Pikmin is, essentially, Nintendo’s take on the real-time strategy format, only you direct little carrot creatures to fetch and carry and multiply and stuff, rather than build tanks and so on. There are different colours of Pikmin which have different strengths and skills, and there are baddies to fight who all want to eat them.
Pikmin 4 doesn’t deviate too much from this, but it is just so much more relaxing than the other games in the series. In the those, there’s a time limit each day and a number of days in which you have to complete the game. In Pikmin 4, the daily limit is there but is never an issue (the whole premise has always been that when night falls, any Pikmin not safely tucked up in bed get eaten by ravenous monsters, but it’s easy to collect and protect them here), and there’s no deadline to complete the game. It’s much more laidback and, actually, fun as a result. There’s even checkpoints you can rewind to if you mess up and your friends/helpers/slaves all become lunch.
There’s a plot. You’re part of a rescue team who has been sent to rescue Olimar from the planet that definitely isn’t Earth where he has crashed, again. Only you crash and the crew are separated. The first part of the game is mainly about recovering your crew, but then you find lots of other people have also crashed on the planet – you’d think they’d put a warning beacon nearby or something – and some of them have been turned into leaflings – sort of half person, half plant creatures.
So you have a number of goals – rescue everyone who is stranded, cure the leaflings, find spaceship parts and fuel so you can reach new areas and eventually escape, and finally find Olimar (the main character from the first game).
There are a number of new features in this outing to differentiate it from the earlier games. First and most obvious, is that you have a dog creature called Oatchi who can help do all sorts of things. Once you’ve trained him (he has a skill tree!) he can carry Pikmin over water, attack baddies, carry heavy stuff, sniff out treasure, break down walls – all sorts. But he can also be split off from your group and act as a sort of second character, so you can do two things at once. The game calls this time management “dandori” and you have to use it a lot – not least in the specific dandori challenges.
These dandori challenges, where you have to collect enough stuff in a time limit, are new I think, and then there are dandori battles where you compete for items against a leafling. There’s a two player vs mode that uses this setup too. They’re quite good, especially if you steal high-value items from your opponent!
The other main new thing is night missions. As I said, when night falls, loose Pikmin all get nommed, so to have missions at night seems horrible. The plot reason for them is that something needed to cure the leaflings of their leafness only appears at night, generated in a dirt mound called a lumiknoll, so you have to protect these lumiknolls from baddies who are drawn to destroy them. So it’s basically a tower defense game. You’re given special glow pikmin who technically don’t die for these missions and although I hated the missions at first they’re actually a nice distraction and you have to play differently. They’re shorter than normal missions and the idea is to either wipe out all the foes or survive until dawn.
The game is huge. I completed it after about 20 hours but there’s another 30 or 40 hours content after that, where you do everything possible, complete side missions (many of the characters you rescue have tasks for you) and get every last treasure, and even unlock a sort of reimagining of the original Pikmin where you play as Olimar – and this mode has a 15 day completion deadline. Which I managed with literally one second to spare on the final day. Because it’s relaxing and mostly stress-free, it’s never a chore despite the length. Loading times are a bit long, and it’s a pain you have to wait for the main “hub” to load when you complete a level, only to have to load the level again when you re-enter it. It would have been nice to have a “Are you returning tomorrow?” option to skip all that.
It’s a minor complaint though, and pretty much everything else is fantastic. It looks incredible, especially some of the detail on the treasures you collect, and it’s cute (the Pikmin sing when riding your dog!) and is full of the usual Nintendo polish. Highly recommended.