Pikmin has always held a strange spot in Nintendo’s library of games and franchises. Its creation is credited to Mario and Zelda’s dad, Shigeru Miyamoto, which means Nintendo holds it in high esteem, but it has never quite reached the cultural ubiquity of his other works. And maybe it’s unfair to compare the adorable strategy game about dragging the corpses of defeated foes into your spaceship to the iconic plumber and the Hero of Time, but Pikmin 4 might be the one that moves the series closer to those legacies. It represents a high point for Pikmin, thanks in large part to Oatchi, the helpful dog that can carry you and all your Pikmin on its back.
Pikmin 4 straddles that difficult line of welcoming newcomers to the series while also featuring enough references to the past that those who have been playing the series since 2001 will be charmed by returning characters and new lore. The story is not deep, to be clear: You must rescue yourself and others after crash landing on an alien planet with the help of Pikmin, but all the characters (and there are many) have unique personalities. It also leans into the, “Are we on Earth?” subtext the series has always featured more than ever, which is an element I have always enjoyed.
The star of the show, however, is Oatchi. He doesn’t particularly look like a dog, but he acts like one, excitedly greeting you every morning for your daily adventure, defending you from danger, and helping your Pikmin carry objects they can’t quite handle alone. In a game about managing a large group of helpful creatures, Oatchi is your fantastic assistant manager that does all the heavy lifting. His greatest strength, however, is carrying you and all your Pikmin with the press of a button. As visually interesting as it has always been to corral dozens of Pikmin and throw them at your problems, it always leads to annoying issues of them falling off bridges or getting caught on corners. Gathering all your Pikmin on Oatchi’s back eliminates this issue and makes everything so much more manageable, which lets you focus on the fun.
Finding and making new paths in the traditional Pikmin levels to expand your exploration avenues in the limited time frame is rewarding, and the locations are visually distinct, making them much easier to learn. They feel less like mazes, which I appreciate.
The addition of underground caves is another highlight. While underground, time slows for reasons that are thankfully hand-waived away with funny dialogue, and you are free to play Pikmin without fear of the clock. These sections are frequent, enjoyable, and bite-sized. They never outstay their welcome (save for the marathon finale, but I enjoyed that as a last hurrah for the game), and they encourage you to try new strategies in spaces designed to push you creatively.
You can also venture out at night for the first time in dedicated combat sequences where you worry less about losing Pikmin while defending a home base from encroaching enemies. The night sections are repetitive but are rarely required for progress. It is the mode I engaged with the least, but I was happy to play them when I wanted a break from the typical gameplay.
Dandori sequences mix up the action even further with enjoyable competitive scenarios against A.I. opponents and sections where you are awarded medals for collecting the most in a limited amount of time. The former sequences are exciting and often intense, and the latter does a great job of making you pine for that perfect score. I replayed many despite having already completed the minimum requirement.
Oatchi, the caves, and Dandori are all excellent additions to Pikmin, but the new rewind option is arguably the one that most addressed my past frustrations. Rewind lets you roll back the clock a bit if you just need a little extra time at the end of a day or against that tough boss. Oatchi helps you take care of your Pikmin, and they are the smartest they have ever been, but I was still thankful for the rewind option, especially for some of the big challenges at the end. The mechanic is one I didn’t lean on a lot, but I was so happy I could when I needed it.
When it comes to iterating on the standard Pikmin gameplay established by the first release, Pikmin 4 is the smoothest, best-controlling, best-looking version, and all the additions are worthwhile and fun to play. The variety of tasks, which you can tackle in the order of your choice, prevents you from doing the same thing for too long, and I enjoyed saving other survivors and expanding my home base roster. Pikmin may never rise to the top of the Nintendo heap, and it’s probably unfair to expect it ever could, but the latest Pikmin is the best effort yet.