While Captain Olimar might be seen as one of the unluckiest space travelers, I’d say he’s the opposite. Sure, he’s been smashed up by asteroids, and crash-landed almost countless times, but every single time he manages to come out of it practically unscathed. Not only that, but he discovered the Pikmin and a world full of valuable treasures, and is always able to make his way back to civilisation one way or another. Would you believe he’s crashed once again in Pikmin 4?
Olimar just keeps on crashing on this one planet – the very Earth-like PNF-404 – but this time around the Rescue Corp receives the distress call and heads out to rescue him… until they themselves end up in a freak crash and their newest recruit has to come to the rescue. Reaching the planet (after fiddling with the light character customisation options), you quickly come across the Rescue Corps’ loyal space pup, the two-legged canine Oatchi, and find the first of the lost team members.
And then there’s the Pikmin themselves, of course. These quirky plants come to life like little floral sprites, who are utterly compelled to follow your lead, as they would otherwise end up as tasty snacks for the other indigenous lifeforms. They follow you around, and you can either throw them or send them swarming at a wild creature, items to grab and carry back to the ship, or an objective that needs fixing up with raw materials. While previous games gave you a limit of 100 active Pikmin right from the off, Pikmin 4 restricts you to just 20 at the start of the game, though this number grows as you progress, just as the different varieties of Pikmin grows as well.
Good ol’ red, yellow and blue Pikmin return, resistant to fire, electricity and water respectively, but then there’s also the returning rock and poison-resistant white Pikmin, as well as new ice Pikmin and nighttime-specific glowing Pikmin. Each one has a different specialisation and different traits – yellow can also be thrown higher, for example – though most of the game is pretty easy to complete with just the original trio and ice Pikmin alongside. Ice Pikmin can freeze enemies as they deal damage and bodies of water, and there’s ice barriers that only they can break down, so they’re mighty useful. You can only take three Pikmin types into the world at any time, but can always change them out by returning to base.
Oatchi also chips in as well. The space pup can help in battle, can dig up objects and can lend the strength of multiple Pikmin for carrying large objects. His greatest trick, though, is becoming a trusty steed for you and your entire army of Pikmin, eventually learning how to swim and completely concentrating your group in a way that really helps during big boss combat, where you’re often targeting specific weak spots. In this situation, charging at an enemy will also deliver your entire Pikmin army in one go, which is great for massive amounts of damage. You can also split him off to be controlled independently, bringing back some of the dynamic of Pikmins 2 and 3 with multiple characters.
In general, Pikmin 4 makes great strides to be a more accessibility action strategy game. The biggest and most noticeable change in this regard is allowing the camera view to be much closer to the ground, giving you a greater understanding of the environment you’re exploring, and almost feeling like a quirky third person shooter when you’re riding around on Oatchi’s back.
While you’re on the clock to complete what you’re doing before the end of the day and get your Pikmin back to safety, this series has always been about revisiting levels and making incremental progress. With the amount of characters you’re trying to rescue (there’s also civilian castaways that you’re searching for), the number of treasures to find, and the underground caves to explore, you’ll have several trips before you’ve fully completed an area. For series fans, there’s a compulsive desire to race and do as much as possible, but for newcomers potentially getting lost in unfamiliar gameplay and being inundated by objectives, you can take your time and focus on just one or two goals at a time.
Speaking of clocks, there’s a new rewind feature that is, quite simply, brilliant. Instead of having to quit and reload a save at the start of a whole day to wash away the guilt of losing too many Pikmin in a single battle or not quite managing your time right, you can simply rewind to a mid-level save point. That could be emerging from a dungeon or some less obvious point in time a couple of minutes ago. It’s not quite like a quicksave, as it respawns you back at base, but it’s another great system that adds accessibility and eases mild frustrations.
The most high-pressure situation, outside of fighting the larger creatures, come in the new Dandori battles against some mysteriously leafy antagonists. Dandori battles drop you into a colourful arena, give you a small number of Pikmin to start and task you with racing around to defeat creatures and grab as many treasures as possible, building up a score as the clock ticks down. You’re head to head against another player, though, using items, observing different rules, and generally getting stuck in. Whether it’s a battle found within the story (and there are quite a few of them) or two-player from the main menu, the game shifts to split-screen, showing you both player views.
Once the day is up, it’s back to base, where you can train up Oatchi to improve abilities, unlock new technologies that can shield you from damage, call idle Pikmin to your position, and buy single use items. As more people are rescued, you can pick up some basic side missions as well.
Oh, except it’s not just daytime expeditions anymore. New nighttime missions see you returning to the different base locations on the game’s maps at night when creatures are at their most active, and you have to defend a glowing construct from their attentions. All you have alongside you are the new Glow Pikmin and Oatchi, but it’s a minimalist and fun take on a tower defence mode.
It took me around a dozen hours for the credits to roll, but that’s not the end of the game. Even if you got 100% in all the environments before that narrative end moment, there’s plenty more stuff to do and explore after the end of the initial rescue mission, in addition to being able to go back and clear up any remaining treasures, character rescues and more that you might have missed.
Really the main duff note in Pikmin 4 is the story co-op mode, where player two is restricted to flinging stones at enemies and some items. It’s just like Super Mario Galaxy’s similarly naff co-op mode and is disorientating for the second player, who’s playing a light gun game with the main player often quickly moving the camera around in the tick of the action.