After playing Katamari Damacy Reroll last month, I was left with a very distinct “cute as heck video games” shaped hole in my heart at the start of 2019. As much as I love crazy hard-boiled action games like Yakuza and intense addictive shooters like Call of Duty, sometimes it’s nice to be able to escape to something simple and silly and downright adorable. Pikuniku because it is all three of those things to a T.
Pikuniku is a side-scrolling puzzle-exploration game with a delightful pastel art style. Think of Night in the Woods if it took place in the world of LocoRoco, and you’re there. You play as a little red ball thing with black dots for eyes and long legs that gently splat along the ground like a pair of sticky hand toys. Almost every character in the game, each a more unusual oblong shape than the last, wobbles and hops along with silly little legs like you, and it’s a surreal sort of cuteness that I can’t get enough of.
Your character is locked away in the mountains because the locals fear that it’s a dreadful, terrifying beast. When they discover that you’re just a little red goofball, though, they warm up to you and confide in you their various troubles and tasks. One of the biggest troubles these forest citizens are facing is that Sunshine Inc., a huge corporation of seemingly endless wealth, has promised free money to all in exchange for taking away their useless junk. The only issue is that giant Sunshine Inc. robots are starting to deep crops and forests as junk, and pretty soon there won’t be anything left.
It’s immediately clear how dystopian Pikuniku’s setting is, from the deforesting robots to the security cameras tacked on every tree and house in the area. It’s a stark contrast to the bright and bubbly art style of the game, but it never comes off as especially grim or morose. While Pikuniku carries themes of industry destroying nature and the follies of corporate greed, it’s all delivered with the quirky flair of a Saturday morning cartoon.
There’s a lot this game gets right with its style, and a big part of that is the writing. Pikuniku is hilarious from beginning to end and I couldn’t stop smiling and chuckling as I made my way through the 5-hour campaign. I have a soft spot for written humor that relies on lack of punctuation and liberal use of capitalisation, and Pikuniku tickles that particular funny bone of mine extremely well. Kicking some eggs and having the mama bird fly down and simply say “WHAT” at me has never been funnier.
Pikuniku is a treat to look at, but it’s also a great thing to play. Your character bounces and bobs along various environments, and interacts with puzzles either via hopping with their mad legs, curling up into a rolling ball, or delivering a swift and meaty kick. It’s a simple toolset, but it’s enough to get by with. The world exploration can get a little tiresome at times with how slow your character moves, but the amount of side-activities you wind up in helps break the up monotony incredibly well.
Each character you run into has a different task for you that involves a totally unique gameplay experience. You’ll be doing rhythm game dance battles, manoeuvring challenging platforming arenas, and even participating in a ball-kicking sport called Baskick. Whenever I was even vaguely feeling fatigue or boredom setting in, I was already getting involved with a brand new type of challenge or puzzle, and the game kept spicing things up like that consistently until the credits rolled.
If you want to spice things up even further, there’s a series of co-op challenges you can tackle with a pal for even further entertainment. They’re more proper puzzles compared to what you’d encounter in the main story, but they’re still simple enough that anyone can hop in and make their way through it with you in no time.
I’d be a fool not to mention the sound design of Pikuniku, because it’s an absolute treat and a vital part of the experience. Every song in the game has a quirky and addictive charm to it that I could only compare to one other game, and it’s the previous game this composer worked on! Snipperclips had a wonderfully zany soundtrack made by the talented Calum Bowen, and that same charm is delivered in spades with the delightful music for Pikuniku. It’s all topped off by the hilarious sounds you hear throughout the game, from the “oof“ of a townsperson as you accidentally kick them to the wet pitter-patter everyone’s feet give off as they walk about.
My favorite gaming experiences are the ones that elicit a pure and physical response from me. Whether it’s a horror game making me clench my cheeks or a story-driven game dropping my jaw and pulling a tear from my eye, those kinds of experiences are the ones that stick with me the most. With Pikuniku, I was smiling and laughing throughout the entire thing, and too few games get that kind of response out of me. Pikuniku is a treasure of a game, and I can’t wait to see more from this team.
Version tested: Switch – Also available for PC