[Misc] Pikmin 4 Preview

June 30, 2023

I have what I like to call “exception” games – games that I like in a genre that I don’t typically enjoy. Super Smash Bros. is my “exception” fighting game, for example. I’m not big on real-time strategy games either, but Pikmin, an IP debuting in the launch window for Nintendo’s GameCube, managed to gel with me. I’m kind of surprised that such a relatively niche series is getting a fourth main entry when others like F-Zero, Pilotwings and Metroid Prime are still waiting for theirs (side games not withstanding), but here we are. With Pikmin 4 releasing on Switch next month, Nintendo released a demo on the eShop yesterday for people to try before they buy, so I took a look at it and thought I’d share some first impressions.

First and foremost, the graphics look great for a Switch game. As expected from a good looking Switch game, it’s a little lower resolution than usual, but I found it hard to complain about while I was docked, however the blurriness and aliasing were far more noticeable when playing handheld. The Pikmin series has always looked great, and I think it comes down to scale. Ordinary objects like stumps, cardboard boxes, baseballs... Duracell batteries, are more detailed than you would expect them to be thanks to player characters being so small, and Pikmin 4, as low res as it is, is still packed with detail just the same as its predecessors.

Past Pikmin sequels innovated on the formula by introducing new explorers to switch between – Pikmin 1 was just Olimar, Pikmin 2 added Louie, and Pikmin 3 had you controlling three new space explorers. Pikmin 4 breaks that pattern by going back to one player character, the rookie of a rescue team whose appearance can be customized to your liking. Olimar himself returns to kick off the game’s plot – he gets himself stranded on yet another Earth-like planet. Unable to return home this time, he sends out a distress signal and the Rescue Corps sets out to retrieve him, but end up wrecking their ship and needing to be rescued themselves. That’s where you come in.

Each Rescue Corps member you find provides some service to you, whether it’s creating new tools for you to use or upgrading Oatchi, a dog-like “rescue pup” who accompanies you on your mission. Oatchi can be ridden, allowing faster travel and jumping, but can also break shit by slamming into them. He also acts like a big Pikmin, being able to carry treasures and fight alongside them. He’s also able to ram into walls, knocking over treasure, and can follow the scent of more Rescue Corps members and more treasures. The playable opening section with Olimar seems to indicate he’ll have some strategic value in combat - you’re tasked with using Olimar’s own space dog to fight a spiky bug whose attack leaves it vulnerable, opening it up to a charge from Oatchi. Even in such a short demo, Oatchi totally stole the show and is expected to play a significant part in changing up the usual Pikmin formula.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Pikmin without the titular creatures at your command. Each sequel adds two new variations of Pikmin, and Pikmin 4 is no exception. I don’t think Glow Pikmin were in the demo, but Ice Pikmin were quite prominent. They can be used to freeze things, either large immobile objects which can be broken down, pools of water allowing you and the rest of your squad to safely get across bodies of water, or enemies, making them susceptible to attack. All seven of the Pikmin variants from previous games will be present, and in combination with Oatchi, should enable some interesting problem solving.

I got about three hours out of the demo, which ends after the day you reach 1500 sparklium, a material earned from depositing treasures such as a fork, a tube of paint, a pocket watch, and even a Game Boy Advance SP. Finding all the of the treasures will add a collectible element for the completionists out there, which I certainly appreciate. You can only play in one area outside of the intro with Olimar, but it’s large enough that you won’t be able to do everything in one run, and the trailers and screenshots Nintendo has published show a wide variety of areas to explore in the full game. Since you’re able to transfer your save from the demo, I decided not to start a new game to see everything, but aside from some dropped inputs and a somewhat slow start, I’m very much looking forward to playing Pikmin 4 when it releases in late July.