regroup between your hero and Odichi and use him to push buttons that change the direction of the conveyor belts, which reminds me a bit of Ilomilo. In another section, your hero and Pikmin can climb a cliff face while Ochi must find another way.
Looking at the game’s selection of upgrades, it’s clear that Oatchi will continue to be useful, including the ability to collect errant Pikmin that may be left behind by hunters later in the day or in the sunset. At this point, it’s too early to judge Ochi’s overall impact—I’ve only encountered red, yellow, and the new Ice Pikmin. But sometimes I wonder if it should be called Ochi 1 instead of Pikmin 4.
Ice Pikmin, the first new type of Pikmin in the game you’ll encounter, get a more muted introduction, freezing monsters solid with their unique ability. They realize – again, it’s early days – another option to make things easier: immediately freezing enemies in ice to prevent them from attacking. The trade-off here is that frozen enemies appear to be irretrievable as a resource – instead, they decay upon death.
While there are more opportunities for adventure, you can’t help but feel lonely when your character is out in the field without another human partner. You’re here to rescue Olimar, but first set out to find members of another rescue team that arrived in the area before you. Once collected, these characters will respawn in a new central area, a smaller area where you’ll strike each day, but see your progress with allies first. Think of it like a playable version of Pikmin 3’s ship scenes, where your crew members discuss what to do next.
Pikmin 4 feels like a leap forward for the series right now, and it’s one that isn’t afraid to look back at the great franchise of the past. The return of Pikmin 2’s caves is a very welcome move, and while many of the new features are designed to make it easier for players, they remain a challenging highlight. I’m still too early to meet Pikmin 4’s other new type – the Glow Pikmin. They will come as part of the game’s new Knight Expeditions. There’s also another challenge mode in the game’s main menu, which I haven’t been able to try yet.
If you want to try Pikmin 4 for yourself, you won’t have to wait long. The free and generous-sounding demo arrives this week on June 29th, and your progress can carry over to the game’s full release on July 21st. It’s been a long wait, but we still have a few more weeks to see what Miyamoto and the Pikmin team have in store.
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