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Pikmin4boxart.jpg.c1928c5bfb1da9e19be8848a88767d89.jpgNintendo's tiniest (and some of their most adorable) characters are back in another charming time-management adventure. With ten years since the last mainline entry in the series, it might seem like Pikmin 4 would be an opportune time for an overhaul of the franchise's core gameplay mechanics, but in reality this is a smart revisit and refinement of the strategic gameplay with just the right handful of new touches to keep the experience feeling fresh.
The game begins with you playing as the familiar Captain Olimar, directing a legion of Pikmin around an environment that looks suspiciously human, but that's just the prologue. The real main playable character is a customizable member of a rescue team that is trying to locate Olimar after he sent out an SOS signal. When your team runs into trouble of their own though, you'll need to rescue your crewmates as well as explore the strange planet with the aid of the tiny plant-like Pikmin and collect treasures to power your ship so you can explore further. For fans of the series, the story in Pikmin 4 might be a little strange, since it seems to be a retelling of the original game's story with a slight twist. Ultimately it feels like one of those situations where Nintendo is not at all interested in establishing or maintaining an overarching canon, and you're just meant to enjoy the ride.
Story-wise though, Pikmin 4 is far more dialogue/text heavy than previous games. You'll be in constant communication with your rescue team crewmates, and you can talk with the characters you've rescued in a hub area. It's fun to have more faces in a Pikmin game but since they overall add very little to the experience it does feel like a lot of fluff. At least the descriptions of treasures and creatures are still delightfully silly, and always worth a read.
The gameplay in the franchise is all about time management. You can only explore during the day, so you need to get as much done as possible before night falls. In 1 and 3, there's also a hard limit on the number of days you can explore, but like 2 you're free to spend as many days exploring as you want here in Pikmin 4. You can also explore caves like in 2, and time barely progresses while you're in one. Pikmin 4 also makes this significantly easier on the player by not respawning monsters each day. These seem like nice compromises for new or novice players but veterans will immediately notice how easy this game is compared to past entries.
In the end though, it's still a blast to set your little Pikmin on their missions and watch all of your tasks come together nicely. The game frequently references the concept of dandori, or the art of organizing your tasks for maximum efficiency. Even though the game takes it easy on the player and hardly ever demands serious time management skills, following the concept of dandori is still wonderfully satisfying, and anyone who enjoys seeing their little checklist of tasks get completed one by one will love slowly and steadily progressing through Pikmin 4. The game also does a fantastic job of egging you on bit by bit, enticing you with new areas, new Pikmin, and new challenges (even if they're relatively easy challenges).
And veterans still have some new ideas to look forward to in Pikmin 4. All of the previous Pikmin types return, plus there are two new ones: Ice Pikmin and ghostly Glow Pikmin. Ice types can freeze monsters and bodies of water, making the former easier to defeat and the latter traversable for non-Blue Pikmin. Glow Pikmin, however, are only found in the new night missions. That's right, in all previous games exploring at night was too dangerous, but now it's required to progress. The slightly bad news though is that night missions are more like side quests that involve defending a vulnerable point until night ends or you defeat all nearby monsters. It would've been nice to have the same freedom of daytime exploration at night, but as it stands these missions can be a fun break from the usual Pikmin gameplay. And they do provide a new strategic wrinkle for players to tackle, since you're never normally on defense in these games, only offense. That little twist alone makes you rethink how to approach enemies and also leads to some fairly challenging, chaotic missions.
There's another important, slightly creepy/adorable feature in Pikmin 4: you have a dog! Oatchi the dog can essentially act as your secondary character and direct  groups of Pikmin for you or even carry treasures by himself, as well as fight monsters on his own. It's nice to have another tool in your arsenal for deciding how you approach obstacles: do you keep Oatchi with you for the extra combat power, or do you send him off to guide/collect a separate Pikmin team? Oatchi (and your player character) can also get upgrades throughout the game, adding a nice little layer of progression that again maybe makes Pikmin 4 overall easier than previous entries, but is a fun little feature nonetheless.
Finally there are Dandori Battles and Challenges, which actually do require a bit of thought, at least if you want to earn a high score. You're limited to a specific number/selection of Pikmin, so you can't brute force them with 100 of your best little buddies. True to their dandori name, you have to actually put a bit of thought into maximizing the efficiency of your Pikmin team, which is pretty satisfying. It's a resource-management puzzle, which is after all what the franchise is all about. You can also play against a friend in local Dandori Battles, which naturally makes things trickier and wackier. The main adventure also technically has a co-op feature, but this is limited to basically an assist mode where you throw pebbles/items at enemies, not a full-fledged co-op experience, which is disappointing.
Visually, Pikmin 4 is, not surprisingly, delightful. The core designs of the Pikmin, returning creatures, and humanoid characters are just so charmingly cute, and the quality makes everything look sleek. Sure, Pikmin is not, strictly speaking, the most graphically intense franchise, but like your army of Pikmin themselves this is a visual design made up of tons of tiny little touches that help make the creatures and the environment feel alive and interesting. Every little sway of Pikmin's leaf, every bumbling step of a Bulborb, and all of the polished detail of every trace of a human civilization left behind makes for a beautiful world to explore. The soundtrack is a delight as well and features a lot of dynamic tunes that will change depending on what you're doing. The highlight though, as always, is the little songs the Pikmin will sing or hum together when nothing else is happening.
Pikmin 4 is pure charm. Even if a lot of the game feels easy for veteran players, there's something utterly delightful about growing your Pikmin team and watching them work together to build bridges, battle monsters, and collect treasures like rubber ducks and billiard balls (there's also something utterly devastating about seeing these little workers perish, even if they are so easily replaceable). The new features also fold nicely into the core gameplay of the series and ultimately all naturally flows together to keep players well engaged for a roughly 30 hour game, counting the extensive post-game content that is really more of a second chapter than a bonus section. New and veteran players will surely enjoy the addictive charm of this adorable dandori game.
Rating: 9 out of 10 Pikmin
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