Pikmin 4 Hands-On Preview
We’ve been hearing about Pikmin 4 for what feels like forever. First put on the radar by Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto in 2015 where he declared the game was “very close to completion”, Pikmin 4 had remained a constantly elusive prospect through the dying days of the Wii U, and for the bulk of the life of the Nintendo Switch generation as well. As a result of the 2013 launch of Pikmin 3, and the Deluxe version that was ported to the Switch, the standard for what the Pikmin franchise could be had been lifted significantly. Despite wholesale improvements coming to the third franchise entry, improvements that leaves the ten-year-old release still standing as one of the best games of the last decade, there was still a minimal amount of evolution present. With Pikmin 4 now nearing release, there are now two fairly simple questions that can be posed to the title. Will Pikmin 4 bring the right new elements to energise the IP in new ways? And if not, can the loop still hold up? Well based upon these initial hours I’ve had with the game, I’m feeling confident that the additions made are going to add up to a fantastic experience come the July 21 release date.
The first two regions of Pikmin 4, Sun-Speckled Terrace, and Blossoming Arcadia provide players with all they need to be suitably on-boarded to the Pikmin 4 experience. The standard fare is here, and we’re quickly reintroduced to the familiar elements, the Red, Blue, and Yellow Pikmin, as well as the Rock Pikmin that joined with Pikmin 3. Multiple different onions and ‘Flarlic’ are littered around the environment that both expand the number of Pikmin you can take with you on expeditions, but grant the ability to nurture the expansion of your burgeoning Pikmin population by further supporting additional Pikmin types.
New breeds have been introduced, and in these opening two areas we get to spend some with the Ice Pikmin, an incredibly useful breed that can freeze predators or prey in place, opening them up for an assault from your wider party. The Ice Pikmin also unlocks some exploratory options too. By tossing a defined number of Ice Pikmin into still water, that surface will freeze, allowing other Pikmin to cross without fear, and for your crew to access otherwise inaccessible parts of the map.
As well as rounding up a range of Onions, and of course the treasures and food items that Pikmin love to track down, there are a range of Rescue Corp members, and Civilian Castaways to be found, each with core missions and side-missions for players to try to tick off. Some have also been struck down by a leafy affliction which has consumed their heads, a cure for this pestilence being, as of yet, undiscovered.
Pikmin 4 takes players underground for a range of different reasons. From treasures to be found, and Corp/Civilian members to be found, players can explore multi-staged dungeons of sorts that throw a range of different challenges at the player as they quest to the bottom. Some subterranean adventures take the player to other mysterious enclosed regions of the map to perform in time trial-like challenges, and head-to-head bouts with an unhampered, walking, talking Leafling, that always end with a missing Civilian being returned to you upon success. These sections aren’t especially challenging in the early days of Pikmin 4, but are a nice change of pace for space travellers.
Finally, there’s Oatchi, the two-legged, dog-like companion who very quickly joins the party and is an invaluable ally, helping Pikmin to carry heavy loads, or be an attacking force when fending off threats. Oatchi still needs caring for, and certainly isn’t an invincible wrecking ball, but this good pup has skills can be upgraded to make him more helpful as the game progresses. The endearing pup is an incredibly welcome addition to the Pikmin formula.
Pikmin 4 inevitably has a range of surprises still awaiting me, but it is at this early juncture that I feel enthused by the direction that Nintendo have gone in with this newest entry. The core gameplay loop is here, and hasn’t aged a day, but the additions to the formula are meaningful, and enjoyable to engage with. It looks like players will have a lot to enjoy on July 21st.